Douglas: Are Books Dying?

The reading by Douglas Yellowlees reignited a thought that I originally conjured up in my head when I was in the middle of my teenage years. I remember when it was compulsory to read a book of some sort every week during school, especially in the primary to early secondary stages. “Books are important, books contain knowledge, books ignite your imagination”, the constant propaganda and somewhat fascist behaviour that was being imposed on me and my peers naturally made me inclined to rebel against books in general. Ever since then, I have never really been a big reader and would much rather watch a movie as opposed to reading.

That little voice in the back of my head that never failed to remind me about how important books are has started to fade with this technological boom. I honestly can’t remember the last time I picked up and read a book, as bad as that is to say, it is the truth. The pro-book speeches and why they are so valuable does not really apply in today’s world to the extent that it did before. Information, news, stories, archives, all of these things are now presented in different ways that attract us humans more. Perhaps this is because media is still such a new and developing thing that people simply just go with the flow as it is “new” and they can experience something different. However, we must not forget that everything is so much easier for us to find now, I do not have to sit in a library and scour the shelves or ask a grumpy librarian as to where the section on politics is. All I have to do is use an online database and type in what I want, and I have hundreds upon thousands of different options all readily available to me on my screen. Of course, the literal “reading” element is still there, but the means of finding the information is ridiculously easier than what my parents had to go through.

Furthermore, “remix” culture has also had an impact on the way in which we tell stories. People are able to narrate and illustrate different plot twists and endings to popular historical events in greater detail. I am sure we all have wondered what would have happened in Hitler was still around, and thanks to modern technology and new media, we are able to showcase this in a more realistic fashion. The example used in the reading mentions the notorious Titanic story. Thanks to the accurate representations and demanded hypermediacy of today’s population, audiences are arguably more enthralled and immersed in entertainment platforms such as movies and interactive books. Who would not want to constantly stare at a screen filled with amazing special effects, a setting and scenery that consistently changes, or an interactive layout that allows you to determine what happens next.

On the other hand, of course there are people who still love and enjoy reading books, and for them there is nothing that can replace them. Yes, new media presents us with amazing new graphics or ideas, but it will never replace the power of imagination. If you give a young child a simple ball, he or she can be amused for hours depending on how they utilise their imagination, this child does not have to be spoon fed the reality or overall picture of the story. Perhaps as a society, we have become less self-reliant when we have to entertain ourselves. This new media has arguably “poisoned” us, and we just keep wanting more and more of what we do not actually need. All we really need are words on paper, and to let our brains do the rest.

The reading starts off with a great quote that I feel is excellent food for thought and sums up this point perfectly. Every year a new iPhone comes out with more useless functions, will society ever learn to take a break during this media flurry?

“Undoubtedly man will learn to make synthetic rubber more cheaply, undoubtedly his aircraft will fly faster, undoubtedly he will find more specific poisons to destroy his internal parasites without ruining his digestion, but what can he do mechanically to improve a book?” — Vannevar Bush, “Mechanization and the Record” (1939)

I found it particularly interesting how he talks about the progression of books. Evidently books have been around for absolute ages, they have helped society come so far and wars have been fought over the power of them (as can be seen with the Russian Revolution). Therefore I do not believe that books will die out anytime soon, but there is a definite decrease in their use and importance in today’s world. What I want to know is, if books are dying out and we constantly find new ways to share things – what will come after the Internet dies out?

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