The death of books

Opinion

How technology has changed the way we read

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve books. My grandma used to say I could sit and read the TV Guide if that was the only option available. I was a reader and I loved books.

Those were the days.

I find myself reading fewer and fewer books. I still read quite a bit, but the computer screen has taken the place of the printed page, for the most part. I rarely crack open a book, other than those I am required to read for school.

There just is not enough time in the day.

Print in the digital age

The world has turned digital. People once sat around their kitchen table every morning eating breakfast while dad sat and read the newspaper. Grabbing a sausage biscuit from a drive-thru and quickly scanning a blackberry for the news has now replaced those days. Even those with time to read, may cut back on buying books because of financial woes.

Hard economic times

The recent economic downturn affects book sales just like it affects seemingly everything else.  Books sales dropped 20.1 percent in October, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. The same article talks about the recent bump in Library usage, but movies and music likely account for much of those increases.

Disposable income once used on the latest Stephen King novel is now being spent on the newest gadgets and gizmos.

Gadgets and gizmos

Books also must compete with video games, cell phones and MP3 players for attention in our technology-driven modern world. Many people spend much of the free time that once was devoted to reading playing “Gears of War” or talking and texting on their cell phones.

The next generation of readers will likely demand that text be incorporated into these devices. The iPhone and similar devices have the capability of providing news and entertainment that once only came from the written word. Amazon.com sells a device called the Kindle. It is about the size of a pad of legal paper and can download books, newspapers and magazines without hooking up to a computer. While the Kindle likely is not the long-term answer for reading in the digital age, it is a big first step.

The future of reading

I don’t think books will ever really go away, but the way people read will change with technology. Books served as the main avenue for learning for generations, but printing presses are expensive. Just as e-mail caused people to cut back on mailing letters and postcards, some device will come along and eventually change the face of newspapers, magazines and books.

Textbooks would seem like a logical place to start. Virtually every college student has dropped more than $100 for a single textbook in his or her life. Making these cheaper would be a huge benefit to the millions of students on campuses across America. I realize that the publishers will still need to make money, but if the expensive process of printing could be cut, those savings could be passed on to the students.

Teaching could also become more effective. Textbooks on computer could allow a teacher to use games to teach math, or allow Spanish students to hear the language being spoken.

I am not saying that books are in danger of becoming extinct. Books will always be around, but future generations might one day look at books like today’s 12-year olds look at telephones with rotary dialing – as curious, old antiques.

Someday, when my grandkids sit on my knee, reading from some electronic device that has yet to be invented, I can tell them about books and how different the world used to be.

After all, books only serve the purpose of passing along ideas and no device will ever replace the need for those.

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