Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Wisdom of the Modern Luddites

"It is rare to see someone reading a book, while riding in a subway or train." A nun, who writes a column in the Catholic Times, on Media Ecology, begins her column with this observation, and attempts to verify it by peeking at those using their smart phones in her travels. Most of the time they were  watching drama, or playing a game, on occasions reading text, but the speed was such, she wondered if it could be called reading.

She mentions studies that  showed readers of paper books had more retention than those reading e-books, easier to remember what they read, and  able to  give a decent report on what was read.  

The tendency with the  screen text makes it faster to read  but at the same time understanding and attention problems arise: words are simply passed over. In one elementary school the difference between the reading from a book and the electronic medium-- mistakes in understanding were three times more likely to happen.

Electronic books are appearing much more often today. We have ten times the number of e-books in our society compared to  3 and 4 years ago,  and this will  continue to grow. In California they are already saying paper books will disappear. In our own   country the government has shown a desire to quicken this with their policies.

She reminds us that reading is not only to search for knowledge  but especially these days we need training  to concentrate, and efforts made to develop endurance. In the 18th century with the reading revolution, it required the working together of the body and mind to do the difficult work of reading. The work required a change to our body and mind, and helped to develop the thinking process.

Books were not only the  containers of knowledge.  Paper books were uniting the sense of sight to that of touch, that conveyed the connection of these  dimensions of the person. When we fingered the pages we had the touch of hand and the sound of the turning of the page, the scent, the leisure  between the turning of the pages, weight of the book, which added to the satisfaction. Is this possible, she asks, with the electronic media?   

Here we have another example of technology and the great improvement in our way of living but at the same time we also should be conscious of a loss. The word Luddite in certain quarters has taken on a new meaning from the term used with those that found technology taking away their means of livelihood. However, for the modern Luddites, they see some of the negative aspects of our development.  Would it not be a  sign of our wisdom to acknowledge the possibility, and do what we can to prevent some of the harm that comes with technology?