Reading on Borrowed Time

In this piece, a BizNewz reader and IT auditor ponders the role of books in the digital age. As an avid reader in his youth, he wants to believe that they still have a place, and laments that his busy schedule prevents him from spending as much time as he’d like reading. However, he concludes that trying to make his young children read is a wasted enterprise, because as “digital natives” they don’t need books. It’s an interesting read, but I have to say I disagree with his conclusion. All the evidence is that children who read do better in school, are more creative, and are better writers, better logical thinkers, and better at concentrating – all skills that apply as much to the digital world as to the old analogue one. – FD

Solutionist and Optimist
Solutionist and Optimist

By Khumbulani Mphofu*

This could very well be the first article that I write that may get published. I am not really a writer, but I do fancy myself as a good reader. After years of a hard earned education from primary school through to post-graduate study, to what is now required for my continuous professional learning, I have come to learn the power that words hold. I love words and I enjoy the flow and the pictures that a good writer is able to paint with only just a good association of words. I love the stories and the meaning that becomes expressed if a story is told wilfully and articulated in a manner that is able to be easily understood. A good book enables, excites and frees the imagination. It is therefore safe to say that I enjoy a good read.

A couple of years ago, I had a bit of an epiphany while on a work funded travel assignment to some offshore foreign lands, out of Africa. I was fired up with reading during my downtime, and I also felt that perhaps I also had a good story in me. I tried to write. I put together a few chapters before my creativity ran dry, and during the time, my offshore assignment was cut short, as I was struck by an unexpected ailment that reduced my ability to put together what I believed would be a book worthy of the Booker Prize! Sadly, thereafter, I abandoned the thought of being in author, and reluctantly swerved from my “calling” and reversed back into the direction of a career that I have been building to this day.

However, lately, as much as I have tried to get into the habit of reading, life’s obstacles of work and career, and a young family that demands my out of office attention leave me with little time to indulge in this yearning and affection for reading. I find myself entrapped in the habit of the literature that I find in 140 characters on Twitter, or the sometimes cursive status updates from my friends on Facebook. I read somewhere that in modern households, you are most likely to find a big TV rather than a bookshelf laden with age old wisdoms of Socrates or Plato, or any of the greater philosophers of our times. That is certainly true at my house, we have three TVs.

More recently, I saw an advertisement on Facebook for an online furniture shop based in Cape Town, it is humorously called Nevada Furniture, heaven knows why! They essentially import affordable furniture from Ikea, a global leader in “assemble it yourself” furniture which is not really your Bakos’ Brothers variety.  But they had on the ad, a bookshelf of such distinction that caught my attention. My immediate thought was how good it would look in my living room, a later thought was how it could possibly trigger and resurrect my reading habits, and a much later thought was how it could breed a culture of reading for my young brood!

At a breakfast talk hosted by my employers a few years back, a certain technology “prophet” divided our generations from “digital immigrants”, those born prior to the advances in technology that we see nowadays, to “digital natives”, those who were born into the freedom and proliferation of networked devices, connective technologies such as the internet, personal computers, laptops, iPods and iPads. For the digital natives, technology is almost second nature to them, it’s almost as though, that since 1980 or thereabouts, this generation were injected with Matrix code that enables them to intuitively understand and relate to what could otherwise be immured complexity that needs to be unlocked through years of apprenticeship or doctoral study. Conversely, the digital immigrants, these are the guys that were born much earlier and would know the meaning of cassettes, or video tapes, and for those much older, that may remember gramophones and shortwave radio. For these guys, technology in much of its existence and manifest is usually a learning burden to overcome, while the natives use it much with intuition, the immigrants struggle to understand the concepts, and need much explanation as to what an “RT” is on Twitter even!

All these thoughts crossed my mind fairly at the same time, and since then, I have come to reconcile myself to the logic that since my young brood were born into digital nativity, perhaps they won’t see the usefulness of a bookshelf, and perhaps wont appreciate the reduced space in the living room for their daily “lets annoy mommy with a huge mess!” routine. But it would bring me much joy to build up a collection of great literature from the ages, to discover new stories from places that I have not been before, or explore the sidewalks of places that I wish to visit.

On a recent trip to Kenya, an acquaintance from my collection of friendly followers on Twitter shared with me the amazing stories of great literary works coming out of a remote island in the Caribbean. I have never been to the West Indies, I only know of them as a great cricket team, some of whom have been known to possess, perhaps a greater than normal affection for herbs and their induced illumination, meditation and medicine, but surely not for great pieces of literature!

So now, I have a bit of a purpose, to get that bookshelf! However, since I am not a carpenter, all these things come with spending scarce resources in these tough economic times, but the journey to a good story is not as expensive as return airfares, food and accommodation for a sizeable young family like mine. Therefore, that bookshelf will surely be a worthwhile investment, or a useful expense however you look at it.

I’ve convinced myself!


*Khumbulani is a solutionist and optimist. IT Auditing pays the bills. Aspires to retire early to spend time reading and discovering solutions to African problems. Follow @khumbulani on Twitter

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