Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/546

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By Professor EDMUND B. HUEY


THE cheapness and universal prevalence of printed matter, and the general enactment of compulsory education laws which fasten the reading habit upon all, give the problems of the hygiene of reading a universal and very great significance. This reading habit, when one thinks of it, has become perhaps the most striking and important artificial activity to which the human race has ever been molded. A very considerable part of most people's waking time, whether in childhood or in adult life, is taken up with the contemplation of printed or written symbols. One is seldom out of sight of some sort of printed or written matter, and the automatic functioning of the reading habit keeps one reading away at whatever appears, though it be but the silliest advertisement in a car or on a concert program.

And yet this reading habit is an intensely artificial performance, involving for both mind and eye and nervous mechanism, most delicate of all products of evolution as these are, constant repetitions of functionings which were not foreseen in their evolutionary development. I discuss elsewhere the nature of these unusual functionings and the causes of the fatigue and degeneration which have resulted from reading, and which must continue more or less until the organs become adapted to these requirements of modern civilization. The dangers from the strain on mind and eye and nerves, in reading, will be materially lessened if the schools, especially, will honestly enforce certain hygienic requirements that are now generally agreed upon, and statements of which are easily accessible in such recent books as Shaw's 'School Hygiene' or in the more comprehensive work of Burgerstein and Netolitzky.

Probably the most important and most feasible means of lessening the fatigue and strain of reading is by bringing about, so far as possible, that all books and papers shall be printed in such type and arrangement as shall fall within certain recognized limits of hygienic requirement. As to some of the requirements which should be made of the printer we are still uncertain, and further experimental investigation rather than the present excess of opinion is in order and is cryingly needed. Of some requirements we can now be certain, and