Youth Jettisoning Literature for the Internet?
This evening as I sit reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, the wordsmith who according to Claire Tomalin, author of the new biography Charles Dickens: A Life, is after Shakespeare perhaps the greatest creator of characters, I cannot help but wonder about the fate of literature as we know it in the face of the colossus we call the internet. The exoskeleton armor of the internet has undoubtedly equipped the “digital natives” with the promise of a repository of knowledge that will solve their queries, academic and non-academic needs, and enable them to become multi-tasking street-smart citizens of the future. We cannot disagree that in the presence of snazzy digital technology stodgy bibliophilia does appear like a minimus, its entertainment quotient and attractiveness undoubtedly seem limited. Now, the question is, will the power of the internet ultimately lead the meager army of literature into the dungeon of oblivion or will literature survive the threat and continue to exist regardless of the popularity of the internet among the young net-users.
John Updike in his New York Times Op-Ed piece called A Case for Books deals with the dismal idea of the demise of “paper-and-glue book” in the digitized age. He says that such a contingency is not impossible since “Already much of the written communication that used to be handled by letters, newspapers, and magazines has shifted over to PC screens and the vast digital library available over the Internet.”
To us it doesn’t really matter whether our young generation is reading physical books or e-books as long as they are reading and appreciating literature. We are more concerned about the quantity of reading is that is actually done by the young generation, and given a choice between literature and laid-back internet browsing what will they choose and why? Arti Gupta, a young e-learning expert from Bangalore agrees with the idea that the popularity of conventional literature is indeed waning and says that “If given a choice between literature and the internet, I will definitely choose internet because it is a quick and vast source of knowledge and information. Use of the internet saves a lot of time one can be spent in the search of relevant information.” Amrita Chakrobortty, an engineering student, feels that literature is irrelevant today and says that “Since knowledge, regardless of the form it comes, is important it doesn’t really matter whether we get it online or from books. Literature is clichéd; its enjoyment is based on heavy reading and after a long day at school or at work most of my friends prefer light internet browsing rather than heavy brain-activity.”
We wonder if this means that in due course the treasures of literature will be limited to only the humanity scholars and a small set of intellectuals. Sonal Malhotra, a master’s student from Delhi says “Literature will never lose its essence; it is one of those things that should and would be untouched by technology. The feeling of reading a book is quite different and I will always prefer literature as an entertainment over internet browsing.”
Say if we consider, for the sake of argument, that there isn’t any competition between the internet and literature, and that the internet is the global sensation of our time just like the television was in our parents’ time and the radio was in the time of our grandparents— a commonplace reservoir of entertainment and knowledge— that will affect slightly the way we have been appraising literature. Such a view will undoubtedly palliate our minds in the face of facts that propose otherwise. According to an NEA study in USA, between 1997 - 2003 home Internet uses soared by 53% among 18- to 24-year-olds. From 1981 to 2003, the leisure reading of 15- to 17-year-olds fell to seven minutes a day from 18. What's more, 58% of middle and high school students use other media while reading. So, apparently, when kids report that they're reading, they're often also watching TV, playing video games, instant messaging, emailing or surfing the Web.
Mark Bauerlein in his book “The Dumbest Generation," argues that the fruits of digital technology instead of opening up new avenues of imbibing useful knowledge have conspired to create a mountain of public ignorance so high that it might threaten our society. He feels that “The kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities – like opening a book or writing complete sentences.” Vedika Bawa, an English teacher and blogger doesn’t agree with Bauerlein’s view. Defending her students she says “I don’t think that the youth today are dumb or listless; compared to us they are smarter.” Talking about literature, this young educator says, “You cannot deny that the study of literary texts needs to be revamped; the method of teaching literature and the textual analyses of pieces we practice alienate youngsters rather than make them embrace literature.”
A New York Times article, Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know, April 1, 2010, described the use of neurological research and cognitive science in the study of literature. Nidhi Bhargava, an MA student, says “Literature study would doubtless be titivated if such modern scientific techniques are used to read traditional literature; we do, however, need to wait till such complex lab-based methods of interpreting literature are available in the market.”
In conclusion, we may say that however dismal the future of literature may apparently seem, all is not lost for us. Intellectual scions of our future generations with the aid of technological tools like the Amazon Kindle and Audible Audiobooks are exploring new ways to embed literature in the busy lives of the young generation. Penguin Books India has come up with mass-market fiction, or Metro Reads for readers’ on-the-go. Such small steps may keep the spirit of literature alive in the net-centric life of a Gen-X representative; however, as to the future of such literary-aids, we have to wait and see.
1. Can U Read Kant? By DAVID ROBINSON: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121063808679386853.html
2. 2. DAVE'S BOOK BITS: Internet Reading vs. Reading Literature” : http://davekeane.blogspot.in/2008/05/internet-reading-vs-reading-literature.html
3. Updike John. Due Considerations, “A Case for Books”. Knopf; 1 edition (October 23, 2007), pg 68.
4. Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/books/01lit.html