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Elder Predictions for the Future of Books and Reading

Posted Dec 30 2009 2:43am

AmazonKindle The Kindle and its kin are a revolution in the making. The current version can hold about 1500 non-illustrated books, about as many as I have in my home. If nothing else, it is a space-saver and, if many people adopt it as their reader of choice, an untold number of trees will be saved. On the whole, it appears to be a good idea.

LibraryShelves Still, I like my library of books in this room. It and the dozens of other books scattered on most flat surfaces of my home are friends and acquaintances who never let me down.

Some of their jackets evoke memories of times gone by – periods in my life when they were a new-found interest. A few are beloved, frequently re-read in whole or part because they lift my spirits and feed my soul. Others could certainly be dispensed with. I will never re-read P.D. James; John LeCarre is less compelling since the end of the Cold War. But Graham Greene remains a keeper.

When I was a child, books were my favorite gifts. With each one, a world previously unknown to me was revealed and I was (still am) eager for the next one that comes into my life. Books were still revered in those days as valuable possessions - so much so, that on the first day of school, in the fifth or sixth grade, as we sat at our desks with our shiny new texts, the teacher taught us the proper way to open a book for the first time so not to damage its spine. I still do that.

Undoubtedly, I will purchase a Kindle kind of reader one day, but I think I will wait until it can be folded up to fit into a pocket or handbag. But I wonder if a book, without heft or shape or taking up space, can become as beloved as - oh, say The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly has been for me over many decades?

Will Magic Markers, which have yellowed so many lines of so many of my books, go the way of White Out? Will books (and their ideas) be less prized when they exist as nothing more than electronic blips on a screen? (Amazon announced that for the first time ever, electronic books outsold paper books on their website the day after Christmas.) Will others, like me, miss that an electronic book cannot fall open to a page you've read many times? Does it matter?

Perhaps, like me, you received a survey invitation yesterday from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This one is looking for predictions about the future of the internet and how it will have changed life (or not) a decade hence. What I like about this survey is that the questions are purposely designed to not be easily answered. Such queries as:

Will Google make us stupid?
Will social relations get better?
Will our relationship to key institutions change?

With each question are two answer choices which, themselves, provoke more questions and best of all, unlike 99 percent of surveys, there is a text box in which participants are encouraged to write further about their chosen answer.

With books on my mind and the end of the year being nigh and therefore ripe for predictions, I have appropriated the Pew question about reading for today's blog post. Since most visitors to Time Goes By grew up in the same era of reading as I with no television, video games or internet to use up reading time), our predictions will probably be different (not necessarily better or worse) from those of younger people. Or maybe not. Here is the question with the two possible answers and additional query:

By 2020, will the state of reading and writing be improved?

Answer 1: By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.

Answer 2: By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing, and the intelligent rendering of knowledge.

Further query: Please explain your choice and share your view of the internet's influence on the future of knowledge-sharing in 2020, especially when it comes to reading and writing and other displays of information - what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? What do you think is the future of books?

Let us know below in the comments.

(If you would like to participate in this Pew survey, you may do so here using the pin number 1000.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Christmas in the Past

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