One of the university librarians where I work attended the Association of College and Research Libraries conference last week and sent out a “report” about it today. He said it was a hit and miss experience but one of the best sessions was Michael Ridley, the CIO of Guelph University.
Ridley’s presentation was called “Are Reading and Writing Doomed?” His slides are available as a pdf if you are interested and I am going to bet you will be interested. Because, you see, Ridley thinks we are heading toward a post-literate world, one in which reading and writing are no longer necessary and no longer done. His view is that reading and writing are tools and technology is going to reach a stage where we don’t need those tools any longer.
There are lots of candidates for what a post-literate world might look like. At this point it is only speculation. Ridley lists a few in his slides but if you want a little more detail, he has a website. Ridley teaches a class on the topic and on the Resources page you can find two articles written by two of his classes.
Frankly, I find the whole thing terrifying. I don’t like the idea of being plugged in all the time, knowing other people’s thoughts and other people knowing mine. There is also the question of what will happen to literature. It will be transformed into something else just as the oral culture of pre-literate times was transformed into books. The argument of paper books vs. e-books will be moot because books will not exist any longer.
My only comfort is that it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime. The beginnings of it might, but the transition will take a long time just as it took a long time to go from a pre-literate to a literate society. If you find any of this exciting or worrisome, there is a reading list on page six of Ridley’s presentation. Read while you still can.