Literature and Functional Curiosity

Reading and Though In Dwight MacDonald’s Reading and Though, he disagrees with Henry Luce’s Idea of functional curiosity. Luce coined the term “functional curiosity,” meaning “the kind of searching, hungry interest in what is happening everywhere. ” MacDonald’s opinion of functional curiosity is that it only encourages practice in reading rather than giving beneficial information. He considers today’s literature as flimsy and overwhelming. MacDonald assumes that all reading done in today’s society is “shallow thinking. I agree with MacDonald that there is a great amount of mediocre literature floating around, but he does not take into account the technological advancements, the lifestyles of people today, and students. With the new amount of technology that has been invented information is put out faster and is within most people’s fingertips. Technology has created the World Wide Web where an abundance of information, though partially considered junk holds information about international news to local news. Anything that anyone can possibly think of is on the internet.

MacDonald’s ideals would consider the internet is a collection of the world’s unsophisticated literary works. Henry Luce’s functional curiosity is used to skim through the overwhelming amount of information in order to help find topics that people are interested in. Search engine were also created to sort through the internet to find web pages that are relevant to a topic. I think that MacDonald would appreciate search engines, because it makes the internet clearer of pointless web pages. The way that information reaches people has changed greatly. Not only is there the internet, but there is also the television.

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The television is probably one of the most influential pieces of technology ever. TV affects people worldwide. It provides news all around the world and even gives the weather forecast. Though society enjoys following pop culture more than learning about how many people have died in the war, or how we are in a recession. The media is controlled by the people and what ever gets the TV stations higher ratings is what they will do to attract views. The way media is run justifies MacDonald’s argument that people are making things that are, “hastily slapped-together stuff… and would be foolish to waste much time or effort on writing or reading. All in all technological advancements have made everything more accessible and eventually handicaps people from finding the truth for themselves. Instead society just takes in the information that is spoon fed to them with no thinking required. MacDonald’s argument was written in the 1940’s. Now it is the 21st century and his argument hardly applies to how information is processed today. Our society has become a more fast paced and busy lifestyle. Time is something that people do not have to spare. People like instant gratification and that is the same way we like our information.

Literature is written in a way to obtain the most information with the least amount of time. Newspapers for example, are purposely written where the first couple of paragraphs give you the gist of what is going on and then the rest is detail. If you are interested in the topic then you would continue reading or you just move on. MacDonald’s example of a 16th century man reading today’s newspaper is a very flawed argument. Reading is something that only people with money and high social status is able to accomplish. Not only is it restricted to the upper class, but in the 16th century people were mainly farmers, and could not read.

Most of the people were illiterate, which means that there is no time spent reading because they are either cultivating their land or by the time they can read it would be dark. That lifestyle compared to ours is very different. For example, people who work in corporations need to read countless pieces of information even if they are badly written to figure out trends in the market or even what the new fashion is. Not all reading that is done is pointless and or meaningless. In order to survive in today’s society literacy is important to getting a job or even bettering one’s mind.

MacDonald’s argument is very straight forward and only speaks for his opinion. He likes to think that all the literature produced is horrible and reading it only improves reading skills. MacDonald does not take into account that student both have to juggle academic reading with functional curiosity. Students lived their lives absorbing as much information as possible while evoking though and trying to process what each literary work entails. Not all that is read is considered junk. Yes, there are a lot of ads, useless information, and horribly written novels out in the world, but these things are useful in relaxing the mind.

After hours of reading an oceanography book and trying to figure out why waves move taking a break by reading a fashion magazine helps to clear the mind. A change from reading academic books to a bestseller novel allows the mind to relax and soak up something that does not require thought. MacDonald is right that some literary works are flimsy, but they do serve a purpose to student in the long run. Along with studying functional curiosity helps to finding a person’s interests. Functional curiosity can in turn figure out what a person wants to major in or do for a living.

It helps in find who you are or who you want to be. This can alter the way a person thinks and lead them to achieving that goal. From personal experience the internet has helped me greatly in figuring what I have to do be successful in the future. MacDonald would think that it is impossible to get anything out of functional curiosity other than being, “well informed,” but it just depends on how you use it. MacDonald made some good points in this argument that society is too cluttered with pointless writing and that it evokes no thought at all.

Though he was right on those points, MacDonald’s flaws left his argument wide open, because he did not take into consideration the time change and people differ from every generation. With students and the corporate world especially, making a statement that all people do is read flimsy works with no meaning is bogus. People do read not only to enrich their minds, but to make something out of what they have read. Where is be a stress reliever or a way to figure out what you want to be in the future, sometimes you have to read something really bad in order to know what good literature is.

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Literature and Functional Curiosity. (2017, Jan 19). Retrieved from