Is Illiteracy So Bad?

When people can’t explain global warming or mad cow disease, perhaps they should look at a less than obvious scourge: the dreaded literacy plague.

Literacy’s flaws are many and obvious: Reading can be boring, suggest ideas about how to destroy things, and give voice to people who shouldn’t have one, in addition to a platform to voice that voice. But these are only surface issues—there are whole other arenas that are rarely discussed. For instance, literacy causes colds; case in point, I developed a horrible cold just hours after an entire night reading Infinite Jest. I also discovered a strange raging sexual lust when I read All the Best, George Bush: My Life and Other Writings, and though I’m actually a little embarrassed to say what happened after finishing The Power and the Glory, the itchy rashes in sensitive spots still have not gone away. If we simply give into the will of our hearts and stop reading, we will finally be able to establish the utopian world that great thinkers have been planning for centuries.

A Bookless World With Lots of Extra Space

Bookstores and libraries take up lots of space. It’s obvious if the world went illiterate, bookstores would become video/record stores and Starbucks outlets, but libraries are a different story. Closing a public library would mean thousands of displaced homeless people with no place to brush their teeth, millions of parents with no place to send their kids after school while they work, and worst of all, thousands and thousands of bitter unemployed librarians cluttering up social service offices with their sad tales of how they use to get paid to do nothing. Libraries, as useless as they are, cannot be turned into franchised retail venues, but that doesn’t mean millions of city dollars must be spent to keep open buildings that, in an illiterate world, are useless. As it turns out, libraries can become useful again—if they are converted into more practical things.

One possibility is a television center, where we can feed on five- or 10-minute slices of entertainment. Today’s man is a creature on the go, so clips rather than whole shows would prevent wasting patrons’ time, or worse, boring their minds. For instance, feeds might show all the various ways and reasons Homer has said ‘D’oh’ on The Simpsons, or slow-motion clips of characters being killed on The Sopranos. This center also solves cities’ other big problem—what happens to our overpaid librarians in this new illiterate world? Obviously those with too much seniority to be fired would act as personal TV guides. And those unfortunate enough to finish their graduate degree in library science without getting a full-time job aren’t necessarily out of luck. Many of these former aspiring librarians are also former aspiring children’s librarians, which, as it happens, means they’re perfectly prepared for a career in acting—they will likely be able to find jobs in Hollywood, as the ugly old hags in the background behind beautiful stars. The other librarians (the ones who did not aspire to be children’s librarians) can take the jobs that no one wants in the library—these jobs include, but are not limited to, dressing up as favorite TV stars and entertaining the patrons, explaining to older patrons that times have changed so deal with the bookless world, and being the greeter at the door.

Former library buildings might also be refitted into community weightlifting centers. Everyone likes to stay fit, but no one likes to pay the high membership dues. Why not put the gyms out of business? It would boost everyone’s morale. And librarians are, of course, known for their great physical strength, which they achieved by picking up and putting away the library-bound reference collection edition of the OED. They could be put to work as trainers. In larger former libraries, boxing rings can be installed and librarians can serve as spotters.

One last possibility for library buildings is one many libraries are already experimenting with: Stocking up on computers so patrons can search the web for really neat graphics and games. This, like the TV center, would also benefit those overpaid librarians, who in this scenario would advise patrons on the best places on the web to find games that are addicting but, of course, not challenging, because challenge would only add stress in a graphical world. To the literate, this task may seem meaningless and mundane, but to the illiterate, pictures and pretty graphics provide fulfillment. To help get rid of all the text on the Internet, and thus provide more precise image matches, a U.N. council could be formed to investigate and solve the problem.

Everyday Life

We mustn’t, however, examine only the places that house books. Illiteracy is a very serious issue that should not be taken lightly. Words, we must admit to ourselves, are everywhere.

One of man’s most sacred items, the computer, will have to be equipped for the illiterate mind. A computer keyboard with letters, for example, holds no value to an illiterate. Our new, more perfect world will need a Windings keyboard. The Wingdings keyboard, modeled after and inspired by the Wingdings font, will replace the letter on each key with a cute illustration. A formal greeting might therefore look like: grin. And a formal farewell might look like: :-|. Not only do these new communications save space, and, further, ink, but they will also be easier to remember. Many years ago, the mightiest, smartest men of them all—the cavemen—used signs and got along pretty well in life; we should not be so quick to mock this sort of communication as primitive.

And we cannot forget about television, which will be one of the leading devices in this graphical age. Of course there will be no need to have titles for TV shows. Graphics will be used instead. For crime dramas, there could be a couple engaging in something promiscuous while holding a gun and a badge. For half-hour situation comedies, there could be a couple engaging in something promiscuous while holding a cup of coffee. And for reality shows, there could be a man holding a camera and a handful of cash while filming a couple engaging in something promiscuous.

The Future is Near

Now with no books or literacy we can finally eliminate language, at least language in the traditional sense. Hearing somebody speak in complete sentences will be confusing and hard to follow. When the world is surrounded by graphics, speaking in words seems inappropriate. Since it is impossible to speak in images, something else needs to be worked out. At first it will be best to speak using chat room abbreviations; when you find yourself amused at something, you will smile and tell the person ‘L-O-L’ or when you are leaving you will say ‘B-F-N.’ A formal, romantic wedding proposal would look something like, ‘W-Y-M-M?’

Abbreviations sound clumpy and will become quickly boring to the illiterate world. This is why people will eventually need to learn how to speak solely in rhyme. Rhyme is catchy. And for those who are horrible at rhyming, there is always song. Song is the most effective way to communicate, right next to rhyming. And even when you’re saying hurtful things, they’ll come out sounding pleasant and delightful, and probably no one will even notice that you’re being mean.

I am quite aware that what I am saying seems to be a bit of an oxymoron, and that even writing it goes against all my principals as an illiteracy activist. Without using literacy, however, I will not be able to convey my message of illiteracy fully. For more information on how you can more fully prepare your home, town, and country for the illiterate world, you can read my forthcoming book Illiterate Living for the Illiterate Man, a 2,500-page illiteracy manual for better living.

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