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[Opinion] Semi-illiterate

Posted November. 21, 2004 23:28,   


The invention of the written word has been an epochal event in the history of humanity. It has made possible a passing down of knowledge and communication of thoughts, exceeding the barriers of time and space, allowing an efficient circulation of information. In the knowledge-based 21st Century, represented by the Internet and information revolution, the deciphering of letters has become more important, thus pushing all nations to lower their people’s illiteracy rates. Fortunately, thanks to the scientific and easy to learn Hangeul, Korea’s adult illiteracy rate is only about 2 percent, which is among the lowest in the world.

However, being able to read is not necessarily equal to being able to understand the writing. If one cannot understand what the writer is trying to convey and make practical judgments accordingly, reading will be of no use. UNESCO defined this “semi-illiteracy” and emphasized the need to subjugate this, but sadly in Korea the number of semi-illiterates seems to be increasing. It is common to see people ostracize and falsify writings that are different from their opinions, instead of trying to understand the writer’s point.

Such semi-illiteracy is even spreading to those who call themselves intellectuals. Since they draw the line between “my side and your side” and refuse to read what is written by one who they feel belongs to the other side, written words are failing to function as an “instrument of communication beyond time and space.” To make matters worse, they dichotomize all matters, as a child asks, “Is he a good guy or a bad guy?” when watching a movie, so it seems as if there is not only a degeneration in intelligence, but also a retrogression in mental age.

I cannot but say that the reason why our society is losing the ability to read and the mental age is getting younger is due to “chaotic politics.” Because of those politicians who take sides in order to gather votes and who speak roughly regardless of rank, the quality of our society as a whole is deteriorating. It is not of our concern that the quality of their personalities is going down, but shouldn’t we stop them from degrading our nation too?

Oh Se-jung, Guest Editorial Writer, Physics Professor at Seoul National University, sjoh@plaza.snu.ac.kr