23-year-old Pratap, who is studying Business at a leading college in Mumbai, enjoys reading on his expensive smartphone. He has a plethora of apps that he employs during his morning coffee. Later in the day, he uses that information to engage in boisterous and vociferous debates with his classmates on a variety of topics. More often than not, Pratap, with all of his 23 years of life experience, considers himself an authority on most of these issues. If anyone disagrees with him, the response is largely characterized by a petulant sort of rancorous scoff.
Swipe right, swipe left, or simply scroll and browse; that’s how the current generation or rather, millennials derive their information. Be it current affairs, sports, religious issues or even a glimpse into world history, the current crop of youngsters get most of their information fix either via social media or instant messaging and forwards. This necessarily may not be a bad thing, neither is it a good thing. Be that as it may, it is certainly worth debating if this does justice to the information, and if they are able to form informed, holistic and thought-through opinions on those issues. As society moves ahead, it has become paramount for its youth to be able to obtain any sort of information from its original source and perhaps go further in depth on a particular topic or issue, so as to avoid eviscerating its core.
Words like reading, contemplating, considering, pondering or perhaps even LIBRARY have become somewhat alien in nature to the current yuppie generation. Abraham Lincoln was once quoted remarking to his son’s class teacher to teach him the wonder of books. Seeing the current trend, he would have surely squirmed and winced. God bless his soul!
From my experience of lecturing at several colleges and business schools, I have observed a pattern emerging where only a handful of students are genuinely interested in going beyond the realms of the superficial. Majority are only part of what is now being popularly called the ‘selfie’ culture. Reading and researching bores them and more scarily thinking before speaking is a completely unfathomable phenomenon. Nothing against social media or its kin but it is an ostensible means of learning new things, and it does carry a large risk of providing half-baked information, which in my humblest of opinions is superiorly more dangerous than having no information at all. After all, it is the imperious half-baked potato that gives us the worst of upset tummies.
Reading does not have to be confined to the walls of a book. It can expand its vision into so many other avenues like even the back of a Kellogg’s cereal box. Doesn’t harm anyone to know where and when their Honey Loops were manufactured. Reading the daily papers has become passé and the preferred mode is the TOI or NDTV app, even though it only carries 1/10th of the actual newspaper’s content. The pleasure of reading the small bits in the papers is totally lost on this cool and hip reader. Sadly, he or she probably even misses the obituary page incase a notice of bereavement relevant to them were to be published. Book stores used to be a place of peace, tranquility and the chance to enjoy the smell of a new book. Sadly, but surely, they are a diminishing lot and the Kindles, smartphones and e-readers of the world have now firmly cemented their numero-uno position as the preferred modes of reading for most ‘technologically savvy’ people.
Pseudo intelligent social media posts, fake Facebook propaganda pages and WhatsApp forwards spreading a fantastic amount of disinformation and distorted facts has come to become credible information. Why? Because no one has the time to find out otherwise or authenticate the source of information? Last month I was appalled to receive a WhatsApp forward announcing the untimely death of my childhood hero, Tiger Woods. On researching further, I was relieved to know it was a hoax. This sort of brazen rumour mongering doesn’t create a robust platform for healthy debate. It takes away the joy of being able to enhance the social, political and economic narrative of the country or any society. The quality of debates and shouting matches that are witnessed on prime-time national television are testimony to how frivolous the political and social discourse has become over the years.
It’s time to take a step back and ask ourselves what kind of society do we want to build. One that goes by whatever they hear or see or one that wants to find out for themselves be it via using 4 or 5 different mediums of information. All in all, don’t believe everything you see or read on your smartphones or tablets. Have the gumption to dig deeper and then derive comfort in calling yourself a know-it-all.
Or else we risk becoming a society filled with smart phones and dumb people!