Monday, December 24, 2007

The Death of Reading?

Is human society headed for a second age of orality, similar to that which existed before the emergence of the written text?

I found Caleb Crain's article in the New Yorker very unsettling because so much of the writing is on the wall already.

Poll after poll is showing that around the world, people are reading less than they did in previous decades in the face of increasing exposure to visual media.

The report compiled by the National Endowments for the Arts is just one piece of evidence Crain considers to conclude:
We are reading less as we age, and we are reading less than people who were our age ten or twenty years ago.
He doesn't think that reading will die out altogether, but points out that:
... some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special “reading class,” much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become “an increasingly arcane hobby.”
And this will have implications for the way we are able think and the whole way our brain is wired.

And perhaps too for the whole way society operates, because as the NEA survey discovered:
... readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote.
(Thanks Umapagan for forwarding the link.)


k said...

don't forget audio books. do they count as reading?

my husband spends so much time on the road, his taken to 'listening' to his 'books' in the car.

k said...

i meant "he's" sorry

bibliobibuli said...

that's a really interesting question and one that came up in an earlier post. no conclusive answers though, of course.

Walker Moore said...

Hmm, I'm guilty of speed-reading the text because it's so late, but my gut-feeling is that reading was on the wane until the mid-1990s, but the internet came along and changed all that. Sure book reading continued its downward spiral, but the correlation between book reading and reading in general broke apart at that point, and they both went in opposite directions. It seems to me that people are reading more...they're just utilizing the many emerging content delivery methods at their disposal instead of buying books.

I will read Mr Crain's article again properly tomorrow, and cry then if I missed the point just now. :D

Happy Holidays Sharon! ;)

bibliobibuli said...

you're right of course, and although crain doesn't really say a lot about this he does mention that the internet is encouraging reading ... so long as it doesn't entirely go down the youtube route. this earlier post discusses this issue.

Exzede said...

i just couldn't for the life of me understand why people find reading so unenjoyable. i for one, would rather spend my time reading books than watching tv or listening to the radio. i believe reading takes you to places beyond your wildest dreams. i tend to agree that e-books could encourage reading among youngsters and adults alike, but they do have their disadvantages yes? u need gadgets to read e-books, whereas a good old paperback (or hardbacks for that matter) requires nothing but a pair of eyes! don't you think so?

Walker Moore said...

It's a bit subjective really isn't it? I'd say certain music takes me to places that books never could. Books inspire me, but the places they take you are very calculated. Music gives me very random, sometimes massive ideas (for art...for poetry...etc.). Your mileage may vary.

Books have their disadvantages too of course. At a point in technology where portable devices are converging -- where your phone is your PDA is your mp3 player is your video player is your 5 megapixel camera -- books are increasingly seen as clunky and less portable than they once were.

We're at a time where smartphones come with 8GB built in RAM, high speed Wi-Fi and Adobe Reader installed by default. You could literally download tens of thousands of books (Gutenberg texts?) into something like that for reading while on your travels...and you'll never say to yourself "doh, I forgot that book" again.

Of course, the textual experience is unlikely to compare (Karie @ used to discuss that but I see her blog has bitten the dust =/), but apples and oranges and all that. ;)

bibliobibuli said...

i just couldn't for the life of me understand why people find reading so unenjoyable.

me neither. (so what is happening? or not happening?)

i also think that the gadgets you mention are very useful, we will see more of them, but they will never supplant the physical book.

recently i interviewed publisher david davidar and he agreed with me, saying he thought that both would coexist. the printed book, he said, totally disappears - becomes invisible - when you are immersed in a story in a way that the technology doesn't. i'm still thinking about that!

rol said...

Hi, Sharon. Hope you're having a wonderful and joyous celebration.

I used to read of a lot of text in PDF (a very popular and widely used electronic text format). Ebooks, articles, etc. But that was when my laptop was working properly. A laptop or a smaller device is easier move around and position. Now I use the desktop. I have a lot of e-texts (for my research, among other things) but I can't seem to get myself to sit comfortably in front of the PC even for 5 minutes of reading. I still very much prefer a printed out hard copy.

Gadgets and devices need batteries and power sources which are not quite free and can be costly.

Books also make you tune in, as opposed to TVs and other media that make you tune out and just lap up whatever is being served.

As exzede says to read we need nothing but a good pair of eyes. I'll add to that a comfy place to sit and adequate lighting.

Walker Moore said...

Again, apples and oranges. Advantages/disadvantages. These fall on both sides. A good smartphone will remain charged for days, and take around an hour to top up. Either by being plugged into a USB port, your car cigarette lighter or AC socket. And of course, can be used as normal during the charging process. Reading text is such an undemanding activity (ie. it's not going to flatten a lithium battery like playing a CPU/GPU intensive game would). I see no reason why dedicated e-book readers shouldn't be the same (although I still don't get the point of those given other multi-function devices available).

We could go on forever arguing our preferences and advantages/disadvantages (I prefer physical books too) but I don't think it really matters. Available statistics already indicate a year on year exponential growth in E-book sales since the early 2000s, so I think the physical book's number is already marked. It's hardly going to disappear altogether, but in the long term, I think we'll see less homes cluttered wall to wall with books, with people generally choosing to download first, and buy hard copies only if they are really required. =)

I already do this with music actually. Before the early 2000s, I would buy the album of every artist I had a passing interest in. Now I pay/download only the tracks I like. Unless I'm REALLY fanatical about the artist, then I'll buy every CD/DVD they ever released.

We're in the middle of a publishing revolution -- that's for sure -- and hopefully the publishing industry won't handle it quite so badly as the record industry. (^_~)

PS. I think the comment about TV is unfair btw. Unprovoking TV is as common as unprovoking literature. Unprovoking literature is very common if my observations on the public transport system are anything to go by. xD

bibliobibuli said...

still haven't got my head around downloading music from the internet ... too old to learn new tricks?

i'll give e-books a go for sure and i am not really personally bothered if all books go digital in future 'cos i reckon that just reading the ones i've already bought will take me the rest of my life.

but i wonder how it will change reading and the kind of texts that are written. honestly, would novels survive if they were only available in electronic format? or will radical forms of literature evolve (and that literature become increasingly entangled with visual image and sound? or with hypertext layers?)

or will folks of the future find that since their handheld device fulfil many functions they'd rather use it to watch filsm instead?

agree with walker - there is some good tv. now we have bbc entertainment i am filling up big cultural gaps created by being away from the UK for so long. dr who is good for my head!

walker - so glad to see you here again and hope you are having a great christmas

Exzede said...

Apples and oranges, I like that phrase, even if I don't prefer both ;-)
Anyways, Walker, I guess I stand corrected...well… not entirely though:-P
I agree that different people have different mileage. I realized that whenever my partner and I discuss the books that we've read. My partner, who used to be a musician, tend to ‘look at a book’ at different perspectives than I do. But then, I write books and he writes (or wrote rather) songs. I do believe I will stick to physical books rather than e-books or pdf. I have read both, and honestly, they do massively reduce the clutter at home and on my desk. But… to me, nothing beats the feel of the pages between your fingers, especially when you’re ‘drowned’ in a great story…

PS: - Agree with Walker and Sharon, there are great programmes shown on the box
- Agree with Rol too, ^_^, good lighting is an absolute essential when reading, or you’ll wear glasses like me ~_~
- I don’t usually download songs from the net. I don’t think I need to when I have a nightingale at home :-D

Happy New Year people!

Walker Moore said...

Am I being way too forthright in expressing my opinions again? lol. I just read back and I think I am. =D

Sorry about that.

And Sharon: Thanks. I hope you're having a great Christmas too. I just registered a new domain and am in the process of restoring my old blog. I need to start reading and writing regularly again. (^_~)

bibliobibuli said...

exede - how nice to have a personal nightingale, i would download one of them if i could

oh walker, just forthright away. so glad you're around again.

and am looking forward to your blog again.

Anonymous said...

I walk a lot more these days too. The main reason why people are not reading much now is because the golden age of literature is long past. People have gone too far over the other side. I think one day they will have computers write novels, I mean they're fairly formulaic as it is already. You will have huge thick novels of totally despairing quality written by computers at the rate of maybe one a day, and being sold really cheaply.

Some people (the minority unfortunately) will be turned off by his and stop reading, or mostly read only the older books, or the ones they already have. The majority will continue to buy the crap because there's only crap for sale.