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LETTER OF THE DAY - Biggest threat to book

Published:Thursday | October 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Like Bert Samuels ('Make Internet a superhighway for all', Letter of the Day, October 25) I, too, am of the view that there should be universal access to the Internet in Jamaica for our children. The democratisation of this "technological superhighway", if properly utilised, hold great promise for our future leaders (and captains of industry) who must preside over very complex processes of growth and development in a world where, as Paul Valery, the French symbolist poet remind us, "The future is not what it used to be."

The problem for me, if not for Samuels, however, is that I am not convinced that "dependence" on the Internet by children (and adults alike) begins and ends with completing assignments" and "research" activities. This relates to only one small aspect of its use; and if this was the case, then the mounting body of evidence from history and new scientific research focusing on the power of the web culture to erode significantly our ability to focus would have been proven superfluous.

The Internet and its emergent web culture have grown into a giant distraction machine. Its limitless selection is playing havoc with our ability to see anything through to the end. It has become, over time, a voracious all-purpose medium into which our traditional media are distilled into digital information and delivered to us. We are encouraged to skip across the surface of culture rather than to devote sustained consideration to any one thing. Sadly, the Internet is perhaps the biggest threat to our book culture. Where my father said to me in periods of idleness as a child, "go study you book!", today's parents likely tell their children to "go on the Internet". And this they do while simultaneously listening to their iPods, talking to their friends on their cellphones and watching Internet-based movies in-between "research" and "completing assignments". The hardest thing for parents today is to get children to immerse themselves successfully in a good book because this demands sustained, undivided attention to a single static object.

Flood of information

I am not sure, like Mr Samuels seems to be, that engaging the Internet will present our children with the "opportunity to hone real thinking skills". Pay it all your attention and the Internet's continuous flood of information encourages you to divide that attention up and respond immediately to different incoming stimuli. Spend all your time batting emails back and forth or surfing around on hypertext and you are bound to be caught in the gimmicky sound bites and word bites of the present.

The impact of every change must be considered at length before implementation. Although the Internet has changed almost every sphere of human activity and today fast beats slow, let's not turn our backs completely on books just yet. Cultural and technological development can still coexist.

I am, etc.,