Fifty Shades of Grey and the great unwashed. Will readers get dumber?

Thanks to Sharena for asking:

 “If we do move into a world where writers are able to showcase unpolished work without going through the usual process then does this mean that… readers may get dumber?”

I mean, say kids start getting basic Kindles at a young age and end up downloading all these unpolished works because, I dunno, they’re easier to read?

Now personally I find unpolished works to be frustrating reads, not easy reads, in fact getting through one chapter is very hard. The reason I bring this up is because someone suggested I read Fifty Shades of Grey because they enjoyed it.

For me, the weird thing about that book is that it’s not written very well but people enjoy the “plot” but then if this is the case why not put that book down and find something similar but written better?

Is it possible that people… like bad writing”?

The problem is, Sharena, we have already moved into that world where writers are able to showcase unpolished work. But does that mean readers may get dumber? I don’t think so. What it means is that we humans will get cleverer slower.

The arrival of the internet is probably the most important jumping point in human evolution since the arrival of the wheel. By jumping point I mean a time where great advances can be made… and it’s true right now as we see scientists and universities around the world sharing their knowledge, teaching each other in the process, and making surging advances in medicines and sciences.

But despite the web resources available to the common man, enabling him to learn about the science, the medicine, the internet also provides space for the thimbleriggers to trade their craft, their quack medicine, their snake oils. And common man, in his ignorance, will still buy the snake oil.

Same goes for writing.

One writer I came across recently was telling the world how he had sold close to 250,000 eBooks, how he was making a comfortable living by churning out six novels a year. “Don’t bother honing your craft,” he said. “Readers will buy it regardless.” and “Jump on the wagon and make big bucks like I do.”

His particular USP (unique selling point) is that most readers are ignorant.

And he’s right. And he’s making a living from it.

You mention Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, what a delightfully rubbish book.

Julie, my neighbour, says there’s nothing better than plopping herself in the bath with FSOG and a glass of wine while hubby watches the football downstairs.

But what about the dumb characterisation? I ask. Julie shrugs. “I didn’t notice, just enjoyed the sex.”

And what about the pov slips, the head-hops, the irrelevant scenes like flying in a helicopter and listening to the tower instructions? Julie shrugs… “I just skimmed those bits.”

I can and do mock those writers producing rubbish and making a quick buck but the truth remains, there are millions of Julies around the world and they’ll throw their bucks at anything.

Now, if I took Julie to one side, gave her a few lessons on how to get the best from reading and from writing; if I showed Julie where the real magic is, I’m certain Julie would dump her saucy trilogy and go searching for better.

Fact is, one must `know` the magic before one can `see` the magic, and there will always be the snake oil peddlers producing copies of the latest bestsellers, uninterested in improving their craft, uninterested because they know ignorant reader will throw bucks their way.

So, to answer your question “Does this mean that readers will get dumber?”

No. Reader’s reading ability will simply evolve at a slower pace.

As with any human advancement the ignorant will always be prey and the greedy will always be present with their scams and substandard product.

What we could do is teach our kids less about religious education, geology, that kind of thing, and more about how to read and write. THAT might just get us there quicker. Wherever there might be.

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  1. This series of books is so awfully written that, being a teacher, I was tempted to use my red pen most of the time. I started the first book to understand why so many young people (and not only) were so interested. I was stunned! My review is at (I couldn’t go past book I)

    • Sharena

       /  September 24, 2012

      Hear Hear Maria.

      “What we could do is teach our kids less about religious education, geology, that kind of thing, and more about how to read and write. THAT might just get us there quicker. Wherever there might be.”

      Indeed, this is the key to learning. So true.
      Thanks for that, I didn’t expect such a long reply 😛

  2. I just finished the first book and must admit it felt like I had just watched the “Hatfields & McCoys”, in the sense that I felt I had lost brain cells. So I must agree with you that it lacks depth, the depth that draws you into the people and their lives. The depth makes makes you want to see how the book ends.


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