Geoffrey Rowan meets the Literate Public.
That’s how Geoffrey Rowan began his article “Good Riddance To Literacy” published in The Globe and Mail July 31, 1997. It was a blunt assessment of the failure of literacy: “in the greater scheme of things, reading is, after all, little more than a fad.”
Rowan, at the time a technology reporter for the newspaper, lauded new media and denounced reading and writing: “There are at least three forces bringing the literate era to a close. They are, in no particular order, the iconization of society, rapid advances in technology, and sloth.”
While this was pre ubiquitous web, the letters to the editor didn’t take long to come in:
August 2, 1997
“His voice is as shrill as those which predicted ‘the end of paper’ when computers first came into use. We all know what happened to that prediction.” Hans Keefeld
“I want to tell him that I think he’s a boob.” Tony Miller.
“His is the kind of thinking that gives technologists a bad name.” John Purdy
August 6, 1997
“Humans will never find a replacement for the written word.” Irfan Dhalla
“When it comes to complex ideas and sustained argument, we need a written language.” Loren King
“Mr. Rowan seems to have been afflicted by the most terrible of late 20th-century disease ‘Bokphobia’ … a sort of dementia caused by singed synapses brought about by staring bug-eyed at a video screen for hours on end.” Jay Solman
“What a startling epitaph.” Paul Pinel
“Words fail me.” David Piggins
and finally, and most pointedly:
“I can think of an appropriate icon to replace the thousand or so words of Geoffrey Rowan’s article … the brown, malodorous, amorphous lumps of matter, steaming when fresh, that abound in cow pastures and horse stables.” Chris Willmes
On August 26, 1997 Rowan published “It’s Official – I Was Just Kidding” and came clean with his readers:
“So, the truth is revealed.
I love the written word and believe it will be around for a long time, and I’ve learned a valuable lesson.
I won’t attempt satire, or irony, or sarcasm again without visual aids.”
And just in case you are wondering, no, Beyond Literacy: Exploring a Post-Literate Future is not a satire.