The Book: Public Enemy Number 1

In Grenada the art of reading is in crisis and dying. It is said “if you want to hide information from Grenadians put it in writing and publish it”. It will be hiding in plain sight but will not be seen by most even in big jumbo prints.

This may seem a gross exaggeration but it underscores the widespread aversion of the vast majority of Grenadians to reading and that is a serious indictment on our nation. The exception to the norm is a very small minority. And most newspaper readers only look for gossip columns, sensationalism, and jokes, ignoring everything of substantive and instructive value.

Gone are the “bookworm” days when westerns, suspense thrillers, and adventure novels were boys’ favorite pastime and “Mills and Boon” had a national female fan club. Nowadays even the ubiquitous student backpack is basically a fashion show.

In class students lap up every word lecturers say and regurgitate it verbatim at examinations. At the finals textbooks are still brand new. The World FactBook gives Grenada a 96% literacy rating and reading is imperative to keep up with contemporary world dynamics. Also, if you have a skill the conventional wisdom is “use it or lose it” by default.

But anecdotal empiricals suggest 99% of working Grenadians have not read a single book decades after graduation and probably never will. Yet, end of school is the beginning of lifetime learning.

Books and mass media readings provide information, information provides knowledge, and knowledge has functional use in a knowledge economy. Yet most small business people in Grenada never keep accounts because they hate writing and reading.

Consumers buy products without reading instruction labels – only the price. Obesity and diabetes spread from bad eating habits and failure to check dietary contents of food. And incredibly, people even sign contracts without reading the notorious “fine prints”.

Bibliophobia seems pandemic in the nation and books and reading are twin enemies. People like to be told everything rather than finding their own truth by reading and research. Hence, the vulnerable is exposed to misinformation, exploitation, and manipulation by unscrupulous politicians, preachers, and professional conmen.

Meantime, the Internet information superhighway spearheads a digital revolution with new communication technologies putting tremendous pressure on traditional models of reading. New language paradigms are evolving in the vernacular. In our Brave New World of “texting” language will never be the same again.

The texting phenomena perpetuates a parallel language that communicates with corrupted spellings, abbreviations, and secret codes impossible to decipher by the uninitiated and it has taken Grenada by storm.

Our “t/next generation” is under mass indoctrination in this linguistic revolution of computer mediated communication. Texting is setting a new standard of English that is not Standard English.

Academics believe colloquial shorthand text messaging erodes cognitive learning because it lacks the flexibility, variety, and creativity of mainstream print media. Some see it symptomatic of the anti-social dropout syndrome. Others associate it with dyslexia reading disabilities.

At another level the traditional print media of books, newspapers, and magazines are under attack. Search engines Google, Yahoo, and Bing put virtual libraries with megatons of information a finger click away making physical manuscripts, libraries, and bookstores redundant and irrelevant. Searching through dozens of books for information is tedious and time-consuming.




The alternative technologies are resource efficient, convenient, and fast. Information stored on digital library platforms is accessed with any mobile Smartphone. Lightweight access gadgets maximise portability.

Additionally, social media like YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter process rapid information sharing and exchange linking millions in cyberspace through interactive networks. Information is not the static concentrated snapshot of traditional books but dynamic and disseminated in real time.

The book is rapidly becoming obsolete. In industrialised countries iPad tablets are replacing textbooks in children’s classroom. With these technological advances in our generation of instant gratification books will soon be relegated to the dustbin of history. Some observers already see books as relics, mementos, and memorabilia.

Computer advocates extol the virtues of new age technologies. They like the speed of access, the audio-visual aesthetics, and the computer generated imagery (CGI) that enhances learning. Also, digital technologies do not leave carbon footprints on the environment through deforestation for paper material.

However, advocates of traditional print media see the book as the best information and communication technology (ICT) device invented for the following reasons.

First, books codify the source of our value system, the roots of our language, our culture. Everything flows from the source.

Second, with literature in our head – not on a screen – books stimulate imagination and analytical thinking. Googling is for lazy, unimaginative people incapable of thinking “outside the box”.

Third, books capture all the nuances and details of the original but downloaded information is a condensation in small bytes.

Finally, traditional reading is a therapeutic relaxing escape from the stress of modern life. Book advocates warn against “throwing away the baby with the bathwater”.

 

Jay Bruno   

 

 

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