Reading in the Digital Era – An Affordable Luxury

I missed my daily train to home by a fraction of second. Gasping heavily, I was looking at the passengers in the train as it left the platform. The next train was scheduled to arrive in about 10 minutes. I know that’s really long right? A reflex response to this realization was my hand reaching to the pocket of my trouser for the mobile phone. I started to fiddle with my phone but only to realize that the battery had been low since long. It could not keep up with my activity. The phone went off – leaving me alone at the busy platform waiting for the train. It was motionless and dull like a broken lamppost in a busy street. An exasperation gasps followed the thought that I had to wait for about 45 minutes before reaching home. In the hindsight, there were no urgent matter to attend to – no office emails to reply, no phone calls that I was expecting, no stock market updates to follow. Yet it was an uncomfortable feeling. I was, somehow, feeling odd. On a typical day I would not even lift my head up. I would be glued to my mobile staring at the screen as different colors and contents flicker through.

Reluctantly, I looked around to see if there was anything that could offer me solace. There was nothing. It was a false hope. No one came running towards me and said – “Here, use this phone. Go nuts!”. That would have been so nice. To my disappointment, everyone was glued to their own phones/ tablets. I stared hard at each one and envied them. No one looked back. No one even looked up. The sight of those people was like seeing hundreds of penguins in a big group staring and admiring their own feet.

Technology, today, has become as seamless as water at connecting us to the world in real-time. Today, I am surely more informed about the latest events – be it the unprecedented foreign policy challenges faced by Obama, the recent winner of presidential elections in Indonesia, or the job cuts planned by the new CEO of Microsoft. A simple touch and the latest happenings, historical archives, previously difficult-to-access knowledge can be gathered in few moments. Today, much of reading takes place through the smartphones or tablets. In a way, these devices can be considered as competent substitutes to the print media of newspapers, magazines or even books in general. Few statistics to substantiate my point – below is a chart from eMarketer article which shows that an adult has been increasingly spending more time with digital media.

Based on this finding, now think about the implications. A reading on digital devices, no matter how convenient, has few drawbacks. One of the drawbacks was recently pointed by a New York Time’s article – Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience?. It brings out the differences found in the tests of 50 graduate students in terms of time and events, characters, plot, etc.  Another, major yet unrealized, drawback is the modern English. I could not think of any better way to define it so decided to use it was originally used by George Orwell in his essay Politics and English Language – it is beautiful and partly inspired this blog. The frenzied pace of digital era has forced everyone (established print media firms, news broadcasting firms, budding authors) to produce more than they could digest. There’s an abundance of information at one’s touch. With such easy access we are flooded with the vast information in every possible way from every possible direction e.g. news, social network, search engines, feeds, emails, etc. It is like staring at a giant 100 inch TV at a nose’s distance – it is blurring.

The digital era is here to stay. Indeed, it will further diffuse through every aspect of our lives. Whilst we have attained unimaginable heights in this progress we have lost few good habits. One such is reading a worn out and yellowish pages of an old book shared by a friend in a physical world. It has now become a luxury – worth sharing on social network in the form of status updates or filtered pics!

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