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December 11th, 2007

A whine about decline

A whine about decline

Dear Reader,

It appears that because we write this blog I, and my colleagues, are directly responsible for all cultural decline. We would like to apologise for producing this blog, and in doing so destroying the fabric of our society and we promise to never do it again.

Of course, we don’t promise to never do it again, because I’m doing it right now.

Arstechnica reports that Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, has criticised the digital media for making people lose interest in reading. In her acceptance speech, delivered on her behalf, Mrs. Lessing wondered why poverty-stricken students in Africa showed a greater interest in reading than richer, Western ones. She concluded that television and the Internet is to blame.

Lessing singled out blogging as a factor in the decline of reading. Lessing asked, “How are we, our minds, going to change with the new Internet, which 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”.

Blogging inane? How dare she! Wibble.

And she continues, “It is now 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.”I would argue that if that is the case, then it’s the failure of the education system that’s to blame.

The overall message of Lessing’s speech is that people are losing the desire to read, but that argument just doesn’t make sense to me. The Internet is almost entirely text-based; it’s only recently that video has become fast and clear enough to use. I would argue that, because of the Internet, more people are reading than ever before.

So maybe we’re talking about a quality control issue here. Let’s be honest, a lot of stuff on the Internet is poorly written, and factually inaccurate to boot. But the blogs and sites that get the most hits are the ones that are quite well-written. If they weren’t, people wouldn’t want to read them.

This blog doesn’t get many hits. Infer what you will.

Books continue to sell, and people continue to write them. For example, Prompt’s very own Sean McManus has just released his first novel. I suspect part of Lessing’s problem is that high-brow “literary” books don’t sell particularly well. When they do, it’s often because they win an award like the Booker prize. It’s true that many bestsellers are often quickly produced, or part of a series (you often see these on the shelves of supermarkets), but these type of books have always sold well anyway. If there’s anything to blame for the increasingly limited selection, it’s that the retailers are starting to dictate the market, and they only want the ones that are guaranteed to sell.

But this is a complex and separate issue, and of limited relevance to what is technically a technology blog.

The way we view the written word is changing, I won’t deny that. Although books will be around for a long time yet, a lot of what we once read on paper, magazines, newspapers etc, is moving online. And this is fine with me – changing things is what the human race has always done.

So don’t stop reading blogs, don’t stop reading website copy. And give Lessing’s work a look. I understand it’s rather good.

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