Doris Lessing’s Nobel speech: is the internet destroying reading?

Doris LessingDoris Lessing was unable to attend the ceremony where she was to be awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, but her editor delivered a speech on her behalf, which The Guardian has published in full (and is well worth the time to read). [Image from Wikipedia]

Nicholas Carr highlights the following passage, among others:

“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?” “

Mrs Lessing is hardly the first to raise this argument (or something similar), but her current position in the spotlight means that it once again becomes the topic du jour of bookish folk.

I think it’s reasonable of me to assume that Futurismic’s readership is fairly bookish, but it is also plain that they engage closely with the web as well. So what do you think of Lessing’s speech? I think we can all agree that the internet is a revolution, but is it the sort of revolution that burns the fields behind it?

[tags]literature, reading, internet, education, Doris Lessing[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Doris Lessing’s Nobel speech: is the internet destroying reading?”

  1. Old people tend to be inflexible and terrified of change. Many of those (still) alive today will die. In the near future, with a little luck this whole aging and brain deterioration issue can be fixed. Soon after fear of change and novelty and progress will drop sharply.

  2. Interesting angle Dagon; but are we sure that resistance to change is entirely a function of physical ageing as opposed to cultural alienation?

  3. I read stuff on the net too. I dunno. Seems like I read even more now-a-days. Including print. If I can ever get my hands on a kindle, I’ll probably average 4 books a week. (I live in Tokyo, where the kindle is unavailable.) However, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to read on the net today (okay it was a blog, so unverified), that 1 out 4 people in the US reads zero books a year! 0 books per year! 3 out 4 hardly read at all. I have a feeling that the digital transition from paper to screen will eventually improve these dismal stats.

  4. After reading the whole speech, I think Lessing’s point had more to do with the huge gap between rich and poor than it did with the Internet effect. She pointed out the lack of books — or any other education materials — in various African schools contrasted with the resources available to upper class kids in England. And she noted the hunger for books in Africa, while pointing out that many of the more affluent don’t bother to read (though of course one needs reading skills online, too).

    As for the point about the Internet changing things in much the same way printing did — and faster — she’s right. We don’t really know where all the new tech is taking us. As SF readers and writers, we can make a few good guesses, but the law of unintended consequences will throw in some monkey wrenches.

    At the moment, I’m more concerned about the fact that people watch television and movies in lieu of reading books than I am about online behavior (probably because I spend an inordinate amount of time online, generally reading and writing). This is not the usual snob argument; it has more to do with the fact that I am becoming more and more disenchanted with movies. Most are just too superficial and I just don’t enjoy them as much these days. The same is true of most television, including documentaries, though good serial storytelling (like Joss Whedon’s work) can be as rewarding as reading a good novel. Despite the value of image, video is not living up to its potential. It’s just too easy to obsess over special effects and give short shrift to the story. (Of course, there’s plenty of crap fiction out there, too.)

    Probably the Internet and its offspring will give us multiple new art forms (games are an obvious one). However, just as oral storytelling became marginalized as print took over, we may lose some of the real virtues of print in the process. I find that worth thinking about, because anytime I want to really know about something, I go find a book on it. Nothing else short of taking a college course in the subject gives me enough information (and I can’t afford either the time or money for courses in every subject that interests me). I’d hate to see books disappear for that reason alone, not to mention the sheer pleasure of reading fiction and making up the pictures in my own head.

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