Are We in a Post-Writing Era?


By Fadi Abu Deeb

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Are we in a post-writing era? One quick answer can be a simple “no!”, since we write today more than ever, print millions of books and newspapers and produce other billions of texts online, which definitely can be a safer place more than most of the physical stores and even well-guarded vaults.

However, is writing just related to producing words and texts?

The transition from oral tradition took place in many regions in the world in different periods of time. But all these transitions can be seen to be motivated by two major and related reasons: the first is preserving certain legal and political traditions in order to create authority; and the second is to register religious texts, hymns,…etc. in order to use them in worship. Of course, such preserved texts were in the possession of a definite and small number of people, or an elite. But the important thing here is that any writing was created in order to be read. Thus, writing cannot be imagined without reading. In other words, the age of writing signifies also the inauguration of the age of reading.

Reading, on the other side, is accompanied with some sort of reasoning, imagination, contemplation and later with abstract reasoning and transcendental thought. All of these acts of interaction with a text is carried out, more or less, with repetition. Reading requires in fact concentration and regularity, as the human being is moving from the world of instantaneous sensual impacts and undeveloped stored images and words to the sphere of openness to other worlds, created by writing, through texts that can be read countless times, developed, interpreted, quote,…etc. The writing text could now be a womb for constant creativity and a seed of individuality.

But are we indeed in such an era anymore? As previously mentioned, we are, no doubt, highly productive in respect to lingual products. Are texts today tend to be a real source of and for contemplation, imagination and reasoning. Are they a real source for people to think, believe, and seeking after change in political, economic and inner lives? From my experience and the experience of other teachers, reported in so many articles and books, the students, for example, tend now not to read any books outside their curriculum. Even the textbooks of that curriculum are gradually being sent to the dusty shelves and replaced with quick searches on a search engines or scanning and skimming through online simplified articles (if we exclude the highly serious academic works, which are being plagued anyway by other serious issues), if we put aside, for the time being, the catastrophic decline in studying humanities.

The renowned Syrian poet and thinker Adonis claims that we are, in fact, experiencing a dangerous lapse toward orality through the dominance of high telecommunication technologies. The human being is once again called to use the five senses as major channels for knowledge- the knowledge here is not very much more than a bunch of visual or audible impressions and emotional reactions, and do away with concentration, regularity and pondering. The high-tech is overfeeding individuals and groups of people with a sort of compulsory influence. The person reads a lot of what he/she does not search for. It is enough to pass by an open computer or in the streets of a city or carry a mobile phone to be exposed willingly or not to at least a certain minimum of unfiltered, unwilled, and unsearched-for texts!

This epidemic of post-writing post-reading reality can be represented in a very clear way by the almost-total absence of any real and well-thought substance in contemporary political life or in the opposition movements and “colorful” revolutions. The leaders are business- men and women, TV celebrities, propagandists with no real thoughts for one to ‘chew’ or ponder on, and people screams, songs and ‘cool’ rituals that can offer no more than a few slogans and repeated jargon of very loose meanings, with no idea of well-conceived system and sustainable system of life.

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