Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Literacy Culture in the United States

Within the past couple of years, several cases of police brutality and misconduct have surfaced. This picture rapidly spread in light of the recent Baltimore riots. When I first saw this image circulating on social media, I cringed at the horrifying thought of living in a world full of people with nothing more than potential. To clarify, I focus on the choice of words in the image, and not the officers themselves. 

According to the Newspaper Association of America, print advertising in newspapers decreased more than 8% in 2013, while the revenue from digital advertising, circulation and marketing services rose 5.8%. Today's society finds itself printing less and less as consumer demand rises for the ease and convenience of digital access. In fact, there are fewer classrooms that use a print syllabus when the online educational tool Blackboard is in use. These such examples are the reasoning behind the belief that American literacy is exponentially decreasing, to which I must disagree. My initial shock to the grammatically incorrect photo of the police officers did not cause me to question our country's literacy rate, but its potential.

Potential energy is stored based on an object's position. Likewise, Americans find themselves in a position of great importance, building potential energy. This society grants people the ability to access and utilize advanced technologies in amazing ways that can increase literacy and knowledge. The problem is when that potential energy never becomes kinetic energy--in other words, put in motion. People can be enrolled in educational institutes, but if they never apply what they learn, it is a shame and disappointment.

I do not believe America is increasing in illiteracy. Instead, I believe that a society built on quick Internet and digital access causes people to rapidly post anything at anytime without taking the time to edit, revise and update. Interestingly, this is not new to America. In the third chapter of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, he references a remark from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which declared, "In America, parties do not write books to combat each other's opinions, but pamphlets, which are circulated for a day with incredible rapidity and then expire" (page 37). Similarly, Internet memes and social media postings have replaced the pamphlets of de Tocqueville's time.

While I am saddened by every grammatically disappointing post online, I am not discouraged enough to believe that this country is deteriorating. America is full of brilliant minds with the potential to use the available technology at their fingertips. With proper instruction and application, the print and digital literacy will undoubtedly increase. As the pamphlets of America's early years contributed to the involvement and literacy of its society, we can be assured that our technologies will do the same.

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