The Future of Imagination: Read/Write Errors

2 03 2007

The next issue of The Futurist will include a special section on trends that suggest kids are moving away from reading and toward the use of visual media. They write:

People in the developed world are spending less time reading books and more time interacting with visual mediatelevision, Podcasts and video gamesthan ever before. According to the National Assessment of Education, the proportion of 17-year-olds who read for enjoyment “almost every day” fell from 31% to 22% between the years 1984 and 2004. Meanwhile, television watching continues to rise about 3% year after year, and almost 87% of kids aged 8 to 17 now have a video game player in their home.

And yet there’s been no significant decline in either literacy or math skills for 17-year-olds since 1971, according to the same organization – and there have been advancements in test results for younger children. So reading as an avocation may be in decline, replaced by entertainment via new media, but the ability to read remains unchanged – so far.

That could change, and there’s deeper reason for concern. Imagination is a different kind of skill, one that’s not covered by most educational metrics. It may be even more important than some of the skills that are measured, when you consider its impact on humanity’s long-term future.

What’s happening to the human imagination? New media prefabricate images for the visual cortex, rather than permitting young readers to create them on their own. Is that going to change the human personality – or “soul” – or are those of us who worry about that no different than the Moms and Dads of River City, fussing a century ago about their kids reading illustrated comics like “Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang”?

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