Opinion

Aliteracy and the triumph of ignorance in digital age

join the Chairman in welcoming all of you to this wonderful event put together to honor our brothers who have distinguished themselves in the field of scholarship in their various disciplines. I also specifically commend our brother, the Curator of this library, for the giant leaps of faith in creating something of this magnitude. We are all humbled by his zeal and courage.

There is no doubt that in our world today human civilization is at its apogee. What with so much advancement in all spheres of human endeavor – science, engineering, medicine, technology, computer, literature, research, outer space, politics, diplomacy, even crime. A hundred years ago, no one knew that man would be where he is today.

Indeed man has conquered nature and the elements. Man has created even life which hitherto was the sole prerogative of the Almighty – remember Dolly the sheep? It is neither blasphemous nor an over statement to say that man has contended with God and triumphed. But despite these enormous progress and advancements, the human society is not where it should be.

The challenges remain undaunting and debilitating. The truth is that we have not actualized our potentials and we have not tapped the resources within and around us to its fullest. The reasons why this state of affairs exist are many. We need not go into them. But because we are here to celebrate scholarship and the benefits of reading, we will identify one, just one of these problems. And that problem is called Aliteracy. The term Aliteracy was coined by Mike Lecky in 1978 in his study of “the human and the machine”. His work was concerned with the influence of machine and related inventions over man and his humanity.

Simply put, Aliteracy is “the ability to read and write without a willingness to do so”. Many of us today no longer have the desire or urge to read, whether it is newspapers, magazines, books, or other forms of printed material. The age of Aliteracy aims to abandon the human for the machine, the television, the laptop, the phone and other inanimate objects that are meant to amplify knowledge and enhance enlightenment built on the pedestal of pleasure. We spend hours daily on our phones and laptops.

The human culture has lost ground to the screen culture. In this new age, people are reduced to objects almost in all facets of relationships – be it economics, academic, cultural, spiritual, even sexual. The old methods of knowledge, orientation and pleasure are no longer valid.

The machine has created new avenues of relationships and altered the rules of engagement. In the human society, language is the best form of communication and, traditionally, reading and writing are the best form of learning. The written word has power. It contains an intricate web of complex ideas and solid thinking. This is generously enriched with critical evaluations and comparisons. On the other hand, the images we see on the screen are ephemeral.

They contain little more than fleeting emotions and illusionary phantoms and feelings While the human culture believes in rigorous and painstaking search for solutions and answers, the screen culture believes that the attainment of goals must be an admixture of entertainment and pleasure based on painless and recreational modules.

The screen culture engenders a visual phantomic society where people project peripherally to be what they want to be but which in reality they are not, precisely because there are no foundations for their visual conjectures. This takes us to the primary and basic foundation of knowledge which can only be anchored on reading and writing. In his famous letter to his son’s teacher, Abraham Lincoln charged the teacher to imbue on his son “the joy of reading”. Many of us can still attest to the beauty and joy he spoke about.

For those of us who belong to the older generation, ( and I hope I can describe 50 and above as belonging to the older generation), we know the joy we had in reading so many books, either for exam purposes, or for leisure, recreation and general enhancement of knowledge. These include novels, classics, documentaries, biographies, historical accounts and so on. The screen culture which has taken over the lives of our young people today is deplorable in so many respects.

There is the absence of critical thinking, logical reasoning and substantive evaluation. We take whatever we are given and run with it. Fake news and it’s twin brother, falsehood, enjoy a boost because no one cares to ask questions and even those who desire to ask simply doesn’t know what to ask. Obsession with the screen has led to a dearth of intellectual ambition and a decay of knowledge production. Research has become a dull regorgitation of the works of others and an obscene form of plagiarism that neither acknowledges originality nor confers honor on the guilty.

No doubt our educational system is in dire crisis, from an existential imbalance to a transactional decadence. The system is by all practical purposes under a guillotine. Recently, a video came into circulation where matriculating students could not give the full meaning of the acronym JAMB, WAEC, NECO, BSc and other mundane academic nomenclature.

That video was not a comedy. It is a reflection of the Nigerian youth of today. While our numerous universities and institutions of learning churn out hundreds of thousands of graduates annually, ignorance, incompetence and degradation are on a steep rise. In an age of heightened global advancement, what we celebrate in the real sense is the triumph of ignorance.

Keynote Address delivered by Prof. Steve Egbo, at the Reading in Honour of Professors of Onicha Igboeze Community of Ebonyi State, organized by the Hopebay Library, Ebonyi State, on Friday, 15th October, 2021

 

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