Citizenship in a Time of Digital Media

1. “Nabokov, for his awareness of how our suffering can make us callous to the obvious suffering of another. Conrad, for his hypertuned sense of how miscommunication between people can so profoundly impact their lives. Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection.” 
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air, Random House, 2016

2.  “Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s.”

Will Schwalbe, The Saturday Essay: The Need to Read, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2016
“Reading books remains one of the best ways to engage with the world, become a better person and understand life’s questions, big and small.”

3. “It always troubled me that the truth doesn’t fit into one heart, into one mind, that truth is somehow splintered. There’s a lot of it, it is varied, and it is strewn about the world. [Fyodor] Dostoevsky thought that humanity knows much, much more about itself than it has recorded in literature. So what is it that I do? I collect the everyday life of feelings, thoughts, and words. I collect the life of my time. I’m interested in the history of the soul.”

Svetlana Alexievich, The History of Socialist Utopia, Financial Times, December 18, 2015


“… the American president asked the author if she was worried about people not reading novels anymore, as they are “overwhelmed by flashier ways to pass the time”. 
For himself, Obama said, “when I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels”.

“It has to do with empathy,” Obama told Robinson in a conversation which is published in the 19 November issue of the New York Review of Books. “It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of greys, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.” 

Obama [noted] that it isn’t that Americans don’t read; “It’s that everybody is reading [in] their niche, and so often, at least in the media, they’re reading stuff that reinforces their existing point of view. And so you don’t have that phenomenon of ‘here’s a set of great books that everybody is familiar with and everybody is talking about’.”
Television shows can “fill that void”, he felt, but “we don’t have a lot of common reference points”. And in a world where a premium is placed “on the sensational and the most outrageous or a conflict as a way of getting attention and breaking through the noise”, a “pessimism about the country” develops.

“Because all those quiet, sturdy voices that we were talking about at the beginning, they’re not heard,” said Obama. “It’s not interesting to hear a story about some good people in some quiet place that did something sensible and figured out how to get along.”

Alison Flood, “President Obama says novels taught him how to be a citizen”, The Guardian, October 28, 2015


President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 13, 2016–-prepared-delivery-state-union-address


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