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Hi SQU: Literature in WhatsApp


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If scholars of Anthology hundreds of years from now examined the "literary works" written in What's App, they might label our days as a decline in the general taste of fine literature.  

Using the term "literary works" for phone messages may sound hyperbolic but the same thought had been applied to ballads before Child studied them and classified them as a genre. 

However, these messages like ballads would reflect and document people's interests, problems and ambitions but also a sense of criticism and evaluation for what they read. It is widely believed that we, as Arabs, don't read enough. 

Unfortunately, this may be true for many. However, today we are facing a twisted version of the same problem veiled under the mask of reading in What's App. Many people and especially youth and adolescents spend  quite a long time on this application.

Apart from chatting with each other, a considerable amount of time is spent on reading stories. Most of these stories, if not all, are written by common people i.e. not professional writers or authors. 

Some are written in standard Arabic while others in Omani or other Gulf countries' dialects. Considering the linguistic aspect of these stories, numerous defects can be detected. Many grammar and spelling mistakes are committed and standard Arabic rules are awfully violated. The reason is that many of those who write these stories are of low levels of education and not regular readers. However, it is a bitter truth to admit that some of those writers are of high educational levels such as teachers. 

Upon the strike of teachers in 2013, many stories and passages were written in What's App. Some of these were written by teachers but that did not prevent the plain grammar and spelling mistakes from appearing. That may be referred to the lack of reading. Another explanation might be the use of smart phones as it is difficult for some people to write the right spelling in the keyboards of smart phones. 

Whatever might be the reason, being exposed to such a weak and wrong use of grammar accompanied by not reading a good writing may cause on the long term a disruption in one's linguistic competence. Being encountered with such errors regularly may cause that one will not identify them as errors by the time or even commit them in his/her writings.  

However, apart from the linguistic disadvantages of such literature, the literary aspect is not less problematic. Everyone who has read great works of Arab writers like Taha Hussain, Jubran Khaleel Jubran or Saif Al Rahbi will notice the great gap between the two genres. What's App writings lack many literary principles and devices. The plots are simple and weak in many cases, and the foreshadowing is not achieved successfully. 

Moreover, the characterisation seems to lack the value of cause and effect. An example for that can be found in religious stories in the application. We are normally introduced to a corrupted character who returns to the right path after a traumatic experience. 

However, the fast development in the characterisation is unrealistic as the character needs to develop gradually and be provided by enough causes to be influenced. Even the Holy Quran, which contains many stories, confirms the validity of this element. The Pharaoh's story, for example, tells us that the prophet Musa had been inviting Pharaoh for fifteen years using every possible way to persuade him. The Pharaoh did not believe in God till he was drowned. Despite the fact that he saw many miracles that What's App stories can not claim to contain, he did not respond. The Quran does not deny that fact or consider it a failure of the prophet or God's powers. Whereas when someone argues that some What's App stories are unrealistically plotted, he or she is faced with accusations of not believing in God's great powers.  

This may not be important to people who are not interested or specialised in literature. However, constituent acquaintance with such a level of literature may cause one not to be able to go with the higher levels. It may also prevent young talents from growing to reach the level of great literary works. After all, spending time reading such ineloquent works instead of the great ones is in itself a great loss of time and effort. 

Nonetheless, while those writers may argue that their main aim is to convey a useful message to the readers regardless the way they follow, such a claim is invalid. People may be slightly affected by some of these stories, but the duration of such an effect is temporary. The reason behind surviving some ancient works like Sophocles' plays is their impact on people's beliefs and thoughts. 

Being well written, such works have entered not only theatres and anthology books around the world but also people's hearts. The fact that stories can change people is unquestionable due to them being used in holy books like The Quran and Testaments. Even non-divine or human writings have been proved to have an effect; for example, Charlotte Gilman's story The Yellow Wall Paper has made a radical change in the methods of treating depression in the United States. 

These works' great impact on individuals and societies is due them inviting the reader to reflect the lesson and acquire it by him/herself. The lesson in not stated directly, like what one might find in What's App stories, but injected slowly and obscurely into the reader's mind and heart. 

Hence, it is formed in the reader's mind as a personal conviction and not as an acquired knowledge. That leads to a stronger belief in the idea presented by the literary work. In contrast, What's App stories are too direct and therefore easily forgotten.  

Therefore, as What's App stories seem to lack both accuracy of language and effectiveness of literature, I think they should be either improved or replaced by other readings. However, since it is almost impossible to control the application, initiatives to encourage a higher level of reading are required.

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