Opinions

Literature in the Digital Age

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Sarah Swindell
   Opinions Editor

 

There was once a time when books were treasured. Monks spent ages composing each page like a work of art with fine detailing and decoration framing each passage. As fine and exquisite as the gold leaf and special colored inks, literature was a fine rarity. Keep in mind that many of these books were religious, but it still was a great privilege to be a book owner, let alone literate.

These days books are purchased as readily as groceries and socks, and the love once seen on every page has become a thing of the past. Not that it is a bad thing, but in our western culture as the digital age flourishes books are slowly becoming commonplace, disposable, and overlooked in the grand scheme. But why?

Why does the book have to die? Sure audiobooks and electronic copies are easily accessed via computer, phone, tablet, and e-reader, but it means that physical books have become a hassle to keep. The constant ease of access (while appearing highly valuable) means that there is no treasure in book ownership.

At the same time, the fast-paced environment our technology has provided makes it feel like we have no time to read at all. It is easier to fit in a workout class than make time to read a chapter of a book. Flipping through articles posted on social media is considered regular reading for many, and books collect dust on their shelves at home.

Personally, I read like I should eat and eat like I should read. It’s confusing, but let me explain.

I consume food as the necessity it is. Meals become such a regular priority in my life that nothing else can surpass, and taking time to eat becomes a moment of self-care. Then caloric content and nutritional value adds an even deeper level to the obsession. Also, I am of those people who always ensures that their friends are eating for the sake of their sanity. My world inevitably revolves around food in little and quasi-subconscious ways .

When I read, I consume a book with the underlying sense of it being a chore. It rarely find time to turn pages and experience the story, and mindlessly complete my readings before moving onto the next task. School reinforced this mindsets as books were shoved onto me, but that being in the past does not seem much of an excuse. I read because I know I should, but the love affair I once had with novels appears more like a tired marriage.

If I dedicated just a portion of the effort to reading that I do into planning, preparing, and consuming meals, I could probably read exponentially more and renew the love of books that drew me to writing.

I know I am not the only one who has prioritized books at the bottom of the list. Food might not be everyone’s priority, but we all have sometime whether it is running, Netflix, earning money, or merely naps. We value the pleasure of reading less and less as society draws our attention to the new and shiny, making us all inevitably appear like a bunch of seagulls at the beach who just spotted a random potato chip.

We’ve become so accustomed to having reading material available, we forget the power it holds. Remaining literate is becoming hard, and I am not talk about understanding what letters are. True literacy through the consumption of the written word is becoming specialized and less valued.

In an New York Times article, it was made clear the current President of the United States does not make time to read beyond his morning newspaper. That is a clear sign of the current relationship our culture has with reading right there.

The inundation of information from social media, internet, and all the other opportunities that twenty-first century technology has brought forth is overpowering the paper and pen. While it inevitable for there to be progress in society, does it mean the treasure of books has to be sent to the grave? Does the pleasure of experiencing someone’s story, fictional or otherwise, have to give way to short clips and sound bites?

It is a question and concern I cannot answer in some magical sentence, but as a writer feel that I have to fight for the power of the page to maintain its relevance in our society. The best education comes from the experience of reading as new perspectives of life and the world around us allow for key insights within ourselves. We find better ways to articulate and explain thoughts, and come to have new understanding for what once may have been a mystery.

We grew up obsessing over series (think Harry Potter, Pretty Little Liars, A Series of Unfortunate Events), and we cannot forget that love that we once had. We have to capture the excitement we had going to the book fair at school, and revamp that joy into a more mature love of literature. We do not have to divorce ourselves from reading if we find the love again.

While it may not be the same intricate care seen seen in the likes of the Fifth Century (Common Era), our new millenia’s love of literature can be just as special.  

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