Saturday, 9 April 2016

Is Digitisation Changing What We Read And How We Read?

Digitisation is changing the way we read!
A recent reading of an article by Hugh McGuire titled, 'Why can't we read anymore?' struck a chord with me when I noticed that much of what he had written is true, including the fact that reading exhausts most of us and a good number of us even fall asleep midway while reading a book. Some of us will recall waking up so often with a start to see the book lying on the floor, (or on the bed) and then deciding to call it quits, putting the book away to go off to sleep. How many of us, I wonder will confess being unable to read a whole book throughout the night;not being able to finish it before the break of dawn? Many of those who belong to my generation, will recall having read an interesting book through the night, whether it was an adventure by Sir Henry Rider Haggard, or a fantasy by E.E. Nesbit. What has changed today is that few of us who once skimmed the pages at a steady five hundred to five hundred and fifty w.p.m. (Words per minute) can even manage  a few sentences before turning to our internet enabled gadgets to check an update!
With digitisation ushering an era of multi-tasking, it is no wonder that we are not able to read anything at a stretch without 'that little itch at the back of my mind' according to Hugh McGuire, prompting me to switch off from reading to browsing the net! Digitisation has also brought down our attention span from five minutes or so to eight point two seconds! This drastic reduction in attention span is certainly alarming as it clearly changing the way we learn things, the way we perceive things, and even our ability to maintain social, conjugal and familial relationships! 
I would like to claim that I am still an avid reader, what with being a member of The British Council Library now for more than twenty years now, and having an ever expanding collection of books at home today, but then I would like to confess that I am finding it increasingly difficult to read  Greek classics by Homer, treatises by Plato, or even the more recent novels by Tolstoy, George Eliot, or even Charles Dickens. It is not that they aren't any longer relevant to us, rather it is that I don't have the patience to read them. The thickness of a book is often daunting for all confessed bookworms today and it is for this reason that shorter novels or novellas are back in fashion! No wonder, I was advised by a senior journalist whom I came across at the Doordarshan Studio in New Delhi to write very short novels of not more than a hundred and fifty pages and to price them accordingly! I guess pulp fiction and Mills and Boon should do a good job these days!
We are living in the age of instant gratification when the instant coffee approach is favoured more than the bread making approach, unless of course you want to be called a slow-coach, or even a nerd! Digitisation and connectivity have made it more important for us to conform to popular trends today. No wonder, reading books is out, while chatting, tweets, and sms is in. If you are reading, the it had better be something light, and it should be on a device that helps you switch over from reading an e-book to responding to a Whats App message, most probably an I Pad or a smart phone! 
That digitisation has effected a lot of change in what we read and how we read stuff came to me while going through a book of short stories that was published on Wattpad. This book contains short stories that are two  sentence long!The book is titled: 'Extremely Short Horror Stories (Two Sentence Horror stories). Of course they make sense, but then it made me wonder if this is to be the future of reading, single sentence short stories, or maybe single paragraph novels! While going through their prescribed novel with my grade twelve students, I came across a number of students who believed there was no point in reading the whole novel when they might watch a film! The students felt that reading the novel was too time consuming, boring and tiring and instead they wanted notes that would help them with their character and plot based questions. The same happened with my grade eleven students who found it tough going through their play which was based on The Salem Witch Hunt trials.
That it is digitisation that has changed the way we read and what we read seems clear to me when I realise that most of the active readers who come to the library to issue books ( Even if they are the Percy Jackson series or Hunger Games series) belong to grades six to nine. This is apparently because these children have been least affected by digitisation, and they still have a good enough attention span than their elder siblings or even their teachers who are fully hooked into the digital world! Researchers need to figure out why children who cross fourteen years of age begin losing interest in reading books. While no doubt, people might argue that there is no harm in switching  modes and technologies like for example word of mouth being replaced by print, vinyl and cassette tapes being replaced by CDs.,one wonders, however if diminishing attention and concentration spans augur any good!