One of the most worrying trends I noticed on my travels in Africa is that the mobile phone and TV have replaced books. At one time, the most valued gift you could give to someone, especially the young, was a book.
Today books are seen as old-fashioned--the young (and the not so young) are "too busy" to read--unless it is Facebook, or Twitter or one of the myriad other forms of social media. If they don't have their faces buried in their smartphones, they are staring goggle-eyed at the TV.
And yet, despite the zillions of items of information available on those same electronic devices, many young people today seem to hold vacuous, shallow opinions, make illogical arguments and use false equivalence that evaporates at the first blast of rational thought. In addition to very short attention spans, our electronic addicts also seem to have a severely curtailed vocabulary and seem unable to express themselves except in cliches.
We see this increasingly in the political space--where once reasoned, well-researched, carefully constructed arguments held sway, today we see bombast, insults and name-calling.
But in this, Africa seems to be following (and at some distance so far, I have to say) a world-wide trend. Look at the mess that the Brexit referendum vote has wrought on Britain. To this day, there is no clarity about the way forward and the government keeps splintering into a dozen different factions. The attempt to turn a lemon into lemonade by defying logic is proving too much.
But the champion of shallow thinking, often totally divorced from reality, is of course Donald Trump, the current US president. Where the US leads, others are bound to follow, heaven help us.
In a brilliant article, Jeet Heer, writing in the US-based New Republic magazine, says that Trump "is truly the first TV president and a harbinger of the decline in intelligence to come in US politics".
"It's not just that Trump is a creature of TV, but that he's also allergic to text. Tony Schwartz told The New Yorker that in the 18 months he spent with Trump co-writing The Art of the Deal, he never saw a single book in Trump's office or apartment."
Trump himself said he doesn't have time to read books: "I never have. I'm always busy doing a lot. Now I'm busier, I guess, than ever before."
"The president," Heer writes, "even has trouble digesting briefing books, so his aides now use 'big pictures' and 'killer graphics' to hold his attention."
Not reading books to gain a deeper...