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Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.

It’s not often that I agree with Joan Collins, in fact this is a first. However as faithfully reported in a recent issue of The Daily Mail – an organ I like even less than La Collins, more on which a little later – I just had to concur with this: “I pity the poor children of today,” sympathised Joanie, “who are exposed to the nasty adult world of profanity, porn and poverty of thought. Kids take on board the mindless slosh that drips through TV and films today; famous footballers who brawl in bars, slaggy ‘glamour models’; and foul-mouthed comedians who joke about the most disgusting things. These are the role models of today.” Who she seems to think are responsible for the many school leavers that are unable “to read or write properly and are totally unfit to earn a living.” Some of this is a bit rich coming from an ancient B-list actress who appeared topless in at least three of her films during an era where such behaviour really was deemed disgusting, but nevertheless, and as The Sun might snigger, she had a couple of good points.

Readers of these blogs will by now be familiar with my own coruscating views on the evident moral decline of western civilization and in truth I sometimes wish I could pen something more uplifting, but if it’s hiking in the Chilterns, the Best Pushchairs Under £100 or amusing little eateries tucked away in the lesser reaches of Suffolk, then I’m afraid the weekend supplements are always going to be ahead of my game. So for the moment I shall stick with pessimistic fatalism and duly informed by Joanie I noticed in the same issue of the i that reported her Daily Mail utterances, news of major survey of eight- to 17 year-olds which concluded that those who regularly read text messages were much more likely to be below average readers than those who didn’t. More dishearteningly, only 5.4% of this sample admitted to regularly reading fiction.

This might account for the level of illiteracy bemoaned by Joanie which, by the way, was prompted by comments by her “many friends in business” who just can’t find the staff they need (e.g. spin-doctors, wig-makers, plastic-surgeons?), but whilst I personally share her grief, there are those who would aver that this matters not a jot because society is simply and inevitably embracing these new forms of communication and changing accordingly.

A whole school (sic) of educational thought espouses the benefits of grammar- and punctuation-free phonetics, and social networking sites which, let us not forget, facilitate the overthrow of dictatorships as well as the looting of high streets, have between them created a language that aped the argot of science fiction monsters a few decades ago. Add to this the high-speed, staccato-cut visual imagery that some of us oldsters might find annoying if not bewildering, and it’s perhaps no wonder that attention spans have diminished and Joanie’s feckless youth lack the ability to concentrate on books or even magazine articles containing more than a few hundred words?

But if it’s only old farts who lament this, there are surely more genuinely sinister aspects to this march of cultural development? For a start, the normality of text messaging, Twittering and Facebooking is generally undertaken with little or no thought to its consequences. Cyber bullying, riot-inciting Facebook and Blackberry trafficking and shameless sexual harassment are just three examples of how digital media encourages communication without responsibility: just tap out a whim-inspired message, press ‘send’ and out it goes into cyber-space which, because there’s no-one on the end of a ‘phone or across a table to answer back seems to remove any consideration of consequences. And an old fashioned letter requires so much more thought, effort and the almost ludicrous cost of a stamp all of which might actually facilitate pause for thought during its composition.

Quite apart from the dangers of such instant communiqués and the slapdash language that they’ve now normalised, there is also the sheer volume to contend with. I really, really do not understand how those addicted to Twitter and Facebook find time to do a job of work (and here a nod to Ms Collins and her business pals may again be due), much less poke their noses into a book or their feet into a gym, cinema or art gallery. I have enough trouble tearing myself away from the great god of email to engage in such cybernautics, let alone spend the hour or so a day I once spent reading a newspaper or a few chapters of latest Jeffrey Archer’s latest masterpiece.

Of course the emergence of digest media like Metro, The Week and most recently, the Indie’s baby sister, i – which I do actually buy every day, but mainly ‘cause it costs only 20p and the Indie is a shadow of its former self – reflect if not intellectually nourish the Twittering, time-poor middle classes. But where I wonder will it all end? Well to mount another of my regular hobby-horses, if this race to illiteracy continues, then no-one will be reading books in a few years time. Which is just as well because there won’t be any libraries left: after all, isn’t it so much more important to mount a single Tornado raid on Libya than keep open the average public library, both of which cost approx. £40,000… and don’t even get me started on the cost of our Afghani and Iraqi adventures?

As for newspapers and magazines, well within what little there’s left of my lifetime, they’ll all be gone too. With the possible exception, that is, of the celeb-based rags that continue to proliferate, so at least we’ll still be able to absorb the wisdom of such latterday sages as Joan Collins.

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1. WTK - August 23, 2011

No ranting from me, Mark. But…a friend was trying to donate a nice library of books and found NO takers, including charities, libraries, and nursing homes. The extensive NYC library system is lending out scads of e-books, buying few new books, and disposing of a portion of their “inventory”. How’s ‘dem apples, Pooky?

markswill - August 24, 2011

“Pooky” ?

2. David Cobbold - August 23, 2011

Mark, I am so much with you on all of this that maybe (and the thought is quite terrifying) we have to set up an oldies community somewhere (in cyberspace?) that manages to escape from all this twittering and faceless crap. Because this slide down the path of illiterate savagery is also, at least partially, down to the absence of “normal” physical contacts and all that ensues. On yer bike!

markswill - August 24, 2011

Many years ago, a friend suggested that all her friends who fancied it should pay her £100 a month so that by the time we reached age 65 (or thereabouts) we could retired to a crumbling country mansion she would have bought where we’d eke out our remaining days eating, drinking and drugging to our hearts content whilst listening to loud music, reading from an extensive library and basically HAVING FUN. Sadly, she found no takers, and how much do we all regret that now?

3. Ian Powis - August 23, 2011

Mark, lots to agree with and disagree with as usual. Firstly .. about libraries. They seem to be regarded as some sort of sacred cow by a large part of the population but what is the point in keeping them if no-one is using them? Given the financial constraints the country has to work with all these services have to justify themselves. As for making an assessment of whether we should have supported the Libyan rebels or spent the money at home, that’s an argument that’s beyond me but individuals priorities will always vary, and could a similar argument be made about spending on overseas aid since much of it seems to go in dictators pockets or to fund corrupt government? (Anyway I’d say spend it all on road and transport improvements). Second point – nostalgia ain’t wot it used to be. I’m of a generation about the same as yours where I’m sure they were moaning about dropping standards in education because Latin wasn’t now a standard part of the syllabus (at least not where I come from), the calculator was just coming in and the slide rule going out and handwriting had gone to pot, oh and O and A levels and degrees were much harder then. Having had two kids just been through school and university and done much better than me I have to say that things are easier don’t I?! I agree with your comments about Facebook and Twitter. I have a Facebook account but don’t bother with Twitter and am amazed at some of the utter rubbish people write (but then I do still check, even though only once a day, so who’s the fool!). On the other hand it is very useful when a friend in New Zealand posts a couple of new photos of the view from his back garden at this time of year, which otherwise I’d never see. Like all things, need to be taken in moderation. I remember our kids in their teens being absolute GameBoy addicts and being very worried about where this was taking them. In the end they grew out of it and son is now much more interested in HiFi and music. Can’t get him interested in cars though, and no doubt he’s the more intelligent one in that respect. The irony though has to be that we are enjoying your excellent writing and responding using a form of communication not too dissimilar to the ones that being accused of lowering standards. On TV and newspapers though I am very much in agreement and overall I’d have to say the fault is of ‘society’ and not of the tools in much of what is wrong and the ranting middle classes are probably more guilty than most because we ought to know better. I have to say that I think my kids are a lot less selfish than me and my generation so maybe the long term outlook isn’t as bad as we think and they will be able to put right what we’ve screwed up.

Does that qualify as a rant?

markswill - August 24, 2011

I think this does qualify as a rant, Ian, but a finely honed one IMHO (there goes the language again). However a couple of further comments: I regularly use my local library and it IS popular with others to, and I also recently had cause to visit one in London which also had some 10-15 people in it on a mid-week afternoon… which is more than my nearest Blockbusters! Granted, there are some libraries that aren’t well patronised, and maybe they should go, but they remain an easy target for council bean-counters whose mis-management of their budgets and reduced central govt. funding obliges them to tighten belts.

And why is this funding being reduced? Because central govt. grossly mismanaged the economy in the first place and allowed the bankers to get away with murder which, as I regularly shriek, we as taxpayers are now footing the bill for whilst also continuing to fund overseas conflicts which we should arguably never have embarked on.

On the question of the emerging generation’s illiteracy, well it’s a moot point alright, but with great respect your children kind and well-educated though they may be, are comfortably middle-class and that’s not fundamentally who I, and I think, darling Joan Collins were referring to.

4. Paul N. Blezard - August 24, 2011

I would just like to have a little rant about the appalling and widespread mis-use of that good Latin word ‘sic’, which simply means, literally, ‘thus’. It should only be used by one writer quoting another person’s flawed writing, to mean ‘as it was written’, thereby indicating that they know that the person they are quoting is an ignoramus who has made a spelling or grammatical error. Instead, it is often now used by ignorant people with no knowledge of Latin, or indeed good writing convention, to indicate that they themselves are using a word ‘loosely’ or ‘tongue in cheek’, as in the example above: “A whole school (sic) of educational thought”. Bring back compulsory Latin for all, I say!
Apart from that, I’ve always had a soft spot for Joan Collins ever since I saw her having a ‘knee trembler’ with her co-star in the lift in the otherwise entirely forgettable film “The Stud”. Actually, I should have written ‘hard spot’, fnaar. 😉
I also admire la Collins’ resolute and largely successful fight against the ravages of anno domini upon her appearance, and her ability, apparently, (like her near-contemporary Babs Windsor), to keep a much younger man happy. Marlene Dietrich would have approved.
Those shoulder pads in Dynasty were preposterous, but then so was the whole series and she must have made a lot of money out of it, so who can blame her? (She is now 78 years old, according to that utterly reliable fount of knowledge, Wikipedia).
Paul the priapic pedant from Ham (Nuffin’ but Nuffield Latin studied, no O-level even attempted, let alone passed!)

john dickinson - August 24, 2011

Absolutely Blez, “english like wot it is rit” (sic – haha) as Ernie Wise would have said…

markswill - August 24, 2011

Well Mr Blez, I actually did Latin to O-level… and failed it. Which tells you (almost) all you need to know.

Nigel Morningwood - August 26, 2011

Speaking of conventions, what is the convention with Knee tremblers? Can you, unless it is the local chief of police, gently tap the fellow on the shoulder and say, After you Mate?

5. WTK - August 24, 2011

Pooky…I’m in love with you.
Sad that there are only two choices: keep your books, or dump them in the recycling bin. Who would have imagined this 15 years ago? Is it the same situation in Blighty?

markswill - August 24, 2011

Why would *I* want to dump them? Libraries are another matter Terry, but just because you yankee doodlers are all philistines doesn’t mean we dutifully fall in behind you… as admittedly we do with most things. And see my response to Ian Powis (below).

6. WTK - August 24, 2011

Example: would you transport over 1 ton of your books to Barcelona if you moved? And if not shipping the books, what would you do with them? In the US, nobody wants them, including charities, hospice, libraries—you cannot give away books here. They go to recycling unless, of course, they are collectible. I find it disturbing…

7. Linda Stokes - August 24, 2011

Its all relics in the end…but its all used for he same thing..its the currency of the times, and yer gonna need it to have sex with young people 🙂

markswill - August 24, 2011

You got me here, Professor: are you talking about language or books… or both? And anyway, I don’t want sex with young people, just old(er) ones.

8. noel - August 24, 2011

I was amused to read that one particular shop was left untouched by twittering looters as they worked their way thorough a shopping centre somewhere in London.

Yes, it was a bookshop !

9. Linda Stokes - August 25, 2011

Mark, i was just talking about pretty much everything humans make and do to try to alleviate their constant anxiety of being…but since we’re looking at this with a tiny time frame of reference ..
.lets think of it like Value Added…every time ‘product’ is jacked with, its of course more valuable, specialized or refined….We used to buy a ‘side of beef’ here…now we buy tiny plastic packets of um..something……You used to read a book…an exciting erotic romp…
now you get this text ‘come fuck me’…Im sure you can see the refinement of language and the Value Added….no? Well then, have another look at the pic i sent w/ the text… Dr Linda

10. xmoron - September 13, 2011

Dear “Mark” – it’s just hit me. We’re all missing the essential similarity between your good self and the peerless Joan: the trim figure, the immaculate hair, the lustrous orbs… I could go on. No wonder you agree with her. In fact, I wonder if you and La Collins ever been seen in the same room together?

markswill - September 13, 2011

Barry dearest, how DID you find out about my cosmetic surgery?

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