Spectrum Voice

Spectrum Voice

Spectrum Voice
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New Delhi, India
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October 11
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I am an occasional blogger, an amateur photographer, and a self-taught creative writer. I enjoy writing short stories and articles. My works have been published in several newspapers and magazines in India (The Indian Express, The Statesman, Woman’s Era, Muse India, etc.) and in several e-journals in the USA (Mused- Bella Online Literary Review, The Smoking Poet, Fiction at Work, etc.). http://barnalisahabanerjee.blogspot.com

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FEBRUARY 11, 2013 11:28AM

Youth Jettisoning Literature for the Internet?

Rate: 9 Flag

 

Youth Jettisoning Literature for the Internet? 

Barnali Saha

 

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, saysLiterature 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.

.

 

References:

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

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This is a fascinating article, and I've been giving a great deal of thought to these issues myself. I'm a YA author, but am now focusing on children's books since I figure there's probably a better chance of getting them interested in reading - at least for a while.

Having said that, I'm not sure at all that kids these days are less literate than my contemporaries back in the late 20th century. When I was in school, everyone watched TV or read comic books. I don't remember anyone but me reading books - aside from the girls with their romance novels. Overall, I agree with Vedika Bawa that today's kids are a lot smarter and more motivated than we were. In any case, we should keep a close eye on these developments, since no one knows where this is all headed.

Rated.
Super paper. Excellent that you received an EP.
Wonderful essay, thought provoking and balanced. As Alan Nothnagle says, no one knows where all this is headed and while it's tempting to agree with Mark Bauerlein's statement 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,” does he really know this is true, overall? I don't see a "dumbing down" in my own children or their friends; they strike me as quicker and more intelligent than me and my peers, not that that proves anything.
Since I don't have much contact with young people, I really don't know enough to weigh in. But surely, a book called "The Dumbest Generation" is meant to fan flames and generate sales, and not much else. I'm sure many of my elders thought my generation was pretty dumb.

But then I read this:

"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 of 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.”

That makes me a little uneasy. Ms. Chakrobortty seems to be confusing "facts" and "knowledge." You don't gain facts from literature. You deepen your understanding of humanity. Literature cliched? Say it isn't so!

(I'm currently re-reading Jane Eyre on my Kindle.)
@Jeanette DeMain: Dear J, as a student of literature imagine my consternation when I heard this excellent young woman utter the words I quoted in my post. I cannot imagine literature being outmoded, hackneyed or cliched in any way. Sometimes I wonder how erroneous the erudite philosopher was who said that as civilization advances poetry declines; in a word of so many distractions I find literature the only balsamaceous agent intended to heal all ailments.

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you enjoy your reading of Jane Eyre :-)

Have a good one!
@Jeanette DeMain: Dear J, as a student of literature imagine my consternation when I heard this excellent young woman utter the words I quoted in my post. I cannot imagine literature being outmoded, hackneyed or cliched in any way. Sometimes I wonder how erroneous the erudite philosopher was who said that as civilization advances poetry declines was. In a world of so many distractions, I find literature the only balsamaceous agent intended to heal all ailments. And I cannot but agree unequivocally with you in declining the idea that literature is anything but cliched.

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you enjoy your reading of Jane Eyre :-)

Have a good one!
@Alan Nothnagle: Dear A:

Thank you for reading my article and posting the excellent comment. I am baffled by the over-use of gadgets by the youngsters and consider them as one of the reasons for the declining tradition of reading among the kids. I congratulate you for directing your focus on children's books; I am sure you are right in supposing that the kids might be interested.

By the way, did you feel you have over-grown your contemporaries in maturity and mental agility because of your reading habit? As a bibliophile myself I am proud of being a reading and consider myself a better person because I had taken up the reading habit once upon a time.

Have a good one and thank you once again for this thought provoking comment.
You brush upon key paradigm. I enjoyed your display of transcultural literate dynamic. Especially appreciating the John Updike remark, as well as the near 'obligatory' salute to Charles Dickens.
Your development herewith is good scholarship evocatively enriched with irresolute futurology. There is a nascent compression (miniaturization, mobility) combined with ubiquity of expansion and the pervasiveness of availability and pangyric ennoblement. Certain economy of scale and essential profitability enjoined with self-serving aggrandizement toward monopoly is inevitable. Meanwhile profits cannot be scorned; but at the same time the hyper-relevancy of 'trend' dominance and the 'art of persuasion' potentially result in the continued commodization of human beings. It is almost as though the propensity of genius falls to its age-old ennui and a clannish commodification-an hourly-(nay) minute-by-minute ethical challenge. This gratis WWW 'thought exchange' if nothing else, apparently has achieved a sort of suspended animation wherein each and every symbol typed demises to exasperated obsolescence.
Just now, the airwaves report another 'acting out' by North Korea. And one must ask, what were they thinking? Finally, what good would thinking do?!
My mother never read a book that I saw in her life until she retired. She was too busy until then raising her children, working, and caring for her sick husband. She joined a book club in her community, mostly consisting of former teachers, all with college degrees.

She was very intimidated at first, I recall, but noticed as the years went by her bookshelf had literature, old and new, on the top shelves, and the junk on the bottom. She made it clear that was her taste, not necessarily that of her more formally educated friends.

To me, this proves something about literature and the future of literature. As long as there are people around with character, literature will survive regardless of how it is presented.
"All is not lost". I agree. The availability of literature is better now than at any other time in history. I think that what we do with it is, as always, up to us. Great article. Rated.
All that concerns me is whether today's youth are less Bourgeois, less materialistic and more committed to the principles of dialectical/historical materialism, proletarian world revolution and the annihilation the globalist, capitalist oligarchic class.

It is irrelevant to me, whether they do this through print or internet media.

That said, I was watching C-Span some time ago. There was a member of the CIA and FBI talking on a panel, along with members from various global intelligence agencies, as well as Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, credit card companies and international booksellers consortiums.

They were discussing the internet, the concept of cookies, tracking, and how its much easier for global police forces to monitor what books people are reading. The Kindle and the I-Pad facilitate this. They also discussed how its easier to edit and censor sensitive magazine articles, for military and intelligence purposes, if these things are digital. For example, the guy from a European intelligence agency was discussing the Vietnam War, and how the US always had a problem when the print media printed US military plans and or troop movements in a print newspaper or magazine. Once it was printed, it was only a matter of time until the enemy read it and was able to respond in-kind.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are different. The US government can control a much more servile and centralized global media in a much better way. This is facilitated through digital press. If inadvertently "printed" highly sensitive information goes out into a "digital only" format, it can easily be corrected, and with proper measures, even the google cache can be erased.

So, even though we live in a so-called "information society," there are more controls on the flow, access and management of said information, because in a capitalist "democratic" world, information truly translates into power.

Digitized information transfers, while faster, are also more susceptible to manipulation, management, control and censorship in a way that a decentralized print medium, which saw its height during a 30 year period from the 1960s up through the 1990s, never did. Indeed, I would say that the height of the independent press in the West was from the mid 1970s up through the early 1980s. After this, centralization and management of information, even through print mediums, began in ernest.

I go into small, independent bookstores and I can find printed, intelligent, highly academic non-fiction works on US foreign policy, intelligence, the Cold War, Marxism, foreign affairs, foreign resistance movements, the Middle East, human rights and the like.

I cannot find these things on the Kindle. I can find them on the internet, but again, the internet is much more heavily monitored, due to US government computer monitoring programs like ECHELON, CARNIVORE, NARUSINSIGHT and ADVISE. (look these up, if you want).

As such, its often best, for true freedom of speech, to use cash and shop in independent bookstores.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivore_%28software%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NarusInsight

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON#See_also

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADVISE

As for Bourgeois literature, I have no use for it, unless it advances a message of social justice and world transformational change. If it doesn't do this, it is crap and I have no use for it.
Spectrum Voice: Here is a good essay you should read. It is by George Orwell. It concerns the English language. I admire his philosophy of writing. Sometimes, people are too fond of their thesaurus and it shows...

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm
The roads we take in life are always and uniquely all our own, regardless of our surroundings, our advantages and/or disadvantages. It is my belief that the proportion of those that will rise and contribute something worthwhile to society will always be much smaller than those who will not, and as a ratio, has been and will remain approximately the same as it has been, throughout human history, no matter how the technology affects us.

R.
What is your opinion of the Naxalite movement in India? I think its much more important that people KNOW HOW TO READ, and are able to have access to schools. That women can go to schools. That people can get an education, regardless of their background, then the medium they use for reading.

Your essay has the air of elitism about it, no?