What comes into my mind about the reading culture is not about whether people do read or not, but rather, what, how, and why they read. The 3 complex questions shall reveal who reads, what they are interested in, how they read it, and finally, why they read it.
Readers vary from amateur to professionals; from formal readers to informal readers; from social media users to classic readers of printed materials; from newspaper readers to viewers of news-reeds; from those who only read images to those who prefer texts. Our research in Kenya reveals that the majority of readers are the persons between the age of 15-35. The majority of them are job seekers. Their main interest is to look for job opportunities or send information to their destinations. Such readers have particular focus on job opportunities.
Another category of readers within the same age bracket do read digital information transmitted through social media networks and blog platforms. Such readers are also the majority. The main aim is to spend leisure time or for entertainments. They look at photos more than texts. They use instagram and other social media networks to look at what others are saying and doing.
The minority in the same age bracket read serious publications and peer reviewed papers for their academic research and to find out more literature on the area of their interest. Some use search engines in the internet in order to look for meaning or to find out some data.
The age above 35 tend to lose interest in social media information and rather prefer news and factual events. They are also interested in business, professions, and vacancies. They look mostly at politics and lifestyle. Such readers prefer using internet products for sale…for instance, sale of real estate property, bank savings, buying shares, and getting both national and international news. The majority in this group are more interested in greener pastures, adventures, and futuristic stories. Their main preoccupation is not job but quality of life. They use both printed books and internet products for their information. They like reading newspapers, watching football and other entertainment pages.
The age of 60 and above are not interested in reading as such. However, their major interest is on health stories, pensions, and investments. At that age, they tend to worry so much about the future generation and look at the future with some pessimism. They spend most of their time in political stories and history. Such age group is the minority in Kenya. Their worry is how to stick to their social class and defend the youth from getting where they are.
The majority of the Kenya’s population are still the youth (21-40). They are the most affected persons since they do not easily access public offices. They switch to becoming creative for survival. The elderly that occupy the decision and policy making offices tend to be scared of the youth taking over. Some of the jobless and vulnerable youth see the elderly as the cause of their trouble and become hostile to them.
Traditional book reading in Kenya has slowed down so much due to the introduction of the use of internet products. Libraries and archives are the less frequented areas in the major cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. The problem is aggravated by the use of smartphone. Many people get the information they purport to have from the social media network other than from books. This has brought about the failure of publishers and book stores to recover their money. At the same time, those who are gifted with book writing are discouraged since the publishers may not be ready to work on their ideas. The market paradigm has since shifted to internet.
There are few diehards that still believe in formal knowledge from books and intellectual publications. Even though they are the slim minority in Kenya, they believe that knowledge must be acquired through classical thinkers. Even if they generate too little to the reading culture in Kenya and elsewhere, they believe that the production and consumption of knowledge are critical factors that shall define the future of the nation.
The public in Kenya is smart. There are professionals that believe in internet information. They are the opinion leaders and most of them are in politics as well. Even if their knowledge is not informed by scientific know-how, they pretend to master what they claim to know to an extent that the public believes them. What is clear is that most of them may not demonstrate the depth of that knowledge and present a critical view on how the world is going. There is mediocrity in leadership and managerial sectors. Such failure of informed knowledge has brewed into corruption, short-cuts, cut and paste, copying others ideas, and poor public administration and policies.
A nation that is not backed by informed knowledge is doomed to fail at some point. Reading published and peer reviewed materials should not only be the prerogative of the universities and education institutions, but also professional institutions. Those who claim to be practitioners in various sectors ought to get formal and reliable information. The society should be shaped up by realistic ideas, a system of informed thinking and practical issues.
Reading culture is there. It has only changed from the reading of formal published books to digital platforms. Computer has revolutionized literature and we cannot reverse it. Many libraries have since opted to transform the books into digital documents in order to reach out to as many consumers as possible. Issues that were in oral literature are being transmitted in the social media. Reading culture is there only that it has been transformed into digital format. This has enabled the age bracket of readers to come down to 13 years and below. How good or bad this is going to be for the future generations, is a topic for another day.