The Curmudgeon


Friday, May 21, 2010

Unworthy Investments

A survey by a children's charity has discovered that a fifth of seven-to-fourteen-year-olds in Britain have never received a handwritten letter and a tenth have never written one, although emails and internet messages are common. "By going to the trouble of physically committing words to paper, the writer shows their investment of time and effort in a relationship", said a child education expert, who appears to believe that this is some sort of reason why more letters should be written, despite the imminent modernisation of the Royal Mail which will doubtless end the practice once and for all. "Painstakingly manoeuvring the pencil across the page, thinking of the best words to convey a message, struggling with spelling and punctuation" all constitute an effort worth making, because "it's only through practice that we become truly literate - and literacy is the hallmark of human civilisation." As a matter of fact, until very recently human civilisation was composed almost entirely of illiterates, the skills of reading and writing being largely confined to the élite and their servants; a state of affairs to which mediaevalists like Daveybloke's sub-Chestertonian court philosopher Phillip Blond would probably like to return us. "If we care about real relationships, we should invest in real communication, not just the quick fix of a greetings card, text or email. What's more, if we care about civilised human thought, we should encourage our children to invest time and energy in sitting down to write." On the other hand, a civilisation which relies on labour mobility and the infinitely flexible human resources which that entails - a civilisation, in other words, which rests on worker-consumers exchanging McJobs with ever greater frequency - is not the most favourable environment for investing time and effort in relationships with persons who are not even physically present. By contrast, those who have been brought up with the attention span of a goldfish, the emotional fidelity of a jackrabbit and the cultural sensitivity of a baboon might just squeak by.


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