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Traditional vs. modern reading – from freedom to captivity of the mind

Traditional vs. modern reading – from freedom to captivity of the mind

By Alina Ostrovsky

Once upon a time, people read books voraciously. The succinct title embellished on the cover page drew the masses to pick it up from the shelf, turn it over to the back, flip through the pages and whet their appetite for reading. The book had a fixed topic, a fixed volume and a fixed physical dimension, reasons that satisfied readers looking for knowledge to devour at their own pace. However, this has now been replaced by the World Wide Web, the beast that is demanding, imposing and blatantly expansive. Sadly, the assumed benefits of this “more connected” age are actually the modern-day devils in disguise.

A formidable threat to be overcome

The internet has become our antagonist. After every technological advancement, it doesn’t only pose a threat to the small being that is the book but it also antagonizes our human mind. The grim reality is that pages are not touched and sniffed for ages. The only thing we do is scroll through devices with our fingers. This electronic addiction is scary. But what is scarier is that with this abundant information, we have started accessing all forms of it without really retaining its subtletiesit dictates our consciousness from morning till night. Because of that beast, we are dull and overwhelmed, we are shackled and imprisoned. Our only hope out of this is through the revival of the glory of the novel, our very own protagonist, which will set us free again from the daunting grips of the monstrous being called the internet.

As was noted by Joan Acocella in her article ‘Turning the Page’: “The glory of the novel…[is] that it spur[s] the imagination: it is pleasant to the mind to sport in the boundless regions of possibility; to find relief from the sameness of every-day occurrences by expatiating amidst brighter skies and fairer fields…Reading…is a secret garden, a second life”. Our generation has forgotten the wonders of the book and that is just a sin. We fail to realise that the World Wide Web, as T.S. Eliot put it, “distract[s] us from distraction by distraction”—we are just consumed by it.

The harm of being in a hurry

Reading, through the centuries, has transformed from “Intensive” to “Extensive”. “The Roman philosopher Seneca may have put it best 2,000 years ago [as if foreseeing the demise of our future]: ‘To be everywhere is to be nowhere’”. Intensive reading, when used to be popular once, was a confined practice of reading in between the lines. Nowadays, there is no solace in the matter—you are sucked into the pool of social whirlwind in which everyone is present in the medium you are in at the same moment you are too. It is “extensive” in a way of “speed reading”, “skimming”, just “clicking”, and “surfing” through storms and waves of information.

Sarah Churchill has pointed out to us clueless millennials that “knowledge is not the same as information”; the internet is simply an “information overload”. While knowledge has the potential to transform into wisdom and ultimately into power, information is just simply a clogging of the brain, a nuisance to our train of thinking. In fact, Nicholas Carr brought the matter into light as he wrote that “[w]hat’s disturbing is that skimming becomes a dominant mode of [our] thought”. Even our old Plato was bothered by the matter as he argued in his time “that technology of writing would destroy the art of remembering”. In other words, we are addicted to the point we need some serious rehabilitation.

The journey of a declining culture

To understand the decline of the value of reading, we need to take a trip through history, through what’s known to be the “Reading Revolution”. What instigated it was the emergence of the “Printing Revolution” that ultimately enabled “everyone everywhere [to] (in theory) read an exact copy of an identical text”. First, the creation of the “alphabet” turned on the gears of the “Printing Revolution” for which reason the “rolled scroll” came forth on which the text was written. In time, the “rolled scroll” turned into “folded scroll”, which is a scroll on which text is written in the format of what we know now to be a book. The “scroll” itself began from “papyrus”, advancing into “parchment” and finally to “paper”. However, the “Industrial Revolution” paved the way for “The Electronic Age” that involved “computing”. At that point, we started having the “radio”, the “television” and the culprit of all times known as “social media” that made the book practically obsolete.

The future needs us to look to the past

As explained in chapter 12 titled “New Readers in the Nineteenth Century: Women, Children, Workers”, written by Martyn Lyons, children’s literature was especially ubiquitous in the yesteryears as it evoked and expanded children’s need for imagination. It taught “secular morality, emphasizing kindness…, [developing their] courage [to be resilient through all sorts of trials, while maintaining] honesty and fidelity” to one another. Now, as times have changed, children have moved much beyond the innocent joys of novels. They are spoiled to no length by the digital world.

For the working class adults in the 19th Century, “[t]he eager searching for a book knowledge was vital to the intellectual emancipation on which political action was based [that] also provided the knowledge and discipline required for moral, rational self-empowerment…and a rational existence”. Now “intellectual emancipation on which political action [is] based” is supposedly gained through a digital newsfeed that contains brief summaries on current events merely describing the transpiring without any in depth analysis of it. So essentially, it is not “emancipation”, it is just an “obsession”, a hook of the mind, to incessantly keep up with the current events. The modern world is in dire need of change, a change that must begin with the young minds that will shape our future. The millennials and the high-tech professionals have extinguished the fire of the book. The book must be revived into life again and things must change to how they once used to be.


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