Books are the only cure for the digital zombie plague affecting today's young

Paul OGarra

YA author Paul OGarra is deeply concerned with the potentially harmful effects of smart phones, games, TV, and movies on our children. Here, he explains why the only measure to stop young people switching off is to get them reading wholesome books. 

Whenever I watch a television series, advert, or movie, it immediately strikes me that everything I am being shown is there as a result of having been moulded to affect the point of view of the watcher. 

At least we are assured that ‘subliminal advertising’ is now illegal, but it seems that over the years we have advanced leagues in the art of affecting or infecting people's attitudes in a much more refined manner. It would not be so bad if the target were only us adults, but today they´re after the kids, and they want them in a BIG way. The most valid weapon the reasonable parent can wield in this new insidious world is something very traditional: good literature.

In a world where anyone of us can see at a glance that technology is doing something negative to our children, we would throw up our hands in horror if we but realised the sheer extent of it. In 2017, some 46% of Americans said they could not live without their mobile phones, and today over 81% of Americans own and spend more than four hours a day on their phones. Adults, on average, touch their phones a staggering 2,617 times a day, with extreme users reaching 5,400 times, according to research.

One day, mobiles will be built with regulatory ‘switch-off times’ to curb excessive use by children but, for now, your children are expendable guinea pigs. It is my view that mobiles can create mental health problems in children; that they can interfere with everyday life and limit face-to-face interaction; that they distract and provide instant gratification, being a good excuse not to do something else; and that they can limit physical activity. In short, I see mobiles as a form of technological drug, and we are allowing them to be fed to our children.

Then we look at the entertainment created for our children—mainly in the form of videos, video games, movies and the like—only to realise that these alternatives have, at the end of the day, been incorporated into the same ‘drug-dispensing system’ as social media and so forth. I have seen the harmful effects myself. Kids are HOOKED. They sleep with their mobiles, take them to school, and are consistently messaging, gaming and watching series and movies. Let’s think about it. What is a movie, a video, a story, a film? Well, in fact, a film—short or long—is a storyline, broken into maximum 10-second shots, and then put together on a timeline so that the viewer is then shown the sequence of shots with accompanying sounds and effects. The viewer's interaction is absolutely zilch, nada, nothing. They need to do nothing; not even think. Ideal for an adult after a long day’s work, but what about for a young mind that is still developing with a hunger, a need, for ideas and knowledge? I’m sure that many parents would agree with me when I say that today’s young people are at great risk of becoming little more than “digital zombies.”

Some may argue that there are so many educational videos and interesting historical movies etc. to be found while surfing online. Though this may be the case, the fact of the matter is that the majority of good movies come from books in the first place, except that they lose most of their value in being condensed. The viewer does not enjoy the mental stimulation that they would have experienced with a book. Neither do they need to concentrate, or even think at all as they would with literature. 

So if books are to be the saving grace of our society, we need to take a good hard look at what´s going on behind the scenes. The Roman Catholic Church had a system named the “Index Librorum Prohibitorum,” which was the index of books forbidden to their faithful. However, in many cases, they banned books of the most innocuous nature, and often good and humanitarian works by writers such as Sartre, Defoe, and the intellectual elite of Europe, all in the pursuit of their own political, theological and sociological aspirations. This was stopped in 1966 by Pope Paul VI, himself a good and wise intellectual, wanting to free people from the restriction of ideas imposed by such archaic systems. 

But since then, it is my view that the gauntlet has been picked up by so many major companies and powers wanting to limit the intellectual development of our species, and so contain us as a manageable mass to be dominated by themselves. This is being done in myriad secretive ways. Do you know, for instance, who owns the world’s largest publishing houses? It is the seeming irrationality of many publishers’ selections of works, and because of the sheer number of those rejected individuals wanting to make themselves and their works heard, that the independent book publishing industry was born. Many may argue that technological developments have also been a prime player in the emergence of this new industry but, for me, it was a case of liberal speech winning the day over manipulation.

The indie publishing phenomenon is our greatest chance of retaining our freedom of ideas, although, even here, the ‘powers that be’ are constantly finding ways to influence what is and what is not read. As an author, I am drawn to the Young Adult (YA) genre. This is mainly because I would like to contribute my grain of rice, and influence positively, the spiritual and intellectual attitudes of young people, and give them an alternative perspective—the true one in my opinion—of world affairs relating to the particular geographical locations which I visit in my novels. 

My latest novel, Malak Desert Child, is an adventure that touches upon many of the fields that I think YA literature should. It seems to me that there is an over-tendency to create works dealing with the occult; fantasy of every sort; sociological problems; romance; and sexuality. The eponymous central character in my novel, ‘Malak,’ is a five-year-old child who sees and abhors domestic violence, bullying, racism, colonialism, modern-day slavery, religious intolerance and, in her own way, champions causes that she does not comprehend but in which she sees as a fight against injustice.

The book is an absorbing story based on truths and relating the adventures of a group of people who themselves are loosely based on real-life individuals that I have encountered in my own life and travels. Furthermore, and if I do say so myself, from a grammatical viewpoint, the work is well constructed and has been written from scratch in  Queen’s English.

Malak Desert Child as a book also seeks to redress, to whatever extent possible, the radical imbalance between Christian and Islamic cultures and communities, none of which have themselves had a hand in the evil toing and froing that has gone on now for so long. On a related point, I was keen to ensure that the work has a strong spiritual and metaphysical content to be found within. This was done with the sure knowledge, of which many are not apprised, of the possibilities, probabilities and absolute truths that modern thinkers, including physicist Max Planck, have given us, thus enabling young readers to move away from the long-predominant physicalist theories which exclude the potential existence of the metaphysical and that seek to deprive us all of another world.

Having said all of this, I must state that there are some truly wonderful contemporary YA authors who have made their way to the forefront of modern independent literature and others who are fighting the good fight to be heard. I am proud to consider myself part of this community of authors who are seeking to provide those vital ingredients of information and instruction missing from too much of the modern leisure and entertainment provided for our youth.

Malak Desert Child by Paul OGarra is available now on Amazon in print and eBook editions, priced £12.32 and £4.69 respectively. Visit www.paul-ogarra.com.

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