Being illiterate must be like living a life without any written instruction manuals, those we fondly refer to as books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, letters, posters, signs and computers which are all packed with opinions, ideas and influences. Perhaps if we were illiterate these would all become lifeless objects and reading would be replaced with personal experience through the people we meet and talk to, everyday events we come into contact with and what we feel as a consequence.
Perhaps we’d begin to see an object for what it is or what we think it is with no added story attached. For example a plastic bag without the warning comment, bottled water with no indication of its origin or a board game without instructions. We would instinctively give each object our own meaning. Hence why a cardboard box becomes a toy for a toddler, a small toy becomes something to eat and an avocado something they start to play with and squash in their hands.
Being unable to read wouldn’t prevent us from communicating. Before speech and language was created early man used pictorial images and actions to communicate. An illiterate world would remain as we see it and not as other people know it. Our views would not be marred by millions of other people’s interpretations and our perspectives would purely be gained from our own direct experiences. There would be no additional knowledge, alternative opinion or challenging perspective beyond that of our immediate environment. It almost sounds quite refreshing to live in a world without conflicting distractions; a world which encourages you to concentrate on what is happening around you and to focus on the present moment.
However our world is no longer like this, we are natural creators and technological advancements and inventions have changed our world. Our world has grown exponentially and continues to grow on a daily basis. As reading and writing developed, messages, knowledge and memories were shared. They were depicted on walls, slate then paper and passed on through the generations. Yet even up to this point communication was confined to the small space we lived in. Humans had no way of knowing what was happening on the other side of the world and even if there was another side to it. There was no means of getting any written communication across the seas until a means of travel was invented, then a worldwide postal system was put in place and more recently the internet was born.
Reading expands our lives. Reading brings everyone in our world closer together. It connects us with people we may never meet. It shows us that what we alone experience is never the whole story. It teases us with something different, it dangles the idea of infinite possibility in front of our eyes. Our universe just got bigger. Which life would you want to lead?
Despite such changes even today a significant percentage of our population in England are what we refer to as functionally literate adults. As parents we have the power to ensure that child is not ours. If we encourage our children to read it’s like removing the limitations of where they were born or to whom they were born to and giving them the opportunity to become a part of something much bigger.