Dear Doris Lessing: Reading And Writing Online Are Still Reading And Writing

from the no,-seriously dept

Doris Lessing is getting a fair bit of attention for her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature, where she spends a lot of time talking about the hunger for books in Zimbabwe, but then, oddly, blasts computers and the internet as if they're destroying the ability to read and write:
We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

What has happened to us is an amazing invention - computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: "What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?" In the same way, we never thought to ask, "How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with 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 etc?"
These statements unfortunately come off as the stereotypical "back in my day!" rantings of someone no longer in touch with society. It's odd in the first paragraph for her to call out "computers" as being part of the "know nothing" generation. Computers have helped countless people learn more, discuss more and engage more. She describes computers like someone who has never used one. The second paragraph then (again, oddly) combines computers with television -- despite the extremely different nature of the two. One is passive, one is active. One is about communication and engagement, the other is about broadcasting and receiving. Furthermore, as she goes on to lament a lack of interest in books as a necessary core for a new generation of writers, she mocks "blogging" which is actually helping more people write more than they would otherwise. It's an elitist stance to suggest that just because it's short-form and online it doesn't matter. It's also wrong. Studies have shown that students these days are much more comfortable writing -- in large part because they spend so much more time communicating via the written word online. It's truly unfortunate that Lessing would use her Nobel speech to incorrectly bash something on which she apparently has little understanding. The rest of her speech is quite interesting, and it's too bad that it's marred by this unfortunate and misplaced attack on modern technology.

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  1. identicon
    sigh, 10 Dec 2007 @ 11:04am

    The speech is not about book, tv, net, etc

    Her speech is about (the hunger for) knowledge.

    The inanities on the web and the books in Africa is just a way of storytelling. She probably can't care less if knowledge is spread by storytelling, books, tv or Internet.

    It's sad she's quoted out of context. It's more sad many are rushing to "defend" the Interent, Blogging and Blugging when she just told a brief harmless joke in one long speech about something else, inanity vs knowledge in the World.

    Mike, read it the fourth time? (Wonder why you read it three times before though...)

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