I have been reading “Gutenberg Elegies” and while I am often in tears at the vocabulary and the flow of language (even if pretentious now and then), the content bothers me more than somewhat, because it goes against my grain.
I haven’t proceeded far in the book, so I may be premature in forming an opinion and playing the devil’s advocate, but what’s with the Miniver Cheevy syndrome, I say – the romantic notion that gaslights and cobblestone streets were the times to live in and that the digital age has brought with it doom and ruin, and complete loss of humanness. Bollocks. The era of gaslights and cobblestone, while, being lovely for much-hyped musical movies, was also the era that predated antibiotics, modern plumbing and instant communication, which could save lives. If the digital era has indeed changed the way we read and perceive the world, it is nothing new. Every era and its ecosystem has indeed changed the way we perceive life and everything to do with it. A few years back, I tried reading a translation of “The Tale of Genji” , which is a 11th century Japanese novel, and I couldn’t understand head or tail of it nor could I relate to most of the story – cultural mismatch not being the only deterrent. The era is different, the beliefs are different. Even within my own culture, its not rare that a tale from the Ramayan or Mahabharat gets me all riled up, because, I repeat, the era is different, the ecosystem is different, the perception is different, and the brain processing is different.
My reading has necessarily been altered now by the digital tools. I am an excellent forager of information now – my job requires that I scour hundreds of information sources, cull them in my mind and choose ones I need, 17 years of my job have made me an expert in it. This is the diametric opposite of lazing in my armchair, savouring every word of Anna Karenina. But is one better than the other? Who can say?
That aside, I have a serious issue with nostalgia. Nostalgia/memories are killers of the present. I know at least two people who are caught in the enchanted entrapments of their past, and cannot live in the present in contentment. The present is never as glorious as the past, because the past is imagination spun around a shred of memory. The digital age is here to stay (unless we do something foolish like unleash a world war or something, which short of obliterating us as a life form, could set us back by centuries), and it is foolishness to not accept it, with all the changes it brings to the human system.
I also disagree with the allegation that technology has degraded the reading habit. My personal experience is that it has enhanced mine. With my forties-eyes, I find it easier to read a white screen kindle in which I can adjust the brightness and font according to the time of the day and the level of my eye-tiredness. I don’t have to strain my already overworked fingers holding a paperback or worse, hardbound in awkward angles. There have been few hard-core readers at all times, and digital reading may have skewed it a little more, but that is a natural side-effect of any kind of change. In my country, our ancient scriptures (The Veda) were not meant to be written at all and transmitted only from mouth-to-ear. Result, we have lost one significant portion of the four-part Veda and much more has been curtailed and modified through the ages. When they were written down, there was hullaballoo among our ancestors about the loss of mouth-to-ear transmission culture. Big deal, at least what remained of the Vedas has been saved from mutilation or worse, oblivion.
Yes, I know that the attention span of a child has been reduced to that of a gnat by technology. But that would be partly the fault of the adult too, for not instilling the reading habit when young. True that my kid gave up reading Anna Karenina, but that is because it was age inappropriate. She, however, finished reading The HitchHiker’s guide -all three parts, within a week.
Distractions are distractions and they have always existed. You just learn to overcome the shortcomings, or learn to accept any change as a package deal and not bellyache about the evils of change.
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory, too
And a new day will begin