Caleb Crain has written an interesting article in "The New Yorker" magazine (December 24, 2007) called The Twilight of the Books: What will life be like if people stop reading? In it he provides more proof that reading is in decline, not merely as a recreational past time, but as something that people are able to do efficiently. In light of this growing reality he wonders what life will be like if the present trend towards "orality" continues. Some scholars like Walter J. Ong have speculated that television and similar media are taking us into an era of "secondary orality," akin to the primary orality that existed before the emergence of text. If this turns out to be true, or even partially true, there will be vast implications for education, business, politics and the general interaction of people with ideas that demand their attention and shape their lives.
Most intriguing is the suggestion that an image based culture is less able to notice inconsistencies between different arguments or accounts of reality when compared to a word based culture. Furthermore, people are less likely to watch something they do not agree with than to read a differing point of view. If people do not like what they are seeing they merely turn the channel. But this means that over time they are more likely to watch things that confirm their point of view and less likely to be exposed to ideas that challenge or contradict their worldview.
Genuine Christianity has never been afraid of the marketplace of ideas. Truth does not fear exposure or careful analysis. But if the current trend away from words continues we will have to think carefully about how we can get people to interact with the word of God which calls on us to make distinctions and to know the difference between truth and error. Ignorance is an enemy of freedom. And so is a kind of self-imposed protectionism which carefully filters out or censors information we do not want to hear. The better way is to test all things and to hold fast to what is good as defined by the objective standard of the Word of God.