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‘Contagion’ or How Disaster Movies “Educate” the Masses

Posted by Admin on March 28, 2012

http://vigilantcitizen.com/moviesandtv/contagion-or-how-disaster-movies-educate-the-masses/

By  | March 8th, 2012 | Category: Movies and TV | 256 comments

Hollywood movies are usually presented as a form of entertainment, but their plots often conceal a specific agenda. “Disaster movies”, films about the end of the world through various mass crises, are particularly interesting as they all follow the same basic formula and glorify the same entities. In this article, we’ll look at the disaster movie ‘Contagion’ and how it “teaches” its viewers who to trust and who not to trust during a crisis.

Most people watch movies to be entertained. Well, I for one can say that there was absolutely nothing entertaining about Contagion. In fact, the only difference between this movie and state-sponsored educational movies shown in schools is that with Contagion you actually have to pay to be indoctrinated … and to see Matt Damon. During the cold war, students were shown videos instructing them to “Duck and Cover” in case of a nuclear attack. Contagion conditions the masses to expect martial law and to throw themselves at the first available vaccine in case of a crisis.

Featuring Hollywood mega-stars like Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and Gwyneth PaltrowContagion is a big-ticket Hollywood movie, but also an infomercial promoting specific national and international agencies while encouraging specific behaviors from the public. The plot of the movie appears to follow the big H1N1 scare of 2009 that left many citizens uncertain about the actual risk of the virus. Indeed, after months of terrifying news crowned by a massive vaccination campaign, an important portion of the population concluded that the H1N1 scare was grossly exaggerated and and thought that a vaccine was unnecessary.

This poll taken in November 2009 shows that 53% Canadians believed that the risks associated with the H1N1 virus were exaggerated.

In the wake of this “crisis”, the UN’s World Health Organization (known as the WHO) was harshly criticized and even accused of colluding with Big Pharma to sell vaccines. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) also had its credibility tarnished as investigations revealed that the agency misled the public regarding the number of actual cases of H1N1 (for example, see this report from CBS News). As a result, these two agencies needed a good PR stunt to restore their credibility and to scare the hell out of the public. This is where Contagioncomes in.

Directed by Steven SoderberghContagion was produced with the active cooperation of the CDC, the WHO and other governmental organizations and its function is clear: To present a hyper-realistic disaster scenario to justify the vaccination campaigns promoted by these agencies while discrediting those who criticize them.

Nothing in the movie hints that it is a work of fiction. Quite to the contrary, everything in Contagionis made to be as realistic as possible, using actual locations and governmental agencies, to make the story as plausible – and as frightening to the masses – as possible. As the slogan of the movie says: “Nothing spreads like fear” and, boy, does it try to spread fear. This movie’s message is: “Nothing was exaggerated, and next time there’s a virus outbreak, listen to us … or you’ll die”.

The Function of Disaster Movies

Disaster movies are often action-packed thrill rides that venture in the sometimes fascinating “what if that happened” side of things. While some are very over-the-top and border on fantasy, others, like Contagion, emphasize realism and actual events. These movies tend to “hit home” with the viewers because they lead them to think “this could happen to me”. Disaster movies exploit the latent fear that recent events caused on the psyche on the masses, tapping into the anxiety and trauma they cause in order to create tension and terror in the viewers. Then, the “agenda” aspect of these movies kick in as they propose to the viewers the best (and only) way these issues can be resolved. Specific groups and agencies are cast as honorable, helpful and trustworthy during the time of crisis, while others are portrayed as hindrances and even traitors. The drama that follows becomes a case of predictive programming, as the steps taken in the movie to resolve the problem will thereafter appear normal to the masses if they ever occur in real life.

In his book Propagandes Silencieuses (Silent Propaganda), the journalist and writer Ignacio Ramonet describes the always present underlying message found in disaster movies:

“In all cases, the disaster causes a kind of ‘state of emergency’ that hands all powers and modes of transportation to state authorities: the police, the army or “the crew”. Portrayed as the ultimate recourse, these institutions are the only ones capable of facing the dangers, the disorder and the decay threatening society thanks to their structure and technical knowledge. (…) As if it was impossible to present to the general public a disaster that is not resolved by state authorities and governmental powers.”
– Ignacio Ramonet, “Propagandes Silencieuses” (free translation)

Along with the all-importance of authorities, the masses are inevitably presented as a herd of idiots prone to panic that must be kept in the dark.

“Another constant found in disaster movies is the infantilization of civilians. The full amplitude of the catastrophe and the danger the masses are facing is often hidden from them. They are kept out of any decision making process, with the exception of managers and technical specialists (engineers, architects, entrepreneurs) who are sometimes called to intervene in the crises, but always through state authorities.

The general public is often distracted with pointless entertainment and encouraged to obey without question to a ‘paternal and benevolent’ elite that is doing everything (to the point of self-sacrifice) to protect them.

These aspects, along with others, prove that disaster movies, beyond their entertaining value, also present a ‘political response’ to a crisis. Behind a naive mode of fantastic storytelling, a silent message is communicated to the public: the ruler’s profound desire to see entities such as the army, the police or ‘prominent men’ take charge of the restoration and the rebuilding of a society in crisis, even if this means partially sacrificing democracy”.
– Ibid.

Contagion follows Ramonet’s blueprint of disaster movies to a tee. Right from the start, specific organizations are identified as the go-to guys and are automatically given the power to act on a massive scale, namely FEMA, the WHO, the American Red Cross and the CDC.

So what solution does Contagion propose in case of the outbreak of deadly disease? Martial law and mass vaccinations. What will happen if ever an actual disease would break out? Martial law and mass vaccinations. Would the masses questions this type of drastic response to a crisis which might or might not be necessary? No, because hundreds of hours of media content have prepared the masses for this kind of situation. Let’s look at the main components and messages found in Contagion.

Fear Spreads Faster Than Germs

The movie starts by showing how a few sick people, who go about their daily routine, can easily contaminate thousands of people. The point of the introduction is simple: A deadly virus can spread around the world in a matter of days. This realistic yet terrifying scenario is a very effective way to grip the audience and to cause a state of fear. During these scenes, the camera focuses for a few extra seconds on common objects that can transmit germs such as drinking glasses, just long enough for the viewer to realize: “Hey, I sometimes touch these things! That could be me! Aaaah!”

This sick guy could infect the entire bus. To add to the drama and scare factor, they name big cities and their population.

Beware of glasses of water being handed to you…

Not even a mother’s hug is safe.

Most of those who are infected with the virus do not live long. In a series of heartbreaking scenes, one of the main characters, Mitch Emhoff (played by Matt Damon), sees his wife and his son lose their lives to the virus. Viewers watching this tragedy play out are led to think “Hey, that’s the most terrible thing could happen to me! AAaaah!”

Watching Beth Emhoff (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) die from the virus is quite disturbing and certainly helps create a climate of fear.

This movie was released only a two years after the outbreak of H1N1 and the media hype that surrounded it, so that fear is still latent in many people. These scenes from Contagion reactivates the “fear virus” that was planted in people … and adds some. After a few minutes of panic-inducing scenes, most viewers will say “Oh my God, someone do something about this virus! This guy lost his wife and child, that’s awful! AAArgh!”. Heroes do step up to the plate and take charge of things … and it just so happens that they were involved in the making of the movie.

The Organizations That Take Charge

In Contagion, as soon as the virus becomes a threat, the entire American government escapes to an “undisclosed location” and “looks for a way of working online”. Meanwhile, specific real-life non-government organizations (NGOs) are identified by the movie as the “heroes” and the go-to people to handle the crisis. These organizations are promoted to the viewers and are given automatic legitimacy and trustworthiness. However, those who are educated about the world elite’s agenda for a New World Order know that these organizations have been know to push that agenda and everything that goes with it. In short, the movie says: “If a crisis like this happens, the government will disappear, democracy will be suspended and NGOs will take over”.

The agencies identified by the movie  are:

The CDC (Center for Disease Control), which has always heavily promoted vaccinations campaigns.

The World Health Organization (WHO) – which was accused, in the wake of the H1N1, of spreading “fear and confusion rather than immediate information”. In the movie however, the WHO is an important factor in the resolution of the problem.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the American Red Cross manage the civilians. Contagion, shows viewers how emergency situations could quickly lead to martial law, which would automatically lead to the creation of civilian camps ran by FEMA, who needed some good PR after Hurricane Katrina.

Of course, the U.S. army is all over the place since martial law is defined as the “imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis”.

So, in the wake of a “biological crisis”, the democratically elected American government basically dissolves and specific organizations (CDC, WHO, FEMA, the U.S. Army) take charge of all aspects of society. And this “taking charge” proceeds in a very specific way: Martial law and civilian camps.

Martial Law

In Contagion, the deadly virus is called MEV-1 and the social result of the outbreak is portrayed in a specific way. First, the general population, always depicted as idiotic, cattle-like and prone to violence, spirals out of control. The masses are always shown panicking, yelling, stealing, fighting and looting. This leads to a general breakdown of social order and a state of lawlessness.

A bunch of rude people looting a pharmacy to obtain medication.

Wherever regular people are put together, all sort of crap ensues. This goes along with the concept of “infantilization” of the masses, who require to be taken charge by “fatherly” authorities. And boy do the authorities take over.

The US Army imposes Martial Law and places the State of Minnesota in quarantine, blocking all traffic out of the state. Those who seek to leave the state are told to turn around and go back home.

Citizens are then directed to FEMA camps.

This stadium has been turned into a FEMA camp.

Civilians (even healthy ones) have their rights revoked and are directed to FEMA camps where they are fed and lodged. In this scene, the lack of “individual meals” to feed all of the camp’s population causes a small riot.

The Conspiracy Theorist

If specific groups and organizations are identified by the movie as “competent” and “trustworthy”, other groups get a very different treatment, namely alternative media. Personified by a blogger named Alan Krumwiede (played by Jude Law), alternative media are presented as unreliable sources bent on sensationalism and profit. In other words, the movie implies that information that does not come from “official” sources is invalid and potentially dangerous. Not exactly a pro-free-speech message.

“Truth Serum”, a blog run by Alan Krumwiede, resembles the many “alternative news” website around the web. This type of information, which does not come from mass media or governmental sources, is definitely not portrayed in a positive light.

Right from the start, Alan Krumwiede is portrayed as a somewhat dodgy blogger with a questionable work ethic and who does not get much respect from the journalistic nor the scientific community. When he tries to get one of his stories published in a newspaper called The Chronicle, he gets rejected due to lack of evidence behind his story. When he contacts a scientist regarding the virus, the scientist replies: “Blogging is not writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation”.

Despite this lack of respect from “competent” bodies, Alan Krumwiede has a wide audience and proudly boasts “millions of unique visitors per day” on his website. On it, he claims that a cure for the MEV-1 virus exists and is named Forsythia but it is repressed by the powers that be to sell vaccines. He also urges his readers not to take the vaccine that is given out by authorities.

The government apparently does not tolerate this kind of dissent. Krumwiede gets set up by an undercover agent to get him arrested. When he discovers the ploy against him the agent tells Krumwiede: “Alan, I didn’t have a choice, they’ve seen your blog”. Government agents then appear out of nowhere and arrest Krumwiede for “security fraud, conspiracy and most likely man slaughter”.

Krumwiede is arrested due to the contents of his blog. Contagion sends out a powerful message against “alternative” information sources: Diverging from “official sources” is dangerous and against the law.

It is later learned that Forsythia was a lie and that Krumwiede made 4.5 million dollars by promoting it to his readers. The chief of Homeland Security wants to put him in jail for a “long, long time”. However, due to his popularity, Krumwiede makes bail because, as the chief of Homeland Security states: “Evidently, there are 12 million people as crazy as you are”.

The character of Alan Krumwiede and the way he is portrayed is interesting for several reasons. First, he reflects the growing influence of blogs and alternative websites on public opinion – a recent phenomena that does not sit well with the elite that seeks to have the monopoly of information. By depicting this character as dishonest, corrupt and even dangerous to the public, the movie justifies the shunning of such writers and even their arrest. Nobody in the movie seems to mind that all of this is in direct violation of the First Amendment.

Second, when the H1N1 vaccine was released in 2009 and mass vaccination campaigns were organized, many citizens and authoritative figures including public health officials, doctors and specialists spoke against it. They claimed that the vaccine was unnecessary, insufficiently tested and that it had negative side-effects. By associating the corrupt figure of Alan Krumwiede with the “anti-vaccine movement”, the movie discredits all of those who question the necessity of mass vaccination campaigns. If another virus should strike, viewers of Contagion might be more prone to ignore these movements. In other words, the movie says: “Conspiracy theorists are corrupt liars that are dangerous to public safety and they should be arrested. Do not listen to them. They make money off phony cures. HOWEVER, those who make even more money off phony vaccines are good. Listen to authorities and get the vaccine … or you’ll die.”

The Ultimate Solution

After months of horror and hundreds of millions of deaths, a final solution emerges and saves humanity: Mass vaccination.

The only solution to do virus problem? A mass vaccination campaign.

Those who receive the vaccine get the privilege of wearing a scannable wristband. This allows them to go to public places such as shopping malls.

You get vaccinated, you get a barcode and go places. You don’t get vaccinated, you stay at home … and you die.

In Conclusion

Contagion may be presented as a work of fiction, but it communicates several important messages that authorities need the public to accept. To do so, the movie defines a specific problem that has actually occurred in the past, it identifies the agencies that have the right to take charge of the situation and proposes the only solution required to fix the problem. That solution is not pretty: The dissolution of the government, the imposition of martial law, the creation of civilian camps, forced vaccination campaigns and the suppression of free speech. Democracy and civil rights are summarily suspended and we witness the establishment of a highly controlled and monitored society (using barcodes).

Are disaster movies such as Contagion solely created for entertainment or are they also used to teach the public about what is acceptable and what is not when a disaster occurs? Would the World Health Organization participate in a movie simply to entertain people? Interesting fact: The movie was released on DVD at the same time the WHO got accused of exaggerating the death rate of the new H5N1 bird flu. The WHO has also recently allowed the publication of controversial research describing the creation of a mutant and highly contagious version of the virus. Could a weaponized version of the virus be purposely released on the public to justify martial law? Wait, maybe I shouldn’t say things like that. I don’t want to get arrested for “security fraud, conspiracy and most likely man slaughter”.

 

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Homai Vyarawalla – The First Lady of Indian Press Photography

Posted by Admin on January 24, 2012

http://in.news.yahoo.com/homai-vyarawalla.html?page=1

India’s first woman press photographer Homai Vyarawalla, who passed away January 15, 2012 at the age of 98, captured the last days of the British Empire in India. Her work also traces the birth and growth of a new nation. The story of Homai’s life and her professional career spans an entire century of Indian history. This selection of rare photographs tells her life story amid footnotes of an emerging nation, as she saw it.

Yahoo! India – Thu, Jan 19, 2012

India’s first woman press photographer Homai Vyarawalla, who passed away January 15, 2012, captured the last days of the British Empire in India. Her work also traces the birth and growth of a new nation. The story of Homai’s life and her professional career spans an entire century of Indian history. Belonging to the small Parsi community of India, Homai was born in 1913 into a middle-class home in Navsari, Gujarat. Her father was an actor in a traveling Urdu-Parsi theatre company. Homai grew up in Bombay. She was the only girl in her class to complete her matriculation examination.

AFP

Having learned photography from Maneckshaw Vyarawalla, whom she married later, Homai was to spend nearly three decades of her career in Delhi. After a career of 33 years as press photographer, Homai gave it up one day at the age of 57, disillusioned when the Nehruvian dream began to falter. She lived in near-anonymity until 1989. Fiercely independent, she continued to live on her own in Vadodara until she passed away.

The great value of Homai’s work lies in her vast collection of photographs that archive the nation in transition, documenting both the euphoria of Independence as well as disappointment with its undelivered promises. She was the only professional woman photojournalist in India during her time and her survival in a male-dominated field is all the more significant because the profession continues to exclude most women even today. Ironically, Western photojournalists who visited India such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White have received more attention than their Indian contemporaries. In an already invisible history, Homai Vyarawalla’s presence as a woman was even more marginalized.

Homai received India’s first National Photo Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2011. In 2010, Vyarawalla gave her entire collection of prints, negatives, cameras and other memorabilia to the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi for safekeeping and documentation. A retrospective of her work was held at the NGMA soon after, bringing her vast archive into public view.

Learn more about this book at Mapin Publishing‘s website

Reproduced here is a selection of photos from the biographical work – India in Focus: Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla by Sabeena Gadihoke, published by Mapin Publishing in association with Parzor Foundation, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts and the National Gallery of Modern Art. The result of extensive interviews conducted by Gadihoke with Homai, the book is a tribute to her indomitable spirit.

‘Home Leather-Worker: Photo by Mrs Homai Vyarawalla’, Cover of The Illustrated Weekly on December 9, 1945. “My pictures of Lady Irwin College were first published in the Weekly (1945). This Ceylonese woman saw the pictures and was motivated to come to India to study at the college. She later modeled for me for this picture.”
Homai during her college years, in 1931. Homai would stitch her own blouses and she shared six sarees with her widowed mother, Soonamai.

Homai and family, with the car DLD 13 (which inspired ‘Dalda’, the nickname she gave herself). “Purchased in 1955 for Rupees 11,000/- with taxes! It came to me on the 13th of the month that happened to be Dhanteras at Diwali time. I believe in numerology and the number thirteen has been lucky for me.”

“On Children’s Day, I would notice the staff shooing away children of the less privileged. Of course, Nehru never knew that. He played with any child which was brought to him. So, in all my twenty-seven years in Delhi, I never saw Nehru with the children of the poor in his arms. There was always a coterie around him and he saw only what they wanted to see.”

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

A show of hands for the voting for Partition. In her meticulous documentation of events leading up to Independence, Homai Vyarawalla photographed the significant meeting of AICC held on 2 June 1947, in which the decision to Partitition the country was made. From Homai’s accounts, this meeting was a stormy one.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

Mahatma Gandhi’s body at Birla House. Sardar Patel, Nehru, Mountbatten, Baldev Singh, and Gandhi’s son Ramdas are seen in the picture.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

The ceremonial ride of Dr Rajendra Prasad through Vijay Chowk upon becoming the first President of India.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

The first Republic Day Parade on 26 January 1950, was held at the ground where the National Stadium stands today with the Purana Quila in the background. It was only after this that its venue shifted to India Gate. This picture shows Dr Rajendra Prasad taking the salute without any security surrounding him.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

Nehru’s Cabinet seen at lunch hosted by Sardar Patel after C. Rajagopalachari became Governer-General, 1948. Seated here are: Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Baldeve Singh, Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, John Matthai, Jagjivan Ram, Mr Gadgil, Mr Neogi, Dr Ambedkar, Shyama Prasad Mookherji, Gopalaswamy Iyengar and Jayaramdas Daulatram.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

The first three Presidents of India: Dr Rajendra Prasad (1950-62), Dr Radhakrishnan (1962-67) and Dr Zakir Hussain (1967-69) at a condolence meeting of Parliamentarians on Nehru’s death.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress leads the mount down from the high border pass into India. Directly behind him is the Panchen Lama. They were both wearing gold brocade gowns and jeweled gold hats. Homai documented for Time Life magazine, the first crossing of the young Dalai Lama who came through the Nathu La pass, in north Sikkim, in 1956.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

Indira with Feroze Gandhi at the airport. “When I cut my hair, Mrs Gandhi came up and complimented me. A few months later she too acquired a short hairstyle that was to stay for the rest of her life.” The Emergency was a culmination of Homai’s disappointment with the nation.

©Homai Vyarawalla/The Alkazi Collection of Photography

Homai with her smaller Speed Graphic camera on her shoulder. “I didn’t like those flimsy sort of saris flying around in the wind and always used a safety pin to hold my sari in place. I wore white and cream khaddar saris for work and silk saris for evening functions at the Gymkhana Club or at Rashtrapati Bhawan. The silk ones would often spread out, getting caught in the legs of photographers and tear. I always carried safety pins with me to tack them up in case that happened.”

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The Kodak moment fades

Posted by Admin on January 23, 2012

http://in.news.yahoo.com/photos/the-kodak-moment-fades-1327072573-slideshow/

Eastman Kodak Co, the photography icon that invented the hand-held camera filed for bankruptcy protection. Some key events in the history of the company that brought photography to the masses:

Eastman Kodak Co, the photography icon that invented the hand-held camera filed for bankruptcy protection. Some key events in the history of the company that brought photography to the masses:

In 1881, George Eastman and businessman Henry Strong form a partnership called the Eastman Dry Plate Company. The name Kodak is born and the Kodak camera is placed on the market, with the slogan: “You Press The Button – We Do The Rest.”

In 1896 – the 100,000th Kodak camera is manufactured and the pocket Kodak camera sold for $5 and in 1900 the Brownie camera is introduced which sells for $1.

In 1929 – Kodak introduces its first motion picture film designed for making movies with sound tracks.

In 1932 – George Eastman, suffering from a painful spinal disorder, commits suicide with a bullet to the heart. He leaves a note that says: “My work is done. Why wait?”

In 1975 – Kodak invents the world’s first digital camera, a toaster-sized image sensor that captured rough hues of black and white.

In 1997 – Kodak stock touches all-time high of $94.38 and closes at $0.55 on 18th January, 2012, on the New York Stock Exchange.

By the end 2010, Kodak has equivalent of 18,800 full-time employees. Its digital camera market share has falls to 7 per cent, ranking seventh behind Canon Inc, Sony Corp, Nikon Corp.

In 2012 – Kodak files a lawsuit against Apple Inc accusing it of infringing four patents related to digital camera images. Kodak later also files patent infringement suits against Fujifilm Holdings Corp and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

 

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Reader, Interrupted

Posted by Admin on May 28, 2011

http://in.news.yahoo.com/blogs/opinions/reader-interrupted-070551236.html

By Sanjay Sipahimalani | Opinions – Fri, May 27, 2011

One of the aims of the novelist, writes John Gardner in his The Art of Fiction, is to create for the reader “a vivid and continuous dream”. Well, these days, I find that dream to be full of interruptions.

I’m not referring to doorbells, phone calls and mysterious thumps from next door. Rather, it’s the distraction caused by having access to the Internet. The lurking sense that there are e-mails to be checked, tweets to be followed, status updates to be noted, headlines to be scanned or new videos of Rebecca Black to be made fun of.

The ease with which all of this can be accomplished means that it’s a temptation to be constantly wrestled with, and more often than not, I find myself pinned to the ground. And the more often one enters that kinetic, frenetic arena, the more difficult it is to settle down for a period of sustained, single-minded attention.

Nicholas Carr, in his much-discussed The Shallows, maintains that the Web destroys focus, quoting neurological studies to prove that it rewires the brain. “Because it disrupts concentration,” he writes, “such activity weakens comprehension”. Concentration, comprehension: without these qualities, the act of reading is imperiled. Bandwidth comes at the expense of mindwidth.

As with others, there are two states I swing between when reading a novel. The first, of immersion: of being drawn into and inhabiting the author’s world, one that supplants ordinary laws of time and space. The other, of being aware that I am reading: of peripheral vision, of turning the pages and of occasionally checking to see how many more are left. Sadly, it’s the latter state that prevails and more and more nowadays. (The problem resolves itself if it’s a novel I dislike, in which case I simply skim.)

When much younger, this quality of immersion was so much more pronounced. Succumbing to one of his usual fits of nostalgia, Proust has written, “There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book”. He goes on to state that memories of those times even bring alive the surroundings: “If we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and the ponds which no longer exist”. Every such book, then, becomes a diary of the past.

To return to the 21st century, there’s the added complication, as many have pointed out, that Web pages simply aren’t conducive to reading at length. Bite-sized pieces are all we absorb before clicking and moving on, and this habit can persist when we return to the printed page. (Paradoxically, though, it’s the Web that’s being credited with something of a revival of long-form journalism, be it through curation sites such as LongForm.org, save-for-later services such as Instapaper, or Kindle Singles. Content is selected, distractions are eliminated. Dedicated e-book readers, too, have that advantage — which is why I think the Kindle should simply do away with the rudimentary Web access it currently provides.)

Which leads to the speculation that, when it comes to the novel, we’ll return to the time of the Victorians, with authors writing in monthly installments that appear on e-readers and periodicals, subsequently being issued as one large, complete volume. James Buzard, MIT literature professor, makes this sound trendy when he says that such serials “encourage a different social engagement” with books,talking of it as a form of “viral marketing” where readers have the time to exchange views on the work in progress with each other and with the novelist. (“But, Charles, did you really have to let Little Nell die?”)

While we wait for these and other necessities-turned-virtues to materialise, I’m left with an immediate, unresolved problem. There are more than 150 unread pages of a book that I have to review, and if I persist in turning to one of the many screens that surround my life, I’m never going to meet the deadline.

Sanjay Sipahimalani is a writer with an advertising agency in Mumbai. His reviews are collected at Antiblurbs.

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