On the rain forest in Mom’s trunk

June 17, 2007 at 3:53 pm 2 comments

On Wednesday, Mom and I cleaned out the garage. Among other things, the project involved throwing out old and holey gardening gloves, sorting through redundant car cleaning supplies to figure out which items should go in the garage sale pile, and organizing Dad’s (unnecessarily extensive) collection of gas cans.

And then there was the matter of dealing with the paper.

My dad is a wonderful businessman and very devoted to his organization, but he doesn’t have near enough time or energy to sort through all the memos and reports and publications that come across his desk each day. Somehow, he winds up bringing his papers home a few at a time, where they accumulate in boxes in the garage, to be read through and dealt with some rainy day.

Mom and I “purged” the garage when we moved to our current home seven years ago, but in the time since then, his papers have been steadily piling up. So by Wednesday afternoon, there were at least 6 microwave-oven-sized boxes full of such papers stacked up on the concrete.

(This, mind you, is not counting an equal number of such boxes awaiting judgment inside the house.)

We loaded them into the back of Mom’s car, from whence they will face a professional shredder next week. While we were loading, I couldn’t help pondering the fact of all the reams and reams of wasted paper in those boxes. Like, seriously, there’s probably a whole South American rain forest represented right there in Mom’s trunk!

All of which prompts this question: Does literacy have its drawbacks?

I, of all people, am very attached to my books, and I’m one of those types who brings paper and pencil with me everywhere I go. (Including to the grocery store. I mean, hey, I might get struck by a brilliant idea next to the banana rack, and I sure wouldn’t want to lose it before getting home!)

So I’ll be the first to admit I’d go a little crazy without the written word. Still, part of me wonders whether the progression from an oral culture to a literate culture is necessarily an advance.

After all, I hear tales of the phenomenal feats of memory seen routinely among members of oral cultures. Peoples who aren’t bombarded with the written word constantly and who don’t have a way to store knowledge outside their heads are able to retain a tremendous amount in their own brains (and save rain forests while they’re at it). When I compare their skills to my own struggles in, say, memorizing a single Bible verse, or in recalling an author’s argument from three pages back in the book I’m currently reading, I’m a wimp. No doubt about it.

Has literacy cost us something? Gutenberg’s press admittedly blessed us in many ways by making the written word cheaper, but did it also rob us?


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nathan  |  June 17, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    Having just moved over the last three days, I definitely feel the burden of literacy. I feel it in my arms.

  • 2. Jamie  |  June 21, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Nathan: I bet you are indeed feeling it in your arms! Hope the move went smoothly and that you are getting settled into your new place.


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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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