My last post ” The Journey Inward” was based on a passage from Pico Iyer’s book ” The Art of Stillness”. Iyer’s book was a TED publication, and it surprised me to know that TED is more just than short talks. Apparently, some of the talks have companion books which, like the talks, are short and pithy and meant to be read at one sitting. The Art of Stillness is a pocket-sized book, only 64 pages long, actually even shorter when you consider that it has several atmospheric photographs of sunrises and desolate Icelandic landscapes. It can be read in 45 minutes to an hour.
After I read the book, I discovered it was an extended version of Iyer’s TED talk, so I went to YouTube and listened to the talk.I enjoyed it, perhaps a little more than the book. Iyer is a fluent speaker and I admired his presentation and the way he seemed to use just the right word every time. The book was more detailed but not as seamless.
Afterwards, I got to musing about the ways in which we absorb information. It seems to me that we are moving away from reading and towards watching videos. Perhaps it is only to be expected since so many of us are gravitating towards watching TV in lieu of reading books or magazines or newspapers. We get our news from TV , we watch sports on TV and even the online newspapers we dip into have an ever-increasing amount of video content. In education, the runaway success of the Khan Academy is an illustration of this trend; MOOCS and online college courses are another. In my library, too, I see increasing amounts of shelf space given over to videos at the expense of books.
There is nothing wrong with getting information from videos and, in any case, it is impossible to arrest the relentless march of technology. If people feel they can assimilate better by watching a video , they will do so. However, when they do this exclusively or when they stop reading I feel it takes away from their critical thinking ability,and their writing skills. Videos are fine for quick assimilation of basic skills and information but there is a tendency among viewers to accept what they see as gospel. For more complicated subjects, the printed word is a must. Reading slows down the process of assimilation but, in doing so, it also makes the reader think more deeply, more critically. In addition, the reader subconsciously learns to appreciate good writing and to incorporate what he learns into his own writing… if he is a thoughtful reader, that is.
When I was still working, ten , fifteen, twenty years ago I was struck by the poor quality of the memos I came across daily. These memos were written by people whose mother tongue was English, almost all of them college graduates. It was sad to note how the writers, who were perfectly competent in their professional capacity, could not compose even a short paragraph without mistakes in grammar as well as composition. In the years since then, the standard of writing has fallen, if anything. People in this country are very good at expressing themselves verbally, but in writing …unfortunately, no.
I had thought that the fault lay in our education system where the quality of instruction leaves much to be desired, particularly in the subjects of math and science. The teaching of English is better but not by much. That is a whole different subject and I don’t want to get into it here. What I’ve come to realize is the pernicious effect of watching videos instead of reading. Just as calculators and computers have eroded math skills, TV and the social media are harming the way our youngsters think and write.