Mike Shatzkin has caught the bug. His latest post at The Idea Logical Company is entitled “The written word is losing its power and will continue to”. What is it that makes these literate guys lose all hope in what they claim is such an important part of their world? Is Mr Shatzkin just feeling guilty about watching too much TV recently? Has he too become obsessed with curling?

David L. Ulin in his The Lost Art of Reading (a title fortunately contradicted by his text) quotes Nicholas Carr moaning “I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.” He doesn’t notice any incongruity in expressing this brain-dead claim in the course of writing a 300-page book, self deprecatingly called The Shallows. Come off it guys. Why is it only good to read in the way you were brought up reading? There is in fact much more reading going on today than ever before. Does it really matter how long the texts involved are, or what the words used are describing? Reading seems to me to be reading. If you want to complain that not enough kids are reading Swiss Family Robinson, go ahead: just don’t expect too many people to pay any attention to you.

The literal meaning of “the written word” does not have to mean just words written on paper — amazingly enough there’s writing on other things like . . . oh, I don’t know; maybe TV screens, busses, walls, sandy beaches, packages of lettuce, and of course the internet. According to Mr Ulin, “In December 2009, a study by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California, San Diego, found that, ‘in 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day.’ One hundred thousand words is the equivalent of a three-hundred-page novel.”

Just let that sink in. The equivalent of a three-hundred-page novel. Every day. Everyone.

This has to be an exaggeration of course. A UC, San Diego discussion, where the report can be downloaded as a PDF, reveals that 67% of the bytes are consumed as games, while 41% of Americans’ “information hours” are spent watching TV, while 16% are spent on the internet. But just because it’s labelled “game” or “TV” doesn’t mean that there’s no reading involved. Still, we might cautiously see the daily word intake as a 300-page novel with 60% illustration, so it might look more like a 300-page graphic novel or a 120 page novel.

Human nature makes us react to that reduction from a 300-page novel to a 120-page novel by saying “I knew that was all nonsense”. But, hold on a minute: can you credit every American reading the equivalent of a 120-page novel every day? Reading has never had it so good.

Every generation grows old to bitch about the generations following after them who are, by doing things their own way, quite obviously doing things wrong. But notice over the last few days how quickly the #NeverAgain movement has gained momentum after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and become a real force simply by responsible use of social media — and all this achieved by those teenagers we’ve loved to write off as being totally lost to the world because they never take their faces out of their smart phones. And of course the curmudgeons all know that these kids never read, because reading text messages is not what they think of when they think of reading!