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Why the screen has not killed off the written word

Helsinki's Press House shows the Finns' attachment to their newspapers swissinfo.ch

In Finland the internet and mobile communications have not killed off a passion for books or newspapers.

This content was published on November 20, 2003 - 14:33

According to the latest PISA study, carried out in 43 countries, Finnish young people figure among the most assiduous readers. But for how much longer?

“Among old school Finns, reading is a tradition,” said Sini Sovijärvi, “in the current climate, people have a need for an intelligent pastime.”

According to this producer of educational programmes for national television, it is too early to say what influence the revolution in information and communication technologies (ICT) will have on the general level of culture in the country.

She has, of course, noticed that young people do not write as well as they used to but this phenomenon is not restricted to Finland.

“Perhaps there will be a lost generation,” predicted Sovijärvi, “but nothing suggests that the next generation will not show new literary ambitions.”

Creativity versus technology

“And there are always creative people who are interested in things other than technology,” she added.

The director of the documentary film festival of Helsinki, Kai Huotari, is well placed to judge the creativity of his fellow citizens.

He says Finland does not have a tradition in either cinematographic or television production, unlike its Swedish neighbour.

“Until now, we have staked everything on technique. But, on the level of content, I am not sure we are ready to compete with others,” Huotari said.

Despite this, Huotari does not see a danger of a cultural impoverishment due to the rise of ICTs. On the contrary, he is hopeful that technology could liberate new creative forces.

Will the information society impart knowledge or even wisdom to a social order, as certain government communiqués would have us believe?

Mika Boedeker from the parliamentary commission on communications refuses to get carried away.

“Technical means might disseminate knowledge. But wisdom? That’s another matter,” Boedeker said.

Boedeker’s colleague, Paula Tiihonen, is aware that there is no guarantee that Finland will maintain its lead in the technological race.

“As our population ages, we risk losing our capacity for innovation,” said Tiihonen.
“Finland must exploit foreign brains and capital.”

“But,” she added, “it is not easy to make people come to Finland. Maybe we are too isolated, too cold, too old-fashioned...”

Nouveaux riches

So far, the ICT boom has made a lot of people happy in Finland.

The international success of Nokia has rightly reinforced a feeling of national pride.

But the rapid explosion of a new form of capitalism is not to everyone’s taste.

Until now, Finland – like its Scandinavian neighbours – has cultivated more of an egalitarian model.

“Thanks to or because of Nokia, a class of nouveaux riches has sprung up, whose values seem completely shallow to me,” said Sovijärvi.

This class is usually made up of very young people, who have made a fortune with a technological innovation or by dabbling with Nokia shares on the stock market.

The lives that these people lead, says Sovijärvi, are “too luxurious for this country”.

But there’s no bitterness in Sovijärvi’s tone – in Finland it is important above all to be tolerant and respect freedom.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez in Finland

Key facts

Conducted in 43 countries over three years, the PISA study measured the reading level of 15-year-olds.
The 2003 results show that the Finns were the best in literature, while the Japanese and Koreans were good at sciences.
With 5.2 million inhabitants, Finland has 1,000 libraries which are used frequently.

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