A Hunger for Books (Not Blogs)

I was recently reading Dorris Lessing’s Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech (full text here). It’s an excellent read, a story of storytelling, that recalls her experiences in Africa and the influence of books on a writer. I strongly recommend all to read it. However, as inspirational as it is, there is also a strong feeling of cynicism towards the culture heralded on by the technology revolution, and some points worth thinking about. Here is a short quote:

“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

What has happened to us is an amazing invention – computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”

I found it strange how she describes the printing revolution as something good, by allowing “voices unheard” to wield their talent, but the internet revolution as something meaningless, fragmenting, and wasteful. It seems to either imply that publishers have been given the divine gift of knowing what is good to publish, or that people (are dumb, and) lack the collective knowledge to find what is worth reading. Is there no such thing as collective wisdom? Does a change of medium naturally imply a change in content and quality? Perhaps her words reflect Toffler’s predictions, or it is impossible for her to find any quality in the chaotic community that we call the web?

After all, her message came to me by means of blogs and online news. Any thoughts?

4 Responses to “A Hunger for Books (Not Blogs)”

  1. It’s a good read indeed. Thanks for the pointer ;-)

    The thesis of this recent book is that web 2.0 is killing our culture. Anyone who follows web 2.0 closely may get the feeling that this book may be idiotic. An excellent review (by Lessig) shows that it is.

  2. The Economist meets web 2.0 by hosting Oxford-style debates

  3. mike says:

    The parallel divisions between print/internet and white/black are revealing – future shock as a species of orientalism? Why didn’t the oral cultures of precolonial Africa become written cultures? Perhaps because the books were imported but the presses were not – the colonists imported their own cultures when they imported their own books. I wonder what Lessing thinks of the One Laptop Per Child project.

    If half the children in a London school have never read a novel, does that mean literature is dying? How many people in Shakespearean England could read? Or in colonial Africa, when Shakespeare was being taught to African children in “the mission schools, the better schools”?

    I doubt that someone who refers to “computers and the internet and TV” as a single invention has really explored them in depth, but even if Lessing’s criticism of “the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities” amounts to more than future shock, we might ask who stands to gain from a “fragmenting culture” and who stands to lose.

  4. [...] information? Do they breed laziness, and axe our ability to think? Or is this just another “againster” who rejects technology (feeling the pages- is she serious? if she dislikes the content on [...]