Literature, past, present, and future.

Spotted an article by way of the Passive Voice blog which tweaked a few thoughts in my head. Some of the pertinent bits:

Reading an old fashioned novel seems to be dying out, with people increasingly too busy or too stressed to sit down and actually read. On the rare occasion people do sit down to read, it is often a magazine, a newspaper, a celebrity autobiography or with recent technological developments, a Kindle. For many people this is not an issue, the human race moves on as technology moves on, but will the book be forgotten? Will the Kindle have the same effect on books as MP3 players did on CDs? Or will those who appreciate the value of an actual book continue to do so?

You can read the entire article here.

I read this sort of thing often - people scared about changes in culture, about ebooks eroding print book sales, about bookstores moving from the building down the road into online stores. It's change. Change makes folks nervous. But I've never like the whole "sky is falling" routine. The only constant in human history is that things have always changed.

I don't understand the assertion that "reading an old fashioned novel seems to be dying out". We're living in a time when last year, despite global financial issues, more novels were sold than in any other previous year in human history.

Dying out? Hmmm.

Yes, there are many things out there which compete with reading for our time. But there always have been; there have always been other entertainment options available. The form these various activities take vary from era to era, but their existence is nothing new.

I think the author is confused about the nature of the ebook, as well. Once, most books were hand copied, with gorgeous illumination works embedded on each page. Every page of your average book was a work of art in itself. With the advent of the printing press, these unique books went away.

But I think most would agree that the printing press was a wonderful invention.

So too with ebooks. With a distribution cost approaching zero, the ability to send and receive virtually any book instantly, almost anywhere on the planet, ebooks are changing the function of books more completely than anything since Gutenburg's press. Yes, the pressed paper pages are on their way out in favor of electron-based digital work. Much like the printing press replaced the illuminated manuscript, there are some elements of grace and beauty which will be lost in this transition.

But when all is said and done, the printing press opened new doors for literature - and the digital book is doing the same. And like the printing press, I think we'll all look back in hindsight and agree that this has been a good thing.