By Vijay Phanshikar :
STOP a young person anywhere and ask him -- or her -- which book he -- or she -- is reading currently. In seven out of ten such encounters, the person will look totally confused, not knowing what to say in response to such a sudden question on the trot. Many of us have come across such a response from young people, though not many among us have started thinking how to tackle this undesirable social trend -- of young people not finding reading an a genuinely interesting activity. Some youths do find pleasure in reading, but their number is often very small. But then, one does find some members of a different tribe claiming that they read on-line books.
There should be no trouble with that for anybody. For, when the young person is using technology to get engaged in reading, there should be no objection -- generally speaking. However, researchers are beginning to suspect if those who claim to be reading digitally are really sincere about that activity. For, in the spoken or written languages of those people, there is nothing remarkable to suggest that so-called digital reading has enhanced their intellectual processes and linguistic skills. Some researchers with whom the loud-thinker interacted on a serious note said that they have stumbled upon a tendency of the claimers of digital reading that they show a tendency often to postpone the tryst with reading since the book is available to them at the fingertip -- ‘just press, and you have the book spread out on your screen’. When the loud-thinker accosted a few young people on this specific issue of the alleged habit of postponing the reading time, most admitted, though quite reluctantly, that they did postpone reading since they were sure that they could start it anytime. “Does that time really come later?”, the loud-thinker found himself asking.
And to that question, in most cases, the response was just hedging and fidgeting -- which said it all. This brings us to a major issue -- which this column has raised on countless occasions in the past: What has happened to us so as to lose the culture of reading? There are many superficial answers to this poser, of course -- like, easy availability of gadgets that distract the kids from a serious activity of reading; or, television that offers a bigger dose of entertainment (no matter its quality); or, curricular pressure; or, a non-serious dismissal as if asking what difference is reading going to make! Those who have given a good thought to the issue of culture reading know that most such responses have their antidotes, as well. Yet, the larger society has not spent its time and energies to think of possible solutions. That is the grief.