Have people really stopped reading? A writer wonders...

It is impossible for me to believe that people will stop reading the good stuff and become slaves to frivolous entertainment and digital fancies, for it’s my staunch conviction that the world still has some sensibility in its veins

By Asha Iyer Kumar

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AFP file
AFP file

Published: Sun 26 Nov 2023, 4:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Nov 2023, 9:08 PM

The writer in me has been in distress for a while now. The words I string together to create literary streamers are in jitters. Every time I sit down to write, they troop in front of me, look up dolefully and ask, “Will you discard us one day?”

“Why would I discard you? You are one of my Ikigais. How will I survive without the zing you add to the mundanity of my life?”

“Because they say writing is dying. Reading is on the decline. Narratives will stop being word pictures. Stories will turn into caricatures. Is that true? Will you chuck us in favour of the new-age parody called content writing?”

Will I?

I had to do some soul-searching before I could give the words pulsating in my heart an earnest reply. There were hard truths I couldn’t deny. These are trying times for me as a writer; I get nightmares of becoming an authorial fossil, or at best, a mummified penpusher. I am badgered by constant reminders of how no one has the patience to read anything more than a few hundred words at the most; how writing has to be skeletal to include only the bare essentials and how any written piece should be like burgers and French fries – fast to be consumed on the go.

“People don’t read, and books will perish. Serious writing will soon be passé. No one follows profound things.” These words portend doom to me and make my head tingle with panic. Are we indeed becoming creatures of instant gratification, happy to snack on ‘content’ that will please fleeting cravings than gorge on ‘writings’ that will satiate our deepest emotional needs?

I have yet to find a conclusive answer but given the manner in which we are veering away from the real deals and settling for kitsch in every realm of our life to quicken our returns, I am forced to believe (to my horror) that we may well and truly be on the way to diluting our arts and literature. We will be trading meat for broth and be satisfied with the insipidity it offers.

As a wordsmith who frolics with diction, language is sacred territory to me and I fear it will soon be desecrated by the whims of the times. I am distraught to think that forced by the changing needs of the digital world, I will be reduced to becoming a ‘content creator’ with scant regard for literary tropes. My writing will be ripped of its soulfulness; the playful ring of phrases that happen unconsciously will cease to be and the subtleties of expression will depart. Will I eventually give in to the demands of a population that loves to scroll and read headlines than delve deep and read between the lines?

I sense the appetite for fancier things growing around me; the craze for short, click-baity posts and visual content is gaining primacy, and in the writing world, AI-aided compositions are passing for authorship. How am I going to survive this phase that will challenge and nullify my very identity as a writer who loves to flesh out her writings?

Of course, brevity is the soul of wit, but brevity cannot be trivialised and be made fuzzy. The pleasure of indulging in complex stories and the opportunity it provides to fathom human emotions will not come from casual browsing. It comes only when we take time to scrutinise life through our arts and literature. Our aesthetic pursuits aren’t for amusement alone; they are also to help us understand the mysteries of human existence. Saying it in a few words will only skim the surface; and saying it with an eye on the lucre will again make writing a farcical endeavour.

But these are the realities of a changing world, and for someone whose first burst of desire to become an author came after she read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, the thought of having to break her literary instincts down to listicles or swift summaries that lack finesse is heart-breaking.

It is impossible for me to believe that people will stop reading the good stuff and become slaves to frivolous entertainment and digital fancies, for it’s my staunch conviction that the world still has some sensibility in its veins. We are still a deeply-feeling species, and we thrive on emotions. We cannot swim in shallow waters for long, and we will have to dive deeper to save our souls. Above all, I trust the legion of literary fans who still swear by the written word.

My writing is at a crossroads today. The heart is unwilling to change and the head is urging me to follow the trend. The dilemma notwithstanding, this much I know – my life squares up with these four things: Love, laughter, litany and literature. Take anyone out, and I’ll be a corpse with no name.

(Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based author, columnist and children’s writing coach)

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