Tag Archives: digital media

Salman Rushdie – Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World

Rushdie_UNCA

I have a confession to make: I have not read any of Salman Rushdie’s books… yet. But this will be changing soon. Last night I went to see the author give a public lecture at the University or North Carolina – Asheville, and I have to say, he was one of the more inspiring writers I have had the privilege of hearing speak.

He touched on a lot of current issues regarding politics, social trends, and the role of literature in these changing times. He openly criticized Donald Trump, censorship, and the proliferation of misinformation, or “truthiness,” associated with the internet and the digital age. But there were two themes in his lecture that resonated with me on a deep level: the trend among students to attempt silencing ideas that challenge their established beliefs, and the role of the novel in bringing “news” to readers.

Regarding students silencing ideas, this is something about which I often think, particularly regarding the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) directed against Israel. I have heard horrific stories about professors, speakers, artists, etc., being shouted down, threatened, and silenced on campuses for expressing their support for Israel, all under the guise of support for the oppressed Palestinians. What Rushdie asserted in his lecture is that this is essentially censorship, and it is censorship perpetrated by the group of people who should be most vehemently opposed to the censorship of ideas. Rushdie claims that it is the responsibility of artists and professors to challenge the established beliefs and to open for discussion ideas that are uncomfortable and sometimes contradictory to one’s personal beliefs. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said that students who claim they do not feel safe when forced to consider challenging ideas have no place in a university and should instead be in a pizza parlor, where they will be safely sheltered from having to listen to ideas that contradict their way of thinking.

The other part of his lecture I found fascinating concerned the role of the novel in presenting news to the modern reader. This puzzled me at first until Rushdie elaborated. He claimed that with the demise of print newspapers, the reading public no longer has access to legitimate news sources, that digital news sources have yet to be able to fill that gap. Instead, we get opinions as opposed to reporting. I would counter that print newspapers have historically been biased also, but I could accept that news media has become more opinion-centric as of late. Then Rushdie went on to explain how literature and the novel provide a side of the news that is lacking in usual coverage, which is the human side, the internal aspect of living in an increasingly smaller world. The way we can understand what it is like to be in situations is through literature. He used the example of The Kite Runner which provides a deeper insight into life in Afghanistan than any news story showing explosions and statistics of how many were killed. His words resonated with truth. My belief in the power of art and literature was validated and boosted.

I left the lecture excited to read, to write, and to discuss ideas. I also left with a newly bought copy of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children tucked under my arm. And while the book has been temporarily placed on my sagging shelf, I suspect that I will be reading this one before the others that have been patiently waiting for me to open their covers.

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Dead Sea Scrolls Digitized

DeadSeaScrollsI read on CNN’s website today that nearly 900 manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized and are now available to view online (click here to read the article). I find this incredibly exciting, because this means that anyone with a computer and internet access can examine these texts. This is the democratization of information at its best.

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit a traveling exhibit of the scrolls. We drove 2 1/2 hours each way and it was well worth the effort. While I am not a biblical scholar and I do not read Hebrew or Aramaic, just being in the presence of these ancient manuscripts was an experience that I will never forget. The fact that physical text written 2,000 years ago survives today is nothing short of amazing.

The article includes a link to the digital library, so I visited the site and looked at some of the fragments. The site is excellent and when you view individual fragments, there is a tool in the upper right corner that allows you to zoom. You can actually hone in on the text to the point where you can see the structure of the letters. Click here to access the digital library.

I see huge potential for digitized texts. There are so many rare texts that until recently have only been available to individuals in academia. Now these texts are available to everyone. I encourage you to explore sites like Project Gutenberg and Archive.org to see what you can find. Have fun!

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Filed under Literature, Spiritual

The End of the Printed Encyclopaedia

When I was growing up, my parents had a set of Collier’s Encyclopaedias. I would spend hours sitting on the floor, looking things up and reading about people, places, and things that seemed worlds away. It was a rich source of information that fueled my interests and curiosity.

While I am nostalgic regarding the role these books had in my formative years and I am certainly a lover of printed books, I accept without hesitation that the printed encyclopaedia needs to be laid to rest. Which was why I was not at all surprised when I read about the decision to stop printing the Encyclopaedia Britannica after 244 years of publication. Actually, I’m surprised it has survived as long as it has. The encyclopaedia is not like a magazine you can pick up at a stand before boarding a plane, if can’t be tossed onto your doorstep each morning like a newspaper, and you can’t easily tuck it into your backpack as you head off to the beach. The reality is, it’s a behemoth that has reached the end of its era. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s president, “A printed encyclopaedia is obsolete the minute that you print it” (click here to read more).

But there is another reason that the transition from printed to digital encyclopaedias had to occur, which I feel is just as important as the ability to keep the information current in our rapidly evolving world. This is the incorporation of rich media in digital reference materials. The fact that you can incorporate audio, video, expanding text for definitions, and hyperlinks to related topics, makes the digital format ideal for an encyclopaedia. Not to mention that any student with a tablet can now carry an entire encyclopaedia set around from class to class. In my opinion, that is pretty awesome.

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Filed under Non-fiction