Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The death of the book?

An article ( Dec 2007) in The New Yorker, titled “Twilight of the Books’ discussed the decline in reading habit in the last few decades, coinciding with the advent and rise of television and, later, the internet.

This could affect the collective consciousness profoundly, it argues. If, over time, many people choose television over books, then a nation’s conversation with itself is likely to change. A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable.

This article is, of course, quite balanced and doesn’t argue that the change is necessarily bad; it merely states that the change will alter significantly the way we think. But there are many, (me, for instance) who cling to the view that there’s nothing to replace books.

Is this just a typical rant of a generation that was brought up to believe that reading books, the classics in particular, was the best way to educate self?.

Interestingly, at the end of the eighteenth century, when printing presses were well established and books were the primary tools of learning, William Wordsworth's friend Matthew, finding the poet sitting on a stone, urged him to quit dreaming and to read serious books--books through which the wisdom of the past sheds light on the problems of the present. Wordsworth responded with the poem, “The tables turned” in which he decried the reading habit and exhorted his friend to ‘quit his books, it’s a dull and endless strife; Let Nature be your teacher; One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can…”. And concluded the poem with these stanzas, that have been much quoted since.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

So, whenever a new order changes, there will be cribbers. The tussle between the change agents and those who resist change is an ongoing process.


Anonymous said...

I think the obituary is premature. People have been crying wolf about this for decades now..
People's taste in books may change, ways they read books may change (online/ voice/ kindle) but books will remain..

Raj said...

Lekhni, that's not the point. Even if books are on their way out, information/knowledge can come through other means. To say that books are the only or best means to learn is anachronistic.

Anonymous said...

Raj, I agree with you.. It is just that the medium is evolving...
From mouth-to-ear learning (of vedas), the writings on leaves , the medium has changed. Paper has been there for long and it is changing for sure. Whether it is for the good or bad is a different point. Audio Books, online version or the gadgets like 'handheld reader' are definitely be more acceptable.

Having said that, the printing & Publishing industry is continued to grow as per the reports. That is a contradiction.

Raj said...

Jayan, well said. Reading goes on, but the medium can vary.