Imagine a Day Without Reading

25 Feb

Think about the things you read today–the newspaper, the school lunch menu, your grocery list, your favorite magazine, a bedtime story. Maybe you read for pleasure. Maybe you read for work. Maybe you read advertisements to pass the time on public transportation. You probably read a lot more than you think you did.  Did you include on your list street signs, store hours, prescription instructions, airport arrival and departure screens? Did you include recipes, emails, Facebook, your child’s homework assignment? How about the text crawl at the bottom of your television news show, the dashboard messages in your car, text messages?

I love to read.  And as Culture Bean I will be sharing with you my reading adventures, those I embark on solo and those I share with Culture Sprout, my bookworm of a daughter.

But for today, I’d like you to imagine a day without reading.  What would you have to give up, turn off, do without? Would you get lost? Take the wrong medication? Forget a key grocery ingredient?

Years ago, I taught Introduction to Media. The first assignment was a week of complete media deprivation. With the exception of coursework, students were asked to forgo all media for a week. In 1997, when I taught the class, this meant no radio, no television, no newspapers, magazines, or books.  Students took me very seriously and stared at their shoes on the “El” so as not to read advertisements; moved away from people playing music too loudly on their Discman; and risked the ire of their roommates by turning off the television. As one student remarked, “I had no idea what to wear today because I couldn’t listen to the weather report. I had to call my mother!”

Today’s students would have to ignore text messages, announce on Facebook that they were going silent for a week, and risk withdrawal symptoms caused by Internet and smart phone deprivation. It would be like last month’s day without Wikipedia, only much bigger and darker. But, if today’s students are as savvy as those students in 1997, they would discover the real importance of the media in their lives. And they would find renewed energy and creativity in the silence.

Now, imagine that assignment were “reading deprivation.” For 793 million illiterate people worldwide, this is not an assignment. It is a fact of life.  These people cannot fill out a job application, read the instructions on their medication, or enjoy the products of their national culture.

To celebrate reading and promote global literacy, I have become a WRADvocate, an advocate of World Read Aloud Day. From now until World Read Aloud Day on March 7, I’ll be focusing a lot on reading. If you’d like to host a WRAD event in your town (your home, your office, your child’s school, any place really!), follow the link above to learn more. Join us to reach the goal of one million people reading out lout for a total of 793 million minutes.

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