There are different ways for us to communicate with the world. We can point at something with our finger, we can wildly flourish our hands, or, the more decent way, we can express different emotions through our body language.
The most developed form, however, is that of the human language. Because no other living thing on earth is capable to communicate the way we do.
Once our language was known among many, we were looking for different ways to get in contact with people outside of our ken. And, over the course of time, we discovered different things such as sending smoke signals, tying knots, morsing or making signals with flags.
But, for certain reasons, the highest form of our thoughts is that of reading and writing books.
“The highest form of sharing our thoughts with others is writing and reading books.”
By looking at all these different means of communication, you will notice a new problem arising. There is never a neutral transmitter in our message. It doesn’t need to be as far as McLuhan claiming, “The medium is the message”sincethe way you can express something depends on the medium you are using.
There are many ways of communicating, even if it’s a philosophical view of smoke signals or scratching business letter on a cave wall, although sending economic news with a carrier pigeon would be a very abstruse way in our faced-paced modern time. But they don’t correspond to what they are meant for and their possibilities.
And these simple examples explain very clearly how the type of transmission can affect the way of communication. A message with smoke signs, for example, would be automatically send as simple as possible. Or when sending Morse signals. This is why a new way of communication was formed: a very simplified language without any emotions.
And exactly the same thing is happening today. Without realizing it, we adapted to the medium of the internet and its reduced form of language. We communicate via smartphone or WhatsApp in a way we would have never considered a generation ago. By now, the internet has such a dominant impact on our lives that we automatically began to use a kind of language in our everyday life, which simply separates us from our humanity.
Unfortunately, we have never learned to question how our language actually works and how it changes through different media. Most people have probably noticed that a filmization of a novel is different from the written book, but can’t tell the exact difference. They don’t know that different things happen in their minds and souls which have a different impact on them.
“How are different media changing our language?”
In order to make the difference between the different media clearer, I will use an example of different means of communication and how they force us to use certain types of communication. I would like to use the example of love, or rather how we express our feelings toward others.
One opportunity would be to hook up with your friends for a glass of wine so you can talk about your new crush for hours, and “philosophize” about love. But are we actually able to feel the love another person is talking about? Did we become more capable of loving and more sensitive by just listening? I think the answer is no, because a mere conversation is the wrong medium to integrate feelings of another into your own life. I will get back to this later as to why this is the wrong medium.
Even more impossible, but more amusing, it would be to show your emotions via smoke signals. Because here, this kind of language is not suited for emotions and length of the message is limited. Only the description of the first night would need all the wood you had gathered.
Equally impossible is the transmission of feelings via flag signals, light signals or a Morse telegraph. If you think about it, you quickly realize that these kind of media are only for facts without giving the recipient the possibility of reaction and compassion.
One of the most wonderful ways to tell another person about our love is to write about it. This can even be in the form of a poem or a narration. This way, we do not only tell about what happened, but we also give others the opportunity to immerse themselves in our story. This enables others to connect with us with their own experiences and thus their emotions.
This has two main reasons. First, books have to tell a story in a particular logical sequence for us to be able to immerse ourselves into the story with our thoughts and experiences.
And second, the written word has the power to abstract our thoughts and feelings compared to spoken words. And that is why it is easier for the reader to grasp the meaning behind them.
Thanks to the medium of a book with a given form and the possibility to transmit thoughts on an abstract level, literature is enabled to change our inner world and our view of things.
“Our language became poorer and uglier over time.”
We do not only seem to have forgotten what reading was once there for, but also what you can actually do with language aside the purpose of transmitting information. We mostly use our language to conveycold facts. And when feelings are involved, we speak about them in such a reduced form which barely give us the possibility to have any deeper insights or feel sympathy.
If we take a look at the literature of a hundred years ago, we notice how poor and ugly our language has become. Not onlysingle words and terms disappear, but also the different levels of meaning and nuances within the words themselves are missing. As a result, we lose the ability to express ourselves and our inner being as well.
And that is also one of the reasons why we live with such a reduced view of the world nowadays. We no longer take our humanity and our human being as the center of our way of thinking, instead, we only believe in real things we can possess and seize. And this is mainly due to the way we shout at the world –due to the way we use our language.
And of course, it’s no surprise that this loss of language and theway we confront thisreduced world influences the way we live. And not only our life, but also the way we read and the value books have in our lifes.
“Why do we still read?”
There is one question, I have been askedquite often already: “What are we still reading for today?”
To be honest, the way we read today is not necessary at all anymore. We could easily life without it and maybe it would be even better to give up on it entirely.
Why I am saying this?
Because if you look around, you will notice that there are mainly three ways one can read. But no matter which way you choose, it’s not what it once used to be. Today, the act of reading is butchered and banalized to a level which must hurt every feeling human who grew up in our culture.
“Today, there are only three ways of reading.”
The first way of reading is forsole information purposes.
In the future, the Internet will provide so much more information that we won’t be able to process itsentireness any longer. Because we are already overwhelmed and can only manage by being guided by algorithms. And soon, there won’t be just programs that make our life easier, but rather an autonomous intelligencewho will take over the search entirely. But since we are only focused on usable information andthe progress of technology, at some pointthere will be artificial intelligenceswho can process and develop by themselves. And I don’t think that we are that far away for this to happen.
Then there is reading as entertainment.
This is the only place with a few miserable remnants of the old educated class remaining. But the way these books are written and how they intend to make the reader feel has changed dramatically. Back then, there were entertaining authors like C. Doyle or J. Verne with a cultured language and a human philosophical background, but today, most authors just want to tell a story which is as thrilling as possible. But then there is also TV and Internet which has, of course, a lot more to offer than a mere book, especially since there are computer games in which you can get actively involved in what is happening.
And lastly, there is reading and writing in social media to have a conversation or to inform others about us.
And yet, this is by far not the same as reading in a book and certainly not like writing a letter. It’s not even the same as talking to someone, simply because spoken words are colder and rather a transfer of information. Even with aids like tone, intonation and body language, words are always more expressive. But even this reduced kind of literalism will soon belong to the past, and that will happen as soon as we can use avatars to move around freely online with real time translators.
Are there any exceptions? Yes, there are. There are some authors who are concerned about their language and who care about their texts. And there are still readers who are willing to go through the trouble of understanding these books.
But these are exceptions. And even though there are many exceptions, our society and our culture moves into the complete opposite direction.
“Our society disgraces the book as a medium. And with it our next generation.”
Sometimes it feels like our society is a primeval tribe who happenedto find a few technical devices by chance. At first, everyone is happy about the discovery and they have some sort of respect for these devices. But after some time, people begin to use them as a drum, a stable wall or as a toy for their dogs, because they don’t know what else to use it for.
It’s similar with books.
The book is the most developed form of collectingand sorting thoughts. If we occupy ourselves with a book and try to understand it, our way of thinking changes and our spirit is permanently restructured.
Only then, our cognitive and emotional potential can fully unfold, and only then, we could develop what we define as our culture and society today.
We also behave like this primeval tribe. Because when we don’t know what to do with this book anymore, we use it as an entertainment medium, for short epigrams or a mundane gift for Christmas.
Over and over again people claim that computers and the internet don’t change our way of thinking. That they are neutral aids with tons of advantages, able to replace the book without any loss. But that’s not true.
Because on a screen we read differently than the real page of a book. On a screen, we read cursorily and faster. We “scan” the text. We don’t really read it. And that is why we don’t comprehend texts on a screen as well, and we don’t integrate it into our remaining being.
Moreover, our brain can only think constructively if we have an inner plan or a map at hand. This behavior emerged from primeval times, when we first had to see an overall picture of the environment,so we could confirm that there is no danger around.
A book provides this very picturejust by its external form. You hold it in your hand, you can feel its heaviness, and you can feel how many pages you have already read and how far you’re into the book. And these things are more important than people think they are. We don’t only think with our brain, we experience the world and everything around us with all our senses.
A computer, however, can’t provide this. The screen only showsan eternal here and now. Computers don’t provide a mental map, they have no history. And this is why we can’t comprehend the overall picture, which is so important to us.
And that’s why the real understanding of a book is a lot more difficult when you don’t hold it in your hands. It’s harder to feel compassion, and a change in your life is probably not possible this way.
“Written words were supposed to touch our soul.”
There is also another important fact almost no one considers.
A book was never used as a sole information carrier. If we reduce it to just an informative medium, we reduce ourselves to a sole information receiver.
Literature was never meant to only address our minds, but to touch our soul as well.
And good literature combines the two forms in order to open our minds to new thoughts and feelings. After reading and understanding a good book, we are no longer the same as before.
But this does not happen by being online, or through conversations, and italso can’t be shown in a movie. The highest and most differentiated form can only be absorbed with the book as a medium.
In my opinion, the way we treat books today is even worse than my fictional example of the primeval tribe. Because these people would continue their normal lives without destroying their culture.
We, on the other hand, are about to throw away the best of our culture. We are about to erase three hundred years of history, including records of our human and mental development. And worst of all, no one seems to care that we are actually falling back to an earlier stage of human existence, or, as Father Liessmannused to say, weturn into “an illiterate of high technical level.”
But not only illiterate in terms of reading and writing, but also illiterate on a mental and human level.
We have gone a long way to gain the culture and the knowledge we make use of today. But if the bookand thus the way of thinking and dealing with knowledgeis gone, then it might take centuries for us to find back to the moral, mental and social society we are today.
“We shouldn’t erase three hundred years of human and mental development.”
I don’t want to revere any pre-industrial Utopia. And I don’t want to say that we are living in the best world of all because there is no war, no hunger, or injustice in societies.
But due to the mental development we established over the last three hundred years by the means of books, there is a deep-rooted perception of certain values and ways of thinking in all our heads. We all share the things we have fought for, and we should embrace them with all our might.
And even if there have been recurring catastrophes like wars or massive social upheavals, we could always come back to this way of thinking. You could look back and see where you had strayed off your path, you could see what had happened and how you could go back. And this is how we developed and moved on as a society.
But if we all forget what the book actually made possible to us and the kind of culture we have created through the book as a medium, then we will lose those connecting points in the future.
Perhaps now you can understand why I am so afraid of our literatureand our culture dissolving into thin air. Because we are a culture of the book. Our mental development given by the book taught us to give everything a certain value.
But since we are not really dealing with books anymore, we are about to lose this skill.
And with that we also lose everything that determines our culture.