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View Full Version : Could we ever forget how to read?



MJRevell
02-16-2015, 05:08 PM
If there is a world without books - say they are banned, like in Farenheit 451 or simply lost to history or outlawed, or if we are in a world where stories are streamed to your concsiousness and there is no need for reading - would it be possible for the human race to forget how to read?

Or would it be something we would always be able to do, like riding a bike?

King Neptune
02-16-2015, 05:24 PM
"Would it be possible?" You're the one who's planning to write about it, so it has to be possible, and you'll find a way. I remember a story where arithmetic had been lost, because there were machines that did all of the calculations, but someone figured out that it would save room and energy if they could dispense with the machinery, so arithmetic was reinvented.

Marlys
02-16-2015, 05:32 PM
Reading is an acquired skill, and homo sapiens did very well without it for tens of thousands of years. So yes, as it's not an ingrained skill, it could be lost. But I'd have a hard time believing it. Writing arose in places where people in charge wanted to keep track of people and taxes and other things that needed to be accounted for--so even if books were denied to the underclass, it's difficult to envision an illiterate ruling class.

On the other hand, the last scenario you mention, where data can be streamed directly into the brain...would that make writing obsolete? I suppose that depends on how the data is collected, archived, and shared. In the world you're creating, how are stories streamed to your consciousness? Does the recipient hear a voice? See an image? How are the words of the script created and transmitted to the person who speaks them or acts it out?

Usher
02-16-2015, 05:46 PM
If there is no need to read - why would we read?

Weirdmage
02-16-2015, 09:36 PM
If there is no need to read - why would we read?

There's little need to read now to get information or indeed entertainment, but reading for leisure is still going strong.
Almost every book published now comes in audio version, so you don't even have to read books yourself.

I'm having trouble seeing how reading would completely disappear. But I would be interested to see if someone could come up with a plausible explenation for how it could happen.

thothguard51
02-16-2015, 09:56 PM
There are other usages for knowing how to read than just for leisure...

TheCuriousOne
02-16-2015, 10:54 PM
I wouldn't see why such a world in which people don't read would be impossible. They've done it before, and it didn't cause the end of the human civilisation. The only thing I'm thinking is that reading is everywhere, in our world. It's not just books, it's shop and road signs, names on letterboxes, and it's linked with writing and communicating. So there would need to be alternatives for those in your world. But then it all depends on what people do and how they live in your world.

I wouldn't like to live in a world without books, though :)

Orianna2000
02-17-2015, 12:34 AM
TheCuriousOne brings up a good point. Books might be obsolete, but there are other places you find words. Signs, menus, food labels, things like that. Even little things, like the tag on your sweater that says, "90% Wool, 10% Angora. Hand wash, cold water. Lay flat to dry."

Perhaps they invent a kind of shorthand symbol system for labels? Maybe pictographs, like we use for laundry labels? Although, pictures could tell you whether your jam is strawberry or blackberry, but it might be hard to differentiate between jelly, jam, and preserves.

King Neptune
02-17-2015, 12:49 AM
TheCuriousOne brings up a good point. Books might be obsolete, but there are other places you find words. Signs, menus, food labels, things like that. Even little things, like the tag on your sweater that says, "90% Wool, 10% Angora. Hand wash, cold water. Lay flat to dry."

Perhaps they invent a kind of shorthand symbol system for labels? Maybe pictographs, like we use for laundry labels? Although, pictures could tell you whether your jam is strawberry or blackberry, but it might be hard to differentiate between jelly, jam, and preserves.

Hand held readers. Run your reader in front of the label and it wil say "90% Wool, 10% Angora. Hand wash, cold water. Lay flat to dry." People who want to cook for themselves can use one to read recipes and food labels; the rest of us will use the automatic cooker that will follow our spoken directions "I want steak medium well with baked potato, and I'll start with my customary salad with blue cheese dressing, remember to go light on tomato," and the cooker will do everything.

Layla Lawlor
02-17-2015, 02:45 AM
This is a puzzling question to me. Reading is a skill that's taught, so if no one sees a reason to teach it, then of course it will be lost. We have ample evidence of this in the form of ancient scripts that no one still living can read, e.g. Mycenaean Linear A. The descendants of those people are still around, but the ability to read it was lost.

So if you create a world in which reading is not necessary, it seems entirely plausible that it would stop being a thing people were able to do. In a world with ample leisure time and good record keeping (as opposed to a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is struggling to survive and most records have been destroyed) it seems like to me that there would always be a handful of people who would learn it as a hobby or for historical interest, kind of like there are people now who can read Egyptian heiroglyphics and Norse runes. But most people would be, by our standards, illiterate.

ETA: For that matter, this is true of any skill at all. You mentioned "like riding a bike" but that's something that applies over the lifetime of one person, once they learn how; bike-riding is not a universal human skill, and no one would be able to ride a bike in a world without bikes! Or did you mean, would an individual forget how to read if they learned as a child but never had a chance to practice it? In that case I think they'd probably retain at least some of it, though they might be awfully rusty. Sort of like trying to speak a language you knew as a child but never spoke as an adult.

JohnnyGottaKeyboard
02-17-2015, 03:13 AM
Also, along with the symbol reading discussion...Don't forget that our own current world is filled with books that certainly I can't read. Our son has some Japanese comic books (yeah, I know, the have a name) that have little or no English in them at all.

StarryEyes
02-17-2015, 07:56 AM
Could we ever forget how to read?

Yes. We've done it at least once before - during the Dark Ages of Ancient Greece. Before then, the Mycenaean civilisation had their own writing system (Linear B) but for a reason which historians are still speculating about, their civilisation collapsed, along with a few others, in the 12th century BC. Theories include invasions, climate change, a volcanic eruption, a collapse of society… The Dark Ages lasted about 3 centuries until the Greeks borrowed a new alphabet from the Phoenicians, and began the Ancient Greek society you read about at school :)

As for it happening to our world, or a world with similar technologies and societies, why not. The cause would have to be pretty big considering the availability of information nowadays (a few thousand years ago, all you needed to do was kill the scribes and nobody would know how to read or write) but I believe it could definitely still happen.

Albedo
02-17-2015, 08:57 AM
Writing is just a technology like any other, and could be lost in a particularly catastrophic civilisational collapse.

kuwisdelu
02-17-2015, 09:08 AM
Of course.

There are still many people in the world who can't read.

There are plenty of ways to have a society where reading just isn't a useful skill, and many cultures in the world have used strictly oral traditions.

However, with the diversity of civilizations on earth today and the extent of global communications we have, you'll probably have to go to extreme lengths if you want reading to be completely lost.

benbradley
02-17-2015, 09:57 AM
There are other usages for knowing how to read than just for leisure...
Such as "text" messages? There was a time when such were ONLY text (because of bandwidth limits on cellphones), but now they often include pictures and smilies, or (using highbrow language), emoticons.

I can (sort-of) imagine the actual words going away, and children only learning the meanings of the emoticons, thus they can "text" one another and "read" what others are saying, yet not be able to read what we know of as English text. Emoticons could become like memes and hashtags, new ones could be invented much like new words are invented (it's easy enough to draw new ones in any paint program/photo editor), and become popular through "texting."

I think of rebuses as something similar.


TheCuriousOne brings up a good point. Books might be obsolete, but there are other places you find words. Signs, menus, food labels, things like that. Even little things, like the tag on your sweater that says, "90% Wool, 10% Angora. Hand wash, cold water. Lay flat to dry."

Perhaps they invent a kind of shorthand symbol system for labels? Maybe pictographs, like we use for laundry labels? Although, pictures could tell you whether your jam is strawberry or blackberry, but it might be hard to differentiate between jelly, jam, and preserves.
They'll have icons for that. :)

And no doubt dancing bananas will actually mean something (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8MDNFaGfT4).

Putputt
02-17-2015, 10:23 AM
Reading is an acquired skill, like many people have pointed out, so yes, of course it can get lost. If I were to bring up a baby in a place without any written word, yeah, that baby wouldn't grow up learning the alphabet and if you thrust a book in its face it won't recognize the words.

Although like Kuwi said, something really extreme needs to happen before we get to that stage.

cornflake
02-17-2015, 10:37 AM
Reading is an acquired skill, like many people have pointed out, so yes, of course it can get lost. If I were to bring up a baby in a place without any written word, yeah, that baby wouldn't grow up learning the alphabet and if you thrust a book in its face it won't recognize the words.

Although like Kuwi said, something really extreme needs to happen before we get to that stage.

On a species level, sure.

On an individual level, I don't think so, without some organic dysfunction or deterioration or something.