Columnists and the Electronic Culture
Posted on June 14th, 2012

Dr.Tilak Fernando

June 13 this year marks the second anniversary of the ‘In focus Column’ in the ‘Daily News’. To recap what was mentioned in the first anniversary would be to reiterate what inspired me to concentrate on a non political column of this nature.

The reasons were two fold. Many friends intimated to me that they were ‘bored’ with an overdose of political writings in newspapers in Sri Lanka. This prompted me to concentrate on something that would stimulate a certain category of readers with light reading. To make it more appealing, writing needed to be garnished with a concoction of wit and satire before injecting in small doses to reach all those ‘affected nerve centres’ in our society. The infusion, of course, had to be done in a smooth fashion ensuring that the syringe contained an adequate dose of anesthesia in it, so as not to disturb the patient(s)!

I noticed that majority of Sri Lankans are generally not hot and bothered about things that come across their way most of the time however distressing or inconvenient those may be. Consequently many tend to withdraw to their shells and absorb all such misdemeanour to one’s own disadvantage!

Choosing to be a non-political writer, except on rare occasions to come up with a pen portrait of a laudable politician or a statesman, or during the terrorist war exposing the fanatic injustices under captions such as ‘Tigers reduced to Kittens’ have given me the journalistic tools to be constructive and objective.

I believe that factual stories put on record may help to open Nelsonian eyes of certain authorities who are either not aware of the type of situations or problems under their purview or just carry on regardless. If at least one reader appreciates what is written in the column that would ‘make my day’! I am pleased with the type of responses and feed backs that have hit my mail box over the last two years not only from Sri Lanka but faraway places such as Australia, the Middle East and on a rare occasion an admirable official from the Department of Motor Traffic too.

Such positive responses have helped me to focus on themes that I had never thought of before. I take this opportunity to thank all ‘fans’ of the In Focus’ column in feeding me with new ideas and areas to concentrate on; regrettably I am unable to list all the names here. However, I must mention of a female university lecturer who writes to me every week with her feedback which invigorates my thinking.


However, one of my regrets is the response I received from an editor of a Sinhala newspaper when the idea of a translated Sinhala version was rejected stating that, “the readership will think we have not enough publishing material”, that being despite a senior Sinhala journalist friend who took the time and effort to translate and tried to convince the editor. This has actually benumbed me as many readers constantly request me to get some of the themes published in Sinhala. Unfortunately my talents are limited when it comes to palatable Sinhala that is written today, leave alone translations that involve time and effort. The above analysis should not be taken as my being egotistical or trying to portray myself as an ‘ingenious’. The fact of the matter is that, when the public becomes weary of certain responsible officials or authorities who are responsible for the welfare of the society become not up snuff, many have been crying out on social or administrative lassitude through feature articles, letters to the editor columns, Editorials in newspapers and on television too.


Communication has been the most dominant means of influencing and shaping a society. Approximately in and around 720 BC the Greek alphabet reflected on the Greeks to mull over and acquire astuteness. Writing allows the author of a story to register what he writes in a reader’s mind exactly he intends it to be. Thus, communication media have influenced human existence from time immemorial.

Interaction falls into two backgrounds (a) Oral and (b) Writing. In oral culture community becomes the uncomplicated part of social existence. On the contrary, writing emerges as a unique component developing specific codes or laws.

With the invention of the printing press, the concept of writing has revolutionised and become popular. In the middle ages this helped and guaranteed the elite and religious personalities to get their written manuscripts literally identical to the printed version.

As a consequence, writing became not just a case of parting with ideas but a definite process questionable theoretically. Furthermore, it allowed backward scanning; one could revise a text, go back and eliminate errors and inconsistencies.

The other advantage was that one was able to look over a text and change written words to ensure the intended meaning as opposed to the spoken word where even the wild horses could not draw back once uttered! Therefore with writing a mind-set that liked accuracy and precision has born. This very obsession with meticulousness and correctness has given rise to dictionaries embodying the desire to legislate the correct use of language.

Electronic culture

When we think about electronic media today, we straight away think about radio, television, movies and computers. Media have developed in two directions simultaneously: They have created larger audiences for particular messages creating a highly selective audience segments and particular tastes from philosophical books to the Home Shopping Network to thousands of user groups in the cyberspace of the Internet.

It is clear that with the electronic media, for the first time in history, the vast majority of the world’s population can now participate in the dominant cultural forms and practices. Today, at much a faster rate than newspapers, magazine or even the television, the Internet has become a powerful communication process which is fundamentally altering the culture and society the world over.

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