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Doris Lessing Blames Internet for Decline in Reading

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In the speech she [Doris Lessing] prepared to accept this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, she describes regularly visiting rich schools and even universities where she is told that some students don’t read books at all, and that the library is half-used.

“We are in a fragmenting culture,” she wrote, “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 about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.”

She goes on to lay the blame on the Internet, which she said “has seduced a whole generation into 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 and blugging etc.”

Be sure to read the comments after the article as well.

Lessing's full speech, courtesy of Guardian Unlimited.

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Nightmare anthology

I noticed a remark by John Updike in the same article:

"John Updike...complained that book digitization is destroying reading, by turning long reading sessions into searches for snippets."

This reminded me of something I sent in long ago to an SF Chronicle columnist, who was discussing the impact of the internet on reading.

I wrote:

"I just had a cosmological insight while sitting at my desk here at Stanford Libraries, thinking about Google, thinking about Podcasts: Yes, everything will become digitalized, all books, all journals, all magazines, all chat, and as a result, we'll all become illiterate. Now, like many cosmological insights, this may be pure bunk. But maybe not. Think about it: Through digitalization, all knowledge, all word stuff, becomes a giant, unlimited anthology, and we can "look up" anything, anytime, instantly. We go through life with an unlimited supply of quotes, but no real reading, no context. Everything will simply reinforce our prejudices and appetites of the moment: what instant gratification is all about.

Literacy is context, a universe of meaning, or rather an ocean of meaning, where you can swim around, learn new ways of thinking, see new dangers, acquire new skills. Hearing Mozart makes us seem better than we are. Reading a great book does the same thing, both subverting and improving us at the same time. A perfectly digitalized universe of meaning?: 'I need, I want! Here it is!' Speed kills, it also breeds illiteracy. Maybe."


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