Or has there 'never been a time when English was not thought to be going to hell in a handcart'?
Complaints about English are (a) as old as the hills, (b) based on no linguistic logic, and (c) ultimately futile, since no one can stop language from varying and changing.
In The Language Wars, Henry Hitchings argues there has never been a time when English was not thought to be going to hell in a handcart. He cites what sounds like a contemporary essay on "the growing illiteracy of American boys" and invites us to guess when it was written. The answer turns out to be, in 1896 – and the boys whose illiteracy so alarmed the essay's author were not hillbillies or slum children, but Harvard undergraduates. Source
But aren't young people today reading far less? Is the Internet destroying our 'book culture'?
Adam Gopnik summarises the different approaches to this question:
Never-Better: The internet is opening up a new information democracy. Everyone gains by increased access to information.
Better-Never: The internet damages our capacity to absorb meaningful information - we no longer have the patience to absorb the benefits provided by sustained reading.
Ever-Was: The internet is simply the latest in a long line of technological developments which appear to be revolutionary but are absorbed by 'old fashioned' activities like reading. Nassim Taleb suggests that anything which has survived for centuries (like books) has a strong chance of a long-term future.
In this short (edited) extract from a New Yorker podcast, Gopnik outlines his personal view:
Does 'Hermione in the library' represent the end of the book culture?
You can read the complete article and listen to the complete podcast (14/02/11) via the (free) Itunes subscription.