Nevertheless there must be something more to the book mystery. Why not just go out and travel the world if discovery and experience are so important to you? Another dimension of the allure of the published word is the effort involved in reading and the lust for cognizant activity.
The act of reading is an act of learning. Every time an eye peruses a page of written text, the brain whips into action; picking out unknown words, new ways of speaking, new ideas, etc. It requires concentration and a willingness to struggle with tough concepts. Many people who reject the hobby of reading complain that it is “too much work”—that they can receive the experience encased in the syntax and diction through much easier means. These people are Walker Percy’s proverbial consumers. “The consumer is content to receive an experience just as it has been presented to him by theorists and planners” (Percy). Media outside of the written word are little more than presentations. There is barely room for thinking outside of the context of the film or webpage. In fact, it is discouraged by other consumers. “Don’t read too much into it” is a phrase bandied about freely.
This is where the ‘readers’ have discovered something different about books. In processing the words privately, without outside influence and the freedom to find meaning wherever they want, they step into the role of Percy’s sovereign knower. “…a sovereignty of the knower—instead of being a consumer of a prepared experience, I am a sovereign wayfarer, a wanderer in the neighborhood of being who stumbles into the garden” (Percy). Readers wander through a garden of words and stumble upon truth in places the author may have never intended.
It’s a paradox. With the World Wide Web and mass media, we can look into the lives of people half a world away. Within moments of any disaster, news cameras are rolling, and from the comfort of our living rooms, we are in the thick of it – in the eye of the storm, observing people’s suffering.
Yet, as individuals, we are more separated than ever. Thanks to tools given to us by well-meaning entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and others, we have been isolated. Separated by plastic screens, the human connection is slowly withering. Empathy is a dying emotion.
The world of humanity is growing colder, slowly filling up with silicon chips and wire. Whether we are fully cognizant of this or not, we all encounter it. One can get an entire college degree without ever meeting a teacher or stepping into a classroom; gamble away your money without ever holding a poker chip; mail order a bride for a modest fee.
What do we do to escape this blizzard of a detached existence? We turn away from the constant, faster-than-sound connections, and isolate ourselves physically. Pick up a book. Open it. It’s only in this world of ink and binding that we’re able to grab hold of the emotions that keep us alive. Books have always been, and will continue to be valued in our society because of their ability to individually connect us to the collective consciousness of humanity.
Percy, Walker. “The Loss of the Creature.” The Loss of the Creature. 05 Nov 2007. Henry M. Jackson High School. 5 Nov 2007 <http://www.everett.k12.wa.us/CMS/cmsSites/cmsUserFiles/jacksonhigh/nnicoletta/files/The%20Loss%20of%20the%20Creature.doc>.
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