Tuesday, September 2, 2008

THE DEATH OF THE BOOK (oh really?)

I would like to suggest that the next person to title on an article on books in the 21st century a Death of the Book in another cute, smarter-than-digital article praising the triumph of books over digital and suggesting the continued success of books should be denied access to the Internet for about a year. (granted I'm not sure when this was published. I think a rational guess would be 2000 or 2001 based on the bibliography at bottom of the page.) That would make this article rather dated which I think shows in the author's outlook on the perceived continued success of reading physical books. This article also does not take into account the report released a year and a half ago about the low rate of people reading nationwide. The argument focuses on digital vs. physical but the issue is deeper than that. The issue is, I think, a loss, in being interested in what is (as per James Schall) The problem is not E-Ink versus paper, information is being shared either through digital or paper, it's the pursuit of knowledge for its own rather than the value of its entertainment or its financial value. The what is search is not to be the most esoteric or the most philosophical but to express an geniune and continued concern and interest in knowledge for its own sake. It's a process. People not reading is more important than if books or digital is going to "win". The percieved winning trashes the pursuit of the what is, the other in hope of aspiring to the top of the heap. My issue is that the only reason books are being read at all is because the romance novel, erotica, detective story and health/wealth books are carrying the pack. If you don't believe me check out any used bookstore on the eastern seaboard. What's the largest section? Romance, hands-down. My wife and I visited the book barn in Connecticut last month. I spent 2 hours in the fiction shack. There was no Brautigan and only one Barthelme, which I promptly purchased. Why is this? Not because people are not reading these books but because they are not getting rid of them. Used book stores show the consumptive readers waste products; trade-paperbacks barely held together to sustain their flimsy pages past one reading let alone annotation.
Technology will continue to declare the death of the past; it's the nature of the technological hopefuls. They seem to consistently deny their history. Bibliophiles, on the other hand continue to claim the past will triumph despite whithering numbers of true readership. The goal is once again excite in people a joy in the journey of discovering what is, encountering the life of their minds. Neither technology nor printed materials will do that. It requires a change of focus, a paradigm shift.

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