Last semester I was asked a very simple question that is not that simple to answer: Why read in the 21st century? After thinking about it and researching about the topic, I decided to approach the question in a very positive way. So my thesis was that literary reading was going to be implemented by new technologies, such as tablets and digital media. However, my professor disagreed, postulating the following affirmation: “Your approach is interesting. However, in the age of the reader, according to Foucault the number of readers is decreasing every year without distinctions of age, gender, and ethnicity, despite of the emergence of digital media.” His answer left me quite unsettled as well as rethinking the fracture between what has been understood as belonging to high culture, for example books, in opposition to visual media thought to be part of low culture. Régis Debray in his essay: “What is Mediology?” proposes the necessity to cut down the walls that separate forms that are considered to be higher (religion, art, politics) from the domains of what is considered lower (materials, signal carriers, transmission channels) to integrate technology as part of our culture and not anti-culture (32).
Also, Marshall McLuhan affirms that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association (4). He also asserts that, before electric speed, for many the message was the content, however, (…) the effect of the medium is made strong because it is given another medium as “content” (5,9). He uses the example of a movie based on a novel or a play or an opera, but the effect of the movie form is not related to its program content. The “content” of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of the print or of speech (9). Therefore, if the reader is not aware of the differences between print or digitalization as well as differences in speech, I still keep trying to understand why the interest in reading is decreasing every year. James W Carey affirms that the appearance of the telegraph modified and challenged the ideology of its time, so maybe that is exactly what needs to be done regarding literature and its accessibility in the digital world (4). Pierre Bourdieu asserts that there are three forms of cultural capital: the embodied state in the form of long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body, the objectified state in the form of cultural goods (e.g. books, dictionaries), and the institutionalized state which confers original properties on cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee. If books are the representation of the objectified state and literature is as an extension of this perception, maybe the only way to repair the fracture between the printed book and its digital counterparts is by erasing the symbolic value of the printed book and the cultural value added to the act of reading directly from a printed book instead of doing it digitally. If the medium is the message and the social and cultural symbolic implications of a book allow the integration of digital media as a path to implement the number of readers, then a first step towards the blurring of the division of high and low culture would be dismantled in favor of promoting literature in any of its representations.
Bourdieu, Pierre. The Forms of Capital. “Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital.” in Soziale Ungleichheiten (Soziale Welt, Sonderheft 2), Ed. Reinhard Kreckel. Goettingen: Otto Schartz & Co., 1983. 183-98. Trans. Richard Nice.
Carey, James W. “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph.” Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. London-New York: Routledge, 1989. 155-177.
Debray, Régis. “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique (1999): 32. Trans. Martin Irvine.
McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition, 1964.