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Embracing technology and nurturing a reading culture in Africa

Alinah Segobye is an academic, writer, storyteller and futurist. She holds an honorary professorship at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute and is the former Deputy Executive Director at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa. Alinah explores the role of technology in developing a reading culture in Africa:

How did the first rock-art artist get inspired? Was it a young doodler sent to the naughty corner in the cave who started expressing on the rock surface? Or perhaps a caregiver with a brood of bored little ones trying to entertain them? Or, as archaeologists would have us believe – was it a shaman in a trance? Whatever the original inspiration, rock art remains an enduring mystery and source of stories well beyond its original creators.

We have come a long way from the stone tablet to the e-tablet as platforms for containing stories. The creative ability of humankind has enabled us to explore and innovate different ways of capturing the essence of storytelling. Whatever the medium, we are all still enthralled by stories and the voices that narrate them. Some argue that technology has reduced the dynamic and performative nature of stories where setting and context were part of bringing characters such as Mmutla the hare or Ananse the spider-man to life. In my view, all the media that technology has brought to our stories have enhanced the African story rather than diminished its worth.

The book has enabled more people access to stories and expanded literacy to audiences hitherto excluded from access, while advances in technology enable us to expand even further the reach of stories. From audio to visual stories, we have been able to grow a more inclusive reading culture to the benefit of Africa’s children. Children in conflict situations, rural areas and hard-to-reach places benefit from books transmitted through other media. Technology has provided independence in developing a reading ability for many, including people living with disabilities. Technology offers new and limitless opportunities for storytellers and can be positively used to enhance a reading culture.

So, as we celebrate the book, we should also embrace its multiple covers and containers rather than lament changes brought by innovation. A good story will inspire one to find the book and read it and children will always enjoy being read to, even after seeing the latest blockbuster or newest characters on screen.

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