Cyndy Aleo

Four Little Bees Writing & Editing

author, freelance writing, editing, and a little bit of web development, helping clients with content development, book editing, and blog set-up and customization

The dumbing down of books

Something has been creeping into my reading experience, and it wasn't until a couple of recent books I read back-to-back that I figured it out: we're dumbing down the books.

I don't know if it's reality TV making stars out of complete idiots, but as a culture, we seem to be delighting in ignorance: May the dumbest one win.

I see polls where people are angry about something by name, but if you break down the tenets, they change their opinions. I see surveys online where people asked to identify the location of Lithuania put it in middle America. 

When did we start thinking it was okay, or even funny, to stop learning?

My first experience with a school librarian wasn't a good one. I was in first grade, having skipped kindergarten, and the librarian kept pointing me toward the "baby" books: picture books and early readers. I protested by refusing to take out any book at all and when the librarian alerted my mother she asked why on earth you'd limit a child to certain sections of the library.

I wanted to push myself, to learn more. 

The rise of information on the Internet has been like a dream come true for me, and I'll admit my addiction to reading on Kindle. Why? Because I can highlight a passage, ask my iPad to search for information, and get lost in learning about something new in MERE SECONDS. If there's something in a book I'm reading I don't know about, I want to learn more, and I can do it so easily I'm aghast that other people aren't doing the same. 

Yet I read books with over-simplified descriptions of diseases and disorders that border on caricature. Read futuristic dystopian and sci-fi that can't imagine a culture past our own. 

One of my favorite novels was written close to 40 years ago. It's Woman on the Edge of Time, a Marge Piercy novel that depicts a divergence in future culture. One possible future is the cyberpunk one later fleshed out by William Gibson. People are medically augmented. No one thinks for themselves. The other reality? A Utopian ideal in which parenting is done by triad. Gender roles have been normalized so there isn't much difference between male and female (and yes, that includes gestation and birth). Race has ceased to divide people, and care is given for the environment.

I read that book for the first time over 20 years ago, and it's still with me. I remember going to the library to look up things like Utopian society and to find other books that depicted this possible future of not thinking. 

And now I look around, and I see one of those two realities becoming more possible. And it depresses the hell out of me.