The Medicine Of Language

Recently, my alter ego, the Khan who must not be shamed, used the analogy of the typewriter to emphasize the importance of diligence. The evolution of the movable type is easily one of the greatest leaps that mankind has ever made, comparable to the invention of the wheel or the taming of fire. One would have thought that the journey from printed books to instant real time self publishing (like Facebook updates or blogposts or digital journalism) would somewhere set minds free and take civilization to its next pinnacle.

The story of corruption, intolerance and bigotry in the year 2017 seems to indicate otherwise. Somewhere in this amazing journey, the true value of information has been sacrificed at the alter of commerce and power. One wonders what Plato or Socrates (or Auden or Lennon) would have done with Twitter for example. Not what Trump or Chetan Bhagat are doing, for sure. The journey from wooden block printing to digital printing took 1700 years, while the journey from electronic  printing to virtual self publishing on the Internet took less than 10 years!! The shift from hand written to block printed text was driven by religious mandate (the need for uniform transmission of teachings of Buddhism in China), whereas the explosion of social media was driven by technology and commerce. Alvin Toffler ascribed it to the pace of human evolution and highlighted the dangers that lie behind such rapid change.

Our worlds are changing, dictated by commerce and government policies (think Reliance, think 3D-printed guns, think cloud-based streaming audio and video, think demonetization, think self-driving cars, think Russian election hacks), but our minds are several decades if not centuries behind. Public relations and advertising are the best places to see this in action. Whether it be for consumer goods, political figures or ideologies, most advertising tickles our baser instincts, greed, gender politics, tribalism, aggression, violence, etc. And it works like a charm; a multi-billion dollar industry will vouch for that.

Language, spoken or written, serves to communicate and to give commonly understood meaning to ideas. What this faculty will be used for is up to what our values are. If mama and papa are toiling daybreak to daybreak exhorting markets to consume, if their recreation is films and computer games based on violence and deviance, if their consuming passion is the creation and selfish hoarding of wealth, what should junior aspire to? If those with the greatest felicity of expression gravitate to writing copy for ads for mobile phones and luxury cars (or speeches for corrupt politicians or business leaders), what are they really achieving with their gifts?

My parents lived by their beliefs, and paid the price that a principled life demands. They were rebuked by even their own relative (educated, liberal, socialistic for all intents and purposes) and friends. To the world at large, they were "losers." It took me much heartache to realize that they really are bastions of hope and resistance against a world bent on degrading and destroying itself.

Several times in my life, I have given up on the value of "the written word." Several times, I have given up on reading as well. Often in the name of minimalism, simplicity and decluttering. Thankfully, I have been supported in keeping my faith every time that happened. I have written for a "broader readership," for search bots and for business houses, only to be reminded that the only person I needed to write for was myself. As long as I stayed true to what I stood for, my writing would have value. The finest of copy, the most stirring of sponsored posts would sooner or later go dull - like an unrung bell. Not that writing for self automatically (or in any way) qualifies as art or great literature, but it is genuine. It is a record of a real life, written with no motive other than to leave true documentation of human spirit. I no longer angst over whether what I write is of literary value. There are way too many "writers" who are much more skilled, much more erudite, much more committed to their craft than I can ever dream to be. But none of them are me. Not Marquez, not Frost, not Tagore, not Salinger, not Celan, thankfully not even Mr. Bhagat or Mrs. Funnybones; none of them are me. 

Social media and the internet make it possible for us to share that record instantly with the whole world. You can delete your blunders, but if people follow you on the web, your thoughtless communication can cause unnecessary hurt or damage. Similarly, they can also inspire and motivate and bring about positive change. This is why it is important to keep the perspective on evolution and the value of language, written or spoken. This is why much of what passes in the name of digital communication is an affront to human dignity and intelligence.

This is why, against all logic, I continue to return to my keyboard and aim to hit publish at the end of the day.

Your thoughts in the comments section are appreciated. But you already knew that, didn't you?

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