Interesting Reads

Ignorance is Bliss, but is it really?

Writer writes about the reading culture of Kenyans

by Laura Otieno

Oscar Wilde said, in old days, books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody. A sad reality. Sad that, with the advent and development of Web 2.0 technologies, we have all become authors, to pieces that compare to carvings on a dark cave wall. They are beautiful yet seen by few.

Anyway, meet my folk, Kenyans. We are poor readers. Books, journals, newspapers: basically, anything with white space is not our thing. We love motion graphics, videos and audio. We are ‘busy’ people. We have no time to sit and read.

We have our unique group of ‘resident elite analysts’. You will find them by the newspaper stall paying 20 bob for a ‘read here’ copy. Because “the economy is too harsh to buy a newspaper that will expire after 24 hours. “Why buy when you can rent?”. With the General Elections looming, this is the best place to gather information on the latest trends on the political arena as compiled from the various newspapers ‘read’ for the day. Necessity is the mother of invention, one of the newspaper vendors said, “…the business is not what it used to be, people don’t read newspapers anymore everybody is digital. So I buy my own copy and rent it out for better returns…” I grinned, we are digital alright. This may sound a little obnoxious but I recently read a piece on how social media limits our thinking capacity.

It does. It in fact makes us stupid and lazy. Technology has made so many things easy for us. We have become so reluctant in the most unreasonable ways. I am a culprit. I used to, sometimes still; depend on the text to speech output function on my computer to read my notes. But even in this light, I dislike long papers; I mean who has the time? Discussing with one of the bloggers I know and he told me that the feedback he gets is that his pieces are too long.

In Kenya, anything that goes beyond two pages, displayed on a screen is too long. Why would you want us to spend all that time on a device that has the potential to ‘damage our eyes?’ We are that generation that would rather go down in a blaze of glory ‘damaging’ our eyes with something more fun, like social media’.

For this reason, shady websites are popular; sensationalism sells because it is short, clear-cut and hard hitting and has that comment box beneath where we can tag our friends and input our opinion, whether informed or not. A headline and two paragraphs of ‘hard facts’ give us the satisfaction of ‘knowledge’ and we can ‘competently’ scrutinize the trending topics within our circles, form hash tags and enjoy the fame of trending on Twitter.

That is news. Books are an entirely different alcove. We do not read books. Why would you read a book when travelling when instead you could look at trees ‘running’ against the vehicle, or listen to music on your Phone as you sleep and think about the number of likes your Facebook status update on traversing the world has received since you last wavered off network range. Why would we care to read a 400 page book when there is a 3 page review on the same? I remember my class at college, where we were asked to write a review on Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: A Political Economy of the Mass Media. We received the book via email. We converted the book in to audio format and ‘read’ it at our own conveniences. After extensive consultation; I was among the 5/40 champions who made it to page 30 of 400. For nimble mind folk like us, with 24 hours to the deadline, our panic monsters shared about 5 three page reviews on our class group and voila, ladies and gentlemen, we, well most of us, had ‘expert’ 4 page reviews; based on reviews. We are smart like that. We had powerful end quotes and we all basked in the glory until results were released and my lecturer thought that most of our work lacked originality.

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Big up Ab, but quite frankly, I have never read that book to date. Though I like to think I know the point it is driving at because I had a pretty good score on the review assignment. How many people like me are out there? So self absorbed in proving to the system that we can excel and forget to actually excel? We are literate by Kenyan standards, but we do not quite have that oomph. The system has placed emphasis on the need to get good grades forgetting that education is what remains after all has vanished. Knowledge, my people, is the amassed thought and experience of innumerable minds. It is buried deep inside books.

A friend suggested that we read for leisure. Honestly, in Kenya; reading for leisure is farfetched, for most of us. We read because we have to, not because we want to. And even then, we only read what we are required to. Oscar Wilde said, it is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it. I am worried. Where does that leave me, a reader who only reads when they have to? What will I be when I can’t help it?

Reading revolution starts from within. We need to force ourselves to dig deeper than what we see. Click on the in text links to external documents and see what they contain. Let us commit ourselves to planting this quest for knowledge in our routine. Positive curiosity will set us on the path to a beautiful world of reading and henceforth a better understanding of the world. Let us do this people.

Laura Otieno is a Media Science Student. She loves Broadcast Journalism and has a keen interest on stories that directly affect human dignity.


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