Many people are saying that the culture has entered a post-literate phase. “Post-literate” is supposed to mean that people no longer read books, articles or anything longer than a TikTok caption.
I don’t think this can be true. While the printed word is no longer the only diversion on offer to a bored populace, book sales are up. More people are reading than ever, but more people are doing everything else as well.
The truth is, in an infinite online space with no gatekeepers, you can no longer make assumptions about what other people have read. There can be no common cultural hinterland beyond memes, which work because if you haven’t seen them, it’ll only take a few seconds to Google and catch up. The internet has reduced the value of literature as shorthand, or as a social signal, but only if you aim to reach the broadest audience.
It is an under-acknowledged fact that, just because the internet allows you to speak to the world, it is never a good idea to address such a vast and undifferentiated group of persons. Find your audience, and your allusions will become currency again.