On World Book Day & Shakespeare’s 403rd death anniversary, You! focuses on the importance of reading culture in this digital era...
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies... the man never reads lives only one.” - George R. R. Martin
I went on a journalism training programme in the US two months ago, and was placed in Chicago where I was shadowing an online women magazine’s in-charge. In a bustling Chicago city, I was taken aback to see everyone joining the rat race. The race was for achieving the American Dream, becoming modern and reaching the heights of a tech savvy world. I felt slow, as if my life back home in Pakistan is submerged under heavy influences of traditional means of life and communication. Similarly, I noticed how not only their way of communicating with each other has changed, but everything else is completely dependent on technology. And on the other hand, we are still behind in manoeuvring our personal and professional worlds. But one thing which was in common was the urge of shifting ourselves to the digital world (still we are not as digitalised as the people in the West).
I have been working in print media for a few years in Pakistan now, so it was quite a surprise for me not to find a single print copy at a women publication’s office in Chicago. As they were transitioning from print to digital medium, they were wiping off all the traces of traditional media at work. It was a wild frenzy to go digital in all things possible and what I inferred was the lack of importance of reading in print. In Pakistan also, all print publications have an online version and there is a very less percentage of people reading from the newspapers, magazines, books or pamphlets. Hence, it is not even a debate anymore that the reading culture is diminishing.
Today is World Book Day and Shakespeare’s 403rd death anniversary too. And, being a literature grad and an ardent fan of Shakespeare’s works, the thought about the current reading culture evoked in my mind. Although, the Bard of Avon is known for his original work (the debate is quite controversial though) and that he never used to read, yet he had experiences to use them in his writings. But not everyone is Shakespeare and not every person has the ability to learn from their experiences and put them on a piece of paper. So, one needs to read in order to learn about literature, and how reading is important to get to know about issues, life in general and your surroundings.
It often disheartens me when I see a handful of people swamped near those empty book stalls on one of Karachi’s busiest streets near my home, looking for books that would satisfy their thirst for knowledge. But, there are a great number of people who read on their phones, Kindles and iPads. For me, they are deprived of the smell of leaflets and the actual satisfaction of reading from a book. Sophia Anjam, a digital media professional, is not only an RJ but also a YouTuber, yet she emphasises on the importance of reading culture, “They say a book is a dream you hold in your hands. I have always loved reading since I was a kid. Be it comics, novels, magazines or classics. It made me transcend into a different world - a world of creativity, imagination and dreams. What I had read in those books would always be retained in my memory some way or the other, with my own personal flavour mixed in between. That is the magic of books and the longevity they offer. As I grew older, my schedule became tighter and hence, less time for reading. Everything became more audio/visual and since I’m a radio/event host and also run a YouTube channel, print has taken a backseat. However, even till now, some of my research is done through articles printed in newspapers and collected from archives. Most importantly, I have compartmentalised a lot in my head. Moreover, there’s always a certain kind of authenticity and credibility associated with print, whereas, there is doubt and uncertainty with digital. It’s imperative we don’t let the reading culture diminish from our society as there is character associated with paperbacks. There are ways of utilising digital tools and current trends to bring back the essence of true reading in today’s youth, as it brings a lot of focus, sharpness and sustainability. Today a reader, tomorrow a leader!”
Zahidun Nisa, a young journalist working at Urdu News, Islamabad, states about the diminishing reading culture and the importance of reading, “I believe the availability of options on the internet has decreased attention spans and eventually the concentration needed to read full-length articles and novels. However, in order to know anything in detail or do in-depth analysis one has to be ready to give time to reading. For instance, if you want to know about transgender in South Asia, you won’t be able to do that by just reading a paragraph or two. There are quality research articles and novels available on the matter.”
Fatima Sheikh, a journalist involved in social work by teaching children in underserved areas, expresses, “I never realised the true essence of reading until I was in my 20s. I read fairy tales, short stories, Roald Dahl novels and random science books as child and then moved on to serious reading. When the computers weren’t as advanced, I would try to get my hands on content that was not easily accessible to us. Moreover, during that time I stumbled upon fan fictions - stories written by fans about characters or settings from an original work of fiction - which I would read all night out of excitement. However, when I had to teach English to a class of students in an underserved area, I realised my privilege. While the students were bright and enthusiastic to learn, they did not have the access to any good reading material. They could write an entire paragraph for Pakistan Studies or Science, but couldn’t formulate a decent sentence with a word ‘mat’ or understand it for that matter. And these were students from class 5 to 8. We talk about promoting reading culture but we can’t do that if we do not have access to quality content. A mind needs to be fed with good books that will open your eyes and minds to different perspectives and challenge your critical thinking. I believe this is probably the most essential bit that our schools, public or private, need to work on.”
Author Sabeen Javeri talks about how reading should be inculcated in our society, “A society without literature is a dead society. We have to encourage reading and writing and that too for pleasure. Books stimulate intellectual curiosity and without curiosity there would be no innovation. So for us to grow as one unit, we have to encourage our youngsters to enjoy books. Let people read because they want to. Not just for grades.”
The pros of digitalisation are undeniably bringing a better version of life to us during our race against time. However, book culture has its own perks - be it strengthening your vision, enhancing your creativity and making yourself feel wholesome. We cannot stop the rise of digital media but we shouldn’t unlearn the roots that it all came from. Let’s keep reading and encourage others to do so!