Doris Lessing critical of the influences of technology, in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech
This was just covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education daily email, with a link to a post in Ars Technica, a blog about technology. Doris Lessing delivered her Nobel Prize acceptance speech last week (not able to attend personally). It is about the contrast between the affluent North and the poor South, particularly Zimbabwe, but not in the usual way. According to Lessing, young people in Zimbabwe are extremely interested in books and how to get them, in contrast to the to young people in Europe in America, who have little interest in books, because we have become hooked on “blogging and blugging.” She uses herself as an example of a person who grew up in a very poor country (she lived in a “mud hut”) and found those circumstances very conducive to the start of a life of letters.
Lessing’s speech is mainly about the perceived decline of Western Civilization, the emblem of which, for her, is the book. I think she is right to observe educational declines in England and America and a general loss of interest in reading, and I think she is right to connect reading to reason and humanistic values in a civilization. I don’t blame her for blaming the internet and computers, because the perceptible decline has a chronological fit with the rise of computers, and also because it is easily seen how computers are responsible for the increased pace of life, which has a role in the loss of interest in reading, which in turn requires slowing down and investing time. I think the overall picture is more complicated than that, however. People who prefer to view the rise of computers in terms of a shift in media in which the new medium will bring its own system of values into play have a valid perspective. Also, there are other factors in the decline we are seeing, cultural factors that are not really related to computers, such as the focus on pleasure and the self that the baby boom generation brought, a change that has economic and cultural roots….