Yesterday I attended day 2 of Kuwait’s first Global Art Forum, ‘Download update’, presented by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and supported by Dubai Design District. The topic of conversation was, technology and how this has impacted the world of art and culture: “not only in the way we work, but how we think, interact, learn and create,” (Download Update?, 2015) in the Middle East, specifically the Gulf Region.
Many topics were discussed in the open debate forum, from business, political and economic issues, to the potential augmentation of humans and machines and even the concern of the negative effect of technology on the younger generation. It was the latter that I found a particularly compelling debate. Entitled, ‘forever paper: publishing gulf literature today’ the hour long discussion was hosted by Ms Mai Al-Nakib, Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Kuwait University, Taleb Alrefai (Writer and journalist) and Lana Shamma, Events and Outreach Executive, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
First up to the podium was Shamma who discussed her experiences working in the publication of both English and Arabic texts and how technology has contributed to the loss of story telling within the Arabic community. Shamma (2015) discussed, the loss of ‘The Hakawati’, In traditional Arabic society the Hakawati was a teller of tales, a story teller or entertainer and each village would have one, with the best travelling to the big cities to make their fortunes. She argued that the modern day equivalent of the Hakawati was the blogger; imparting their stories upon the world via the media of the internet but that the sheer ubiquity of the platform has watered down its poignancy and that it isn’t now just the talented storytellers or entertainers that permeate us with their yarns but languid, indistinguishable so called word-smiths that have nothing more to say than to comment on the latest celebrity hairstyle.
Obviously there are exceptions to the rule and the talented storytellers are out there but it made me question whether they are perhaps lost in a sea of multitudinous mediocrity. I am inclined, somewhat, to agree with the notion of ubiquity, have we lost quality and gained only quantity? Perhaps, in some cases, yes; but I believe that blogging has given new and talented writers, storytellers and creatives of all kinds a platform and an audience that they would never have received otherwise. I can see how the Hakawati still exists, albeit a faceless, far less personable version but I see how their storytelling, visual or otherwise, is a valuable contribution to society. Even more so a contribution to a global society rather than merely one local community.
The next speaker was Ms Mai Al-Nakib. She discussed the negative effects of technology in an argument that resonated with me as a design educator. Al Nakib’s (2015) first point of discussion was, “technology’s impact on the disappearance of private time,” How we are accessible 24 hours a day 7 days a week and how our non stop world considerably impacts on our time to read, reflect and think critically; private time to contemplate and separate consumption from creativity. She went on to quote from Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7, stating that “we live in a switched on universe for which no off switch exists.” (Crary, 2013)
From a personal perspective this statement rings true and according to Hancock (2012), discussed in one of my previous posts, Liar, Liar Pants on Fire, It also rings true for many of us who choose to create falsities (the butler effect) in order to regain some of our private time back. Mai (2015) also discussed the, “Disappearance of the Reader.” How the tweet and text generation have fell pray to the “one–way auto–chatter”, and now struggle to concentrate on anything other than bite sized information. This certainly seems to be the case from what I am personally witnessing from my students. I can only speak of a Middle Eastern, even simply a Kuwaiti perspective but having questioned each of my students, not even one of them reads anything other than what is fed to them via common social media platforms. They invariably have short concentration spans; reading material of anything over 10 minutes in duration is an incredible challenge and they take no pleasure from it. I am often asked, “why can’t we just see a video on youtube?” or “Can you show us a visual example instead,” rather than having to read and discuss a short (1 A4 page) article or even a relevant blog post; they see this as a burdensome chore rather than an enlightening experience. This saddens but more so concerns me. Mai goes on to reference, Mark Bauleins 2009 book ‘The Dumbest Generation,’ which discusses the stupification of America’s youth due to digital technology, so it would seem that this is not just a Middle Eastern phenomenon.
I am basing my opinion on personal experience and there are bound to be a menagerie of counter arguments and theories refuting the dumbing down of millennials but I can incontrovertibly claim that I am witnessing a huge change in the youth of Kuwait’s ability to comprehend even basic intellectual debate within the creative field. Is this lack of interest, ability and aptitude due to technology providing a supplement to actual hard work and critical thinking? There is no absolute proof but I am of the opinion after considering this particular debate’s findings, and my own personal experience, that it is most likely a significant contributor.
Al-Nakib, M. and Shamma, L. (2015) ‘forever paper: publishing gulf literature today’, 15
March. Bauerlein, M. (2008) The Dumbest Generation. New York: Penguin Group USA, Inc.
Crary, J. (2013) 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. United Kingdom: Verso Books. Download Update? (2015) http://nuqat.me/en/nuqat-foundation. Available at: http://nuqat.me/en/entertainment/global-art-forum (Accessed: 16 March 2015).
Hancock, J. (2012). The future of Lying. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_hancock_3_types_of_digital_lies [Accessed 2 Mar. 2015].