Comment: Is technology really ‘sweeping away’ reading?

Child reading

Renowned writers are good at making sweeping statements, with Martin Amis, Phillip Roth and Richard Dawkins being three that come to mind immediately.

It should perhaps come as no surprise then that Tom Stoppard, whose notable works include the script for Shakespeare in Love and the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, has now suggested technology is replacing reading as children become more enticed by moving images rather than the written word.

There is undoubtedly an argument that technology has brought with it an abundance of distractions for young ones. Certainly, computer games, video and audio content are difficult for anyone under the age of 50 to ignore when ennui strikes.

But has one of our greatest living playwrights forgotten that the written word is at the heart of the most revolutionary development in the technological world ever the internet?

Indeed, the web is opening up literature to the masses, even though accessing some of it may be illegal, and e-book downloads will only increase as the number of enabled devices proliferates and the quality of applications rises.

Anyone who has flicked through the virtual pages on an iPad using iBooks will have been impressed by the clarity of the words and the functionality of the app.

And then there is the case for creativity. The internet has given everyone the ability to publish their writing, whether they want to do it by setting up their own website or by creating a simple blog. It is easier and cheaper than ever before to have your fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays or screenwriting on show to the general public.

Phillip Roth may have been onto something when saying that the book is dying out, but he also did not recognise that technology will be supporting people's ability to read and write for the foreseeable future.

Stoppard did at least note that technology has the ability to teach, revealing that his sons and grandchildren had learned things from technology the erudite playwright did not know. Importantly, he did not take any moral high ground either, which would have been more than a little parochial.

What is important now is to ignore cries coming from sententious or nostalgic corners to leave e-books alone and instead promote them so they have the same pull as games or other forms of more easily accessible media. Schools too should be jumping on board as soon as possible if they want to keep children interested in literature.

There is also surely a serious business case here for publishers to flock online to advertise their books. Why am I yet to see a novel marketed on Facebook when other forms of media are being thrust in front of me so readily?

Now, I have a great fondness for books and still often opt for the corporeal option over the virtual version. And, of course, I would not advocate forgetting about or getting rid of them in any way.

But if you want to get young people interested, and that is the essential point Stoppard was getting at, then technology could actually be the key.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.