Role of Literature in the Age of Technology
Literature refers to the realm of letters and the writings of a particular period, mostly those whose value lies in the beauty of form or emotional effect. Technology is the science of the industrial arts. Scientists have played an important role in promoting human welfare, but the benefits of science may not have reached the masses, at any rate in ample measure, without technological devices and practical applications. We live in the world of both science and technology and many people, who take a rather superficial view of things, have begun to feel that in the technological world of tomorrow the role of literature seems poor.
In fact, literature in its pure form is believed to have little relation with science and technology. Science provides knowledge and power and both science and technology affect human life at several points, though the extent and utility of the applications are determined by our culture, our wisdom and our priorities. Literature reflects the moods and emotions of the times in which it is produced; it is conditioned by the reflexes which, in turn, are created by the impact of science and technology.
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Modern technology increasingly dominates the world, and the domination is likely to become more pronounced in future, because of the fast developments tending to subdue creative human thinking and expression. But the belief that literature would have no place in future and in futuristic calculations is erroneous. There is no reason to believe that the mechanical way of life, in which our actions are governed more and more by computer culture and electronic calculators of all types, will destroy the talent of writers, authors, poets, biographers and artists.
Technology does not discourage natural, multi faceted talent; rather, it generally promotes the climate for expressions of talent in countless channels. All round prosperity helps a great deal in creating literature of lasting value, and it is technology which has made many countries wealthy and prosperous. Jawaharlal Nehru cautioned us some four decades ago that it was only through the growth of technology that our country would become prosperous.
In some cases technological development and automation may cause misery, through the resultant unemployment, for instance. But it has to be noted that both science and technology also provide additional avenues for employment; countries which boast of maximum employment, or nearly so, are those which are technologically advanced. In fact, our country may go down, instead of progressing fast, if we do not keep pace with technological developments and march in step, as far as possible, with the industrialised and technologically progressive nations.
It is not only for the sake of the material benefits, the comforts and conveniences of life that we must opt for the latest technological processes, even by discarding our traditional practices, but for our art and literature, too, we shall have to make the best of technology, which would enable talented people to put in their best in art and literature. Some people think and they have a reason for doing so, that since science demolishes faith and tradition, it tends to produce scepticism, anxiety and even tensions, and it doubts everything, even cherished values.
Science has eliminated superstitions. Technology helps to provide weapons of war; war stimulates technologists, but it depresses the artists and those who prepare literary pieces. Sensitivity and the urge to create new masterpieces get suppressed; reckless destruction, bloodshed and hostilities ruin the very climate that helps to create literature and artistic masterpieces. Culture and literature, after all, indicate the cultivation of man’s inner nature.
Culture prompts men and women to seek perfection; they are not motivated by curiosity and the endless sense of enquiry which characterise scientists and technologists. Literature expresses feelings and innermost thoughts and ambitions, while technology has other ends and other fields to explore. Literature may at first appear to be out of place in a technological milieu, but surely scientists and technologists do not encroach upon the field of literature. There seems to be no reason why both literature and technology cannot flourish side by side.
A society that is highly progressive technologically may also become rich in literature. We may take the example of the world’s most industrially advanced country and the mightiest military power, the USA, where technology has registered unprecedented achievements and yet the USA has produced rich literature. Technology results in affluence and prosperity and economic prosperity promotes good literature and masterpieces in the arts. So there is no contraction involved. It is only during war and the all out preparations for war, that literature gets a setback.
Science and technology, it has been truly said, have radically altered the face of civilisation, but nothing, not even the most sophisticated mechanical devices and the most fruitful applications of new inventions, can change human nature or replace human being, who must indeed remain in effective command of all scientific inventions and their day-to-day application. Technology has created robots, artificial intelligence in the shape of “thinking computers” which can read, translate, interpret and give decisions with amazing speed and accuracy.
But not even the most sophisticated technological advances can by themselves produce literature—poetry, prose, plays, novels and stories. In a sense, science and technology may be said to be of direct assistance in promoting literature, because they help to create leisure by introducing labour saving and time saving devices and by eliminating drudgery as well as duplication of effort. The leisure thus created can be put to literary pursuits. In such a context, the talk of a contradiction between technology and literature is not well founded.
Scientific know how may thus be viewed as technology which, examined dispassionately, has an important bearing on arts and literature. Good literature makes a lasting impact on the human mind; it entertains, instructs and ennobles the spirit of human beings; it does not debase or corrupt the mind in any way, and it certainly does not lead to destruction of any section of mankind. Science and its handmaid, technology, however, have placed in the hands of man vicious and highly destructive tools in the shape of lethal weapons the like of which he has never had before.
Literature builds, but technology, if misused by vicious statesmen and politicians may cause havoc on a massive scale, destroying both litterateurs and technologists without discrimination. Technology does make for concentration and centralisation of economic and political activity. A person’s individuality, sense of fraternity and selflessness tend to get eroded. Where there is less patronage of art and talent, there is bound to be less of literature of permanent value, because the right spirit and mood are not there to promote it.
The depersonalisation of modern life which, it appears, will get stronger as the years pass, is likely to discourage writers and poets; misery, anguish and a generally noisy atmosphere are hardly conducive to the production of sound literature. But we need not give up all hope of a better world tomorrow, from the standpoint of culture and literature, simply because science and technology tend to predominate over human values. It is within the power and capacity of man, provided he exercises his sound judgment and pursues the right priorities to shape a better world, where literature flourishes along with industry and technology.