Evgeny Morozov in his book, To Save Everything, Click Here, states the obvious. The technological solutionism is the romantic utopia of our age. He cautions us against a techno-utopian pipedream.
Have we inadvertantly divorced our best life partners ~ books? Books are life partners that help you build your life better while making you experience love, warmth, romance, wonder, adventure and thrills.
Above all, they guide you as friends, philosophers and guides imparting the right knowledge and wisdom to lead a life that is purposeful and beautiful. When was the last time you read a book of your interest? Ask this of yourself and you will realise how the reading habit is dying slowly. But the big decline in reading among the current generation is a cause for greater concern, raising questions about the future of intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, the wisdom of life and the future of civilization.
What could have caused this? When I start thinking about this sorry state of affairs, I discover there are several culprits, playing their roles in destroying the reading habit. First is obviously the technological tsunami that crashes on our doorsteps, every now and and then. It is as if we are living in an age of everyday obsolescence.
Even before we are fully done with understanding one technology, the other is already knocking at our doors with more temptations. It is no secret that technology has transformed our lives. But although it has brought countless benefits, it has also inadvertently dampened the reading habit.
We simply don’t have time. We are often so busy handing this information overload that we possibly never find time for a book. With screens dominating our waking hours, smartphones becoming the new life style, with loads of social life content and beyond, and attention spans dwindling, books and reading have taken a backseat, especially for those who spend a sizable time of the day as students learning courses, or people doing any type of regular job or business for a living. In an era where everything is available at the swipe of a finger, patience seems to have become a forgotten virtue.
And reading requires time, effort, concentration and of course patience. It seems that while the older generation has forsaken the reading habit, sadly enough, the current generation, nurtured on a diet of instant gratification, finds it increasingly challenging to commit to a book or on spending time to read, what to speak of making reading a hobby.
The thinking may be simple: Why invest hours in a novel or books of mythology or any other, when social media can offer instant interaction, entertainment, and an endless array of engagements, fulfiment and desirable distractions to kill boredom? So where will this state of affairs lead to?
Possibly, these new age habits have led us to an age of intellectual stagnation. Reading nurtures our minds, broadens our perspectives, and sharpens our intellect. Without a robust reading habit, the current generation is missing out on the transformative power of varied literature.
May be inadvertently, we risk stagnating in a world devoid of curiosity, imaginative leaps, deep insights, and nuanced understanding. What happens when we don’t read? Slowly, we become unaware of things and life around us. We become ignorant and thoughtless, lose the ability to think critically and judge, and become blind believers.
What happens then? People take us for a ride. We start becoming more irrational than rational, living more by our whims than reasoning. We have no stock of life’s intellect to better understand people and situations as we have become empty.
Though one’s life experiences come as learning they are not enough, looking at the hugely diverse humanity and our role in it. You may not be able to travel the world and know its people and cultures, but by reading you can know the world and learn what it takes to live responsibly and purposefully in it.
Today, seeing our contemporary political culture, one often finds one political party criticizing vehemently the other on certain issues involving great personalities of our nation. If one bloc demeans Nehru for what they call disservice to the nation, the other bloc jumps to attack Vir Savarkar for what he has done or not done for the country. How many people in our country have read The “Discovery of India” by Nehru? It is possible that this one book would have made the nation aware about him to some extent.
I think all this happens, perhaps because the accusers and the believers know a part of the story or have no idea of both sides reasonably well. Had anyone read more about both individuals, maybe this shortsightedness may not have happened, because both have made so many contributions to the nation in their own ways. It is thus that reading makes us more aware, knowledgeable, judicious, and gives us the temper to accept all opinions.
I remember sitting with others in the family every evening listening to my grandmother read the Ramayana and explain it. Not just that, at times she would ask about characters of the epic to check if we children were listening to her and possibly being prepared to imbibe the ideals that the Ramayana taught us. Today, we as a nation are fast losing that great cultural habit which was a part of every family.
Can we revive it innovatively to match today’s time where soon we will have a generation of working-women grandmothers and more nuclear families that have no grandmothers living with them? All students while being encouraged to strive for academic excellence should also be encouraged to read books that make them quality human beings too.
Look at our lawyers and judges. As professionals they spend quite a bit of time reading law books and journals, and their case-files. You will hardly see judges and lawyers reading anything other than law books because they have no time for distractions. It goes without saying that a judge should carry the ethical emotion that best builds his or her character, and should stand out as an embodiment of morality, discipline and good conduct; never pompous, arrogant or high-handed. It is painful to think of India as a nation that is losing its reading habit.
A nation known for its quest for knowledge and wisdom cannot afford this. If our youth do not understand our culture and our roots, the history of the ceaseless quest by the searching minds of our rishis, they may not only miss these priceless treasures of knowledge and wisdom but also their connection with our way of thinking and life. There is a saying – The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.
(The writer is Chairman and Managing Trustee, Paras Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com)