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The Pleasures of (Digital) Reading

As the country gears up to celebrate the KM  Panikkar Digital  Reading month (June 19-July 18), it is important to ask ourselves a few questions? Is the reading habit dying out? Is the oral and the documentary genre taking centre stage in the discourse of information gathering and dissemination? Are people still writing? More importantly, are they still reading? Fortunately, the answers are all quite positive, for contrary to drawing room gossip, the habit of reading has not disappeared: it has taken new turns. More than a million books are being written annually across the globe, and the number of books and journals which are now available with online access is growing with each passing day.
However, before proceeding further, lets also pay a tribute to KM Panikkar who led the library movement in the princely states of Travancore (now Trivandrum) and Cochin. In fact the library movement in Kerala laid the foundations of universalization of literacy in the state, besides giving an impetus to the habit of reading, writing and critical discourse which has stood the state in good stead, for Kerala outpaces other (richer) states in the country in most human development indicators.
It is true that this generation of millennials  does not wait for the morning newspaper with the same bated breath as those who grew up in the last century, yet their access to news, editorials, op-ed articles and columns is as pronounced as that of the preceding generations. In fact, this generation (and all of us who are connected to our mobiles or internet 24X7) get breaking news alerts even as the events are unfolding. This does lead to some distortion in terms of coverage and analysis, but those who take care to watch multiple channels and pursue more than one newspaper do get clearer insights into the state of affairs.
That digital media is here to stay is not news any longer. What is significant is that traditional media is not going into a ‘shell’ mode – and will continue to provide the raw feedstock to the digital media, which will grow exponentially over the next few years. In fact, every major publication, including  this one, now has a physical as well as digital edition. The advantage of the digital edition is that it archives everything, and is therefore more useful than the physical copies which are extremely difficult to preserve, besides being subject to elements of nature.
Insofar as books are concerned, thanks to Kindle, the number of online copies is now at par, if not higher than the print run, which is becoming increasingly expensive because of escalating paper costs. In fact, the National Digital Library of India, an initiative of the IIT Kharagpur has taken the lead in digitizing all the available books in the National Library of India, the repository of all books with the ISBN classification number. Several other universities – within India and abroad have digitized their collections making it much easier for researchers to work from the comfort of their own homes, all of which goes on to show that the tradition of reading and writing is kicking and alive.