Reading the statistics

A recent survey commissioned by the New Zealand Book Council revealed that 400,000 adults didn’t read a book in 2016. This is a disturbing fact, especially given that reading as a child is an indicator of longer life and higher achievements (about 65% of our prison population lacks basic reading skills). More worryingly, is this statistic the waving of a flag signalling emotional and spiritual impoverishment?

How books open doors to other worlds

The Harry Potter mania that we recently witnessed underlined a deep need for children – and many much older children too. It’s the wonder of passing into the world of imagination, of the fantastical, of new ways of seeing the age-old struggle between good and evil.

We’re now living in a more visual and electronic world – and our reading, among other things, is suffering because of it. Viewers increasingly absorb news from screens and phones. The long-term consequences of this pattern are laid bare in Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming conversation: the power of talk in a digital age (2015). She argues that texts, tweets, emails and Facebook posts are replacing face-to-face conversations. They are eating away at our attention span and diminishing our capacity for empathy.

After years of extensive interviews with teenagers, workers and bosses Turkle sums it all up, “We turn to our phones instead of to each other” – in friendships, families, in romantic relationships and at work.

What is education?

Many of my friends are teachers, and all feel the pressure of parents demanding that their offspring get the best opportunity to pursue jobs with high incomes. With constant exposure to e-books, tablets and interactive teaching tools, aren’t we eroding the ability of our children to be alone? For it’s in such solitude that critique and wider reflection can grow.

In doing all we can to prepare young people for a technological world are we undermining our capacity to prevent it from enslaving us? Are we poisoning our spiritual wells?


Father Neil Vaney


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