(Note: this brief essay was written in the late 1990s—holds truer by the day)
As America loses more and more of the cognitive foundation that made her great, and as the computer and advertising industries plumb ever deeper for the lowest common denominator of whatever remains, the Word steadily loses out to the Picture. Silence loses out to Noise. Beauty to the Car Chase.
TV marches on with her eighty or one hundred sixty plus channels of imaginative garbage; and radio, once the great mystique, finds itself reduced to a thousand like stations of ceaseless rhythm and advertising.
If a computer program does not have a Graphical User Interface (GUI) it is, for all intents and purposes, outmoded if not antique. And if it does not provide entertainment as part of the package (must be interesting, provide diversion, be cool; not simply effective and functional) it won't sell. A sad case in point is the demise of WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS (a brilliantly functional word processor, and quite possibly the best piece of software ever written) now almost vanished under the onslaught of Mr. GUI.
As an aside, the WordPerfect Corporation tried to defend it at the time and developed WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS, a GUI version which slowed the program down by orders of magnitude, made it less functional and required expensive new hardware. Brilliant. All to meet the increasing demand of the read-nots.
Webwards, if the Page is not imaginatively designed, eye catching and aesthetic, it is a failure no matter how valuable the content.
Presentation, appearance, color, design is everything. Meaning is fading. What is actually said, second hand. How does it LOOK? is what matters.
And all for show. All Facade to make up for the missing Word, to replace the waning ability of our population to read and comprehend.
I can hardly think of a more rewarding pleasure than to read a great novel or short story. As you read, you comprehend and you create. You are a co-creator, you do something when you read (or when you listen—radio theater still holds that mystique for me). You come out refreshed. Accomplished.
Where TV and (often) movies spoon-feed you with violence, etc., reading asks you to participate: as you read you create the bridge, the forest, the kiss, the sky for your mind’s eye and ear to see and hear. And so, it’s your bridge, your forest, your kiss, your sky.
In my view, the fortunes that are being spent to reach and cater for the lowest common denominator (amoebas of the Dollar Ocean) should be spent on raising the ability of our children and populace to read and comprehend.
The Internet is still looking for somewhere to go (other than pornography). All we currently can say for sure is that where ever it is heading, it has to get there in style, with flash and with as many moving icons and exploding little images as possible to grab and perhaps even hold our attention for more than 3 seconds.
Few things are less rewarding than violence and laugh tracks rammed down your perceptive channels by incessant TV images. Someone said that it takes more effort and awareness to eat than what it takes to watch TV. I believe that. Yet, it is a national epidemic. Well-documented and well-known at that, and as condoned, if not promoted, by the powers that be as are personal debt and obesity.
And my question is this: At what point will this lead to burning of books? At what point will reading become an ability frowned upon as strange, then snobbish, then cultish, then outlawed. When will the persecution of those that read begin? When the burning?
Or has it begun? There are fewer and fewer libraries as local funding disappears. Library hours are curtailed, fewer new books, fewer new patrons.
The computer is a wonderful thing; the telecommunication marvel is a blessing; the Internet spans the globe and removes virtually all distances and can be the greatest vehicle yet for the Word, it can be the most wonderful communication tool the planet has yet to see, as long as the Word is not lost, and replaced by the meaningless image, by inane form, by empty facade.
As long as it does not lead to the burning of books.