Literacy Unlikely? (Pamela Murray)

Mike states that the development of literacy was unlikely.  Why (or why isn’t) this so?

According to many communication theorists, literacy was indeed unlikely although the invention of mass print was not. Woodblock printing was in existence in China by the 8th century, and instances of mass reproduction and distribution of text there has been recorded. Yet there was no print revolution in East Asia as there was in Europe immediately after the invention of the printing press. This was not because woodblock printing was insufficient, but rather the social conditions in China were not the same as they were in Europe. Europe had a growing audience for text, and some theorists have inferred that literacy was increasing in the century or two before Gutenberg’s printing press was invented. Communication theorist Marshall T. Poe states in A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet (2011), “The unprecedented confluence of capitalism, bureaucracy, and reading religion in early modern Europe lead to the explosion of the world’s first Print Culture.” The presence of these forces created the conditions to necessitate mass printing and literacy once the printing press was invented. Poe also explains that when European states made literacy training available and then mandatory, people still avoided it. This parallels today’s environment where inexpensive literacy training and cheap reading material are available all over the industrialized world yet a large number of people are still illiterate. The reason for this, Poe contends, is that humans really don’t like to read and write very much. Whereas speech is innate to us, reading and writing require active engagement and being good at both is not common, and is for that matter increasingly unnecessary.


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