Lessing’s “curmudgeonly missteps” should be forgiven. Close the book and open the internet.

Jeff Gomez over at the Print is Dead blog has the best piece I’ve read so far about Nobel prize winner Doris Lessing’s mild attack on the internet.    Lessing’s comments were buried in an otherwise inspiring story about the power of reading, knowledge, and education – a story about how some women in Africa were more concerned about having books to read than food to eat.

Lessing’s suggestion that youth is in the process of abandoning quality book reading in favor of the ‘inaninties” of the internet brought the very predictable blogOspheric response of derision heaped on an old litererary lady who deserves a lot more respect than she’s been getting.

Like Jeff, I can quickly forgive the increasingly irrelevant attacks on the internet.    In fact I agree with Lessing that we’ve lost something as people flock to the internet while abandonining books and newspapers, carrying with them little more than a keyboard and a short attention span.    But we gain something as well.   Something very profound.   The internet is not only far more engaging than books and newspapers, and the internet is not only far more accessible than books and newspapers.   The internet is interactive.  

VERY interactive.   

For the first time in all of human history, people from almost anywhere can communicate night and day, every day, with other people from almost anywhere else.    This tidal wave of human socializing has only just begun and the implications are staggering.   Complaining that books aren’t getting their due respect, while true, is a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.   The ship of knowledge known as the internet sailed long ago and is now a huge fleet carrying billions of people.     

As a Nobel prize winner for literature Doris Lessing will be remembered forever.    And rightly so.   But those memories, and photos, and videos, and copies of what she said will live forever in *digital form*.  They’ll live on the internet, long after all the paper representations have been relegated to a handful of dusty old museum archives and rich book collector’s shelves.

And that, dear Doris, is a very good thing.