Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Death of Reading

Books have had a hearty history and have withstood many distractions throughout time.  Early in the 19th century, newspapers threatened to make books obsolete as the latest and greatest news hit the headlines.  Later, Thomas Edison’s phonograph caused many to fear that readers would become listeners.  TV and movies, likewise, competed for our time in providing information and entertainment.  Books, however, have remained steadfast in the culture…but for how long?

Looking around us, we see that books themselves still have a prominent place in society.  But the way they are being read is changing at breathtaking speed.  The convenience and glamour of Internet, e-books and electronic gadgets is not only luring the younger generation into their web, my peers are heavily trapped as well.  Google has become our go-to for all information.  We can carry thousands of books on our Kindles accessible to us at any time.  But aren’t e-books just like regular books in digital form?  Well…no.

Chapter 6 of The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr quotes Steven Johnson:

 "The book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write, and sell books in profound ways.  I fear that one of the great joys of book reading - the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author's ideas - will be compromised.  We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and  newspapers:  a little bit here, a little bit there."  (pg. 103)
 Carr relates an article written by Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.  Writing about her experience of reading Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens on her Kindle, she says:

 "Although mildly disorienting at first, I quickly adjusted to the Kindle's screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons.  Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer.  Distractions abounded.  I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, 'Mugby Junction.'  Twenty minutes later I still hadn't returned to my reading of Nickleby on the Kindle."  (pg. 103)

Her experience is common.  Distractions of hyperlinks, behind the scenes extras, videos and social interactions take us far from the text itself to create a dynamic “enhanced” experience. 

But isn’t this a good thing?  If the medium is enhanced, won’t we learn more?  Won’t our brains be enhanced as well?  Good questions…that we’ll answer next time.


  1. Robin,
    This is really interesting. My dear, dear husband bought me a Kindle for my birthday recently. His reason? He knows I love books. :) I mean, that really touched me. I was excited about it, too. I'm not a gadget-girl by any means, but something about the Kindle has always interested me. All that said...I sheepishly admitted to my husband the other day that I feel I am greatly underusing the Kindle. Truth be told, I don't like reading on it. It feels very impersonal and it makes me anxious reading on there for too long. One of my favorite parts of the day is night-time when I crawl into bed and reach for one of the many books I'm reading at the time. Grabbing the Kindle just isn't the same!

    So, right now I'm using it to preview books that I can download for free and see if I want to purchase. I also have a couple of excellent audio books on there. In the end, it simply can't replace a book I can hold and see the font and get a sense for what it's going to be.

  2. Thanks Kelly. And I have to make a confession. I own a computer. I own a Kindle (actually we have 2.) I own a "smart phone." I have no idea how to use them other than the basics. :) We have friends who are missionaries in a remote part of the world. Their Kindle is their school, primarily. I took my Kindle to the hospital during one of our adopted son's surgeries. (I wound up having my husband bring me a real book.) So I don't want to appear to be a hypocrite! :) I just think we need to be willing to look at the whole picture and make sure the consequences of our habits are acceptable to us and, if not, be willing to change our habits or preferences. I hope the next post will be both enlightening and encouraging.