From Rousseau to Buzzfeed: The Implications of Evolving Communications

It’s finals week, and everyone I know is on a grind. Whether you are cramming for a test or procrastinating on a paper, hang in there.

Anyways, I had to write two philosophy papers on 17th and 18th-century metaphysics and a political theory paper on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s works. One thing I cannot help but notice was the articulateness of their language and the depth of their vocabulary. I constantly had to reread their passages and consult google when I did not know a word’s meaning. Their writings were truly literary masterpieces.

What I read today on a regular basis barely pales in comparison to the scholars of the past. In a world of 140 characters and Buzzfeed lists, the reading level required is not much. But what does this mean and is it a cause to worry?

In the 17th and 18th centuries, only select portions of populations were literate. They were usually upper class and attained a higher education, so it was expected that writings would contain expressive vocabulary and proper grammar. Most importantly, reading was an activity that was the highest form of mental stimulation at the time. The memorizing visuals of today’s media did not exist, so writings had to be suitable enough to capture and maintain the reader’s attention.

Today, there is no longer a need for an intense vocabulary because how we communicate on a daily basis does not require it. More people can read than ever, and at the same time, the people’s average reading levels have decreased dramatically. One can argue that there is no need for everyone to have an advanced vocabulary because technology has evolved to the point that visuals are sufficient enough to get your point across. Snapchat, NowThisNews, and Buzzfeed lists are all examples of this.

However, language is the foundation of expression, and when your vocabulary is restricted than ultimately your expression is too. The implications of this are profound. How could you express your dissent if you cannot find the words to express it? I remember reading 1984 several years ago, and there was a character who was proud to be an editor of the official dictionary that shrunk every year. Because the number of words in their language became more and more limited, the people could not express what was wrong with their society.

What does this have to do with today? Well, the media regularly displays polls of how people feel about issues, presidential candidates, etc.; polls are even used to determine who qualifies for Republican debates. But isn’t the emphasis of polls just the dumbing down of public discourse? It is making serious discussions into yes or no answers. In addition, politicians from all over the spectrum manipulate voters. Whether their last name is Trump or Clinton, they lie, they use rhetoric, and they employ symbolic appearances to win over supporters. Now some people can clearly see through the facade, but the majority of them cannot because they are hypnotized by the visually fast-paced, low-level vocabulary of today’s media and communications.

When it comes down to it, it is about educating yourself. If you care about the future, you will learn from the past. Your willingness to learn, well, that is all up to you.