The evolution of reading habits
Saudia Afrin Weekend

Is it true that smart phones and other gadgets are impacting reading habits and essentially decreasing number of people that read?

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When was the last time you finished a book, for no particular reason other than the fact that you actually wanted to read it? If you can't remember, there are scapegoats aplenty in your favour: not getting enough time after classes, homework, bucket load of coaching classes. However, there’s always time to update your status on Facebook. Busy fingers typing responses to that Whatsapp message, and the mind invests cells in thinking of a good place to hangout with hashtags, such as #whatshisface.

Let’s accept it, our lives are packed with numerous virtual activities every second. Since there are lots of things to do, we get less time to read and write. Yes, you heard it right. Reading and writing. As a result there may well be a scarcity of exceptional writers.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote his Bhānusiṃha Ṭhākurer Paḍāvalī in his late twenties. From that golden era to the recent times, the torch has been carried by phenomenal writers such as Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jibanananda Das, Ahmed Sofa, Humayun Ahmed, Akhtaruzzaman Elias, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, and so many others. Even every year, despite all the problems, we see so many new writers publishing their brilliant books. The inevitable question that one has to ask is that will continue to see great writers emerging from our future generations. What is the current situation of our potentials writers?

Weekend Tribune surveyed 50 people from different age groups to discover their reading habits. The survey showed that 30% of the respondents are very likely to continue reading books, writng notes and secret diaries. Most teenagers never finished reading a book outside of their school curriculum (65% of respondents). Given that there is an apparent detachment to reading, it is quite surprising that 40% of our respondents said that they enjoy writing fiction. Whether they can produce something readable, however, is another story. 40% stated that they don’t like reading anything outside of their curriculum. A mere 10% mentioned that their favourite pastime is reading and writing.

Anisul Hoque, a renowned Bengali writer, said “like the children of my age, I used to write and play football. I preferred writing on a regular basis more than my peers did. I even circulated a hand-written newspaper, when I was in class six. That is just one example of many writing ventures I undertook in my youth. I decided to be a full time writer during my first year of university. Now, there are many branches through which one can approach publishing their writings. The easiest way to express anything these days is through Facebook, and for this, one doesn’t need to have the soul of a writer.”

“Yet, there are so many who express an interest in writing. When one gets published and achieves a certain amount of renown at a very early age, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and lose track. Alternatively, one can keep contributing pieces to different papers and reading more to discover the world. When these people bring out their books, those would be good books and will be appreciated by the readers,” he adds.

Aditi Falguni, a renowned fiction writer, makes the point that instead of going through a book, how people of any age now tend to scroll through the pages in social media. “People measure happiness by the number of ‘likes’”, she said. But the real meaning of preserving literature is not in updating a status and getting an immediate ‘like’. It’s about writing for many generations, and not simply the present population. From my point of view, the number of writers for fiction as well as poetry is dwindling,” Falguni added.

Al Nahian, a young writer, believes that writing is an exploration: “exploring thyself”. “Actually writing is not about dreams. It’s a journey without an ending. Daily experiences are your companions on this journey. I desire my writing to be my companion for the journey of my life. Do you know why? It comes from a belief that my writings can keep me alive even after my death. Writing is my best friend, for infinity,” expressed Nahian.

A writer is judged by the quality of their writing, not by age, said Farid Ahmed, a publisher at Somoy Prakashony publications. He said that it is a mistake to think that one has to be old to be a good writer. A “grown up” writer may have been writing for decades but that does not guarantee in and of itself that he will produce something worth reading. For attaining that quality, to be able to write well, an essential prerequisite is reading,” he said.

“In fact I will say a good deal of young people write really well as they study the craft. The important fact is that quality writing depends on knowing the world deeply enough to reflect on it. Yes, there are plenty of self-proclaimed writers who write novels, but that isn’t writing in the true sense of the word. So, if we really want a change, we need to read not because reading is good, but to know and refine the inner human until our last breath,” he adds.

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