The future of the (printed) book

17 08 2010

I love the smell of books… don’t you? Old or new, there’s just something about them that brings me such sheer delight that I cannot wait to start examining the various tomes or begin reading one of them, immersing myself in a rich world of characters, plot, and the beauty that lies close to my heart: words.

Given the ‘Digital Age’ we live in, the written word is no longer restricted to print media. To use the old cliché, the internet gives you the world at your fingertips, where you are granted access to its vast treasure trove of information – both text and images – and all of it is but a few keystrokes and clicks away.

Call me a sentimental fool, but I prefer the feel of a book in my hand to straining my eyes after too much reading on a computer screen. True, if I had a Kindle or iPad it probably wouldn’t be much of a problem, since they (or the iPad, at least) look like coffee table books – things you can pick up and hold in your hands like a book, enabling you to download e-books and read at leisure, while sparing you the trouble of not having shelf-space for all your tomes.

An e-book library might be ‘impressive’, but you cannot really show it off like you can bookcases. Bookcases filled with books inspire/ elicit much more awe from people, and generally they too enjoy browsing what you have to offer. It’s like putting your personality out on display for others to see… which, I suppose, can be said of a personal e-library, as well, if you share it with others online and update what you have been reading, what you want to read, and maybe write a review or two while you’re at it. In that sense, the internet can be a plus point as you are able to share your ideas with your peers and anyone else who might stumble onto your information. With a bookcase, those who see or know about it are usually limited to friends/colleagues/whoever comes to visit you.

Blogging is also a form of writing, a place where you can openly voice your own thoughts and opinions – something that, for writers, can count in their favour to test the proverbial waters of their reading audience. You get to play around with style, familiarize yourself with what people do or don’t like, and can get to know a community of writers that can give you tips along the way. Instead of (self-)publishing a book beforehand, not knowing how it will be accepted, you can (learn to) use social media and pick up the tricks of the trade before venturing forth into whatever it is you’re aiming for: your target market, the type of publication (e-books, books, magazines, journals, etc.), what you want to get out of the whole experience.

Of course, things like the Kindle and the publication of e-books does not bode well for publishers, as they will be losing out on the profit made from books sold (which comes after all the money they spend producing it, and that is quite a process to get your head around!) as well as (potential) clients. How can they survive in an ever-changing world where it is so much easier for people to download things and read them on their computers/ cell phones and children are not even interested in reading that much (sad but true)?

I recently attended a talk at the Cape Town Book Fair about the future of the book in the digital age. Although they focused on books for educational purposes, what was said wasn’t lost on me: technology can be used to enhance or benefit the purchase/ use of books – it all depends on what they are necessary for. If you look at education, a printed text-book is of far more value in the classroom than some disc you insert into the computer that contains the information (a virtual copy of the physical text, in other words). It only becomes useful to have the text in digital form when there are activities for the children to do – the interactive aspect is a great manner in which children can learn, although I do feel that this should be an additional rather than a compulsory feature, as many children do not have access to computers on a daily basis. Also, it would become quite costly to have computers installed in each class room of every school, or giving them Kindles and iPads to work with, because our country simply does not have the money for such a venture.

And honestly: who would buy a Kindle/iPad for each child in the class to play work with?

So yes, by all means, add e-books and tutorial systems to aid children, but do not completely rely on them. We need the printed word in our schools, no matter what all you techno buffs might think. The 21st century students use social networking as communication. They use the internet to gather information. They grew up with television, the internet, computers and cell phones. Their teachers, on the other hand, come from a different generation (even some of the younger ones) – they need to be facilitators and help students construct meaning, which is why using technology in the classroom can work to their advantage… yet the learners need to help in this regard if progress is to be achieved.

You know, it’s actually very, very sad to think about what the modern student has become. My mum’s a teacher (primary school), but those children care nothing about learning or reading. Is this supposed to be the future of our nation? A bunch of aliterate (and, yes, in many cases illiterate) fools who don’t realize the importance of basic literacy skills? When was the last time any of them read a book willingly?!

Gee, it feels like I’ve been moving way off course with what I’ve been wanting to say…

I have great hope for the printed word yet, and I do not believe that books will die out all too soon (not at the point in my lifetime, or within the next fifteen to twenty years or so, I hope I hope I hope…) At one of the talks I attended at the CTBF, a speaker noted that there will always be people who prefer printed books to their digital counterparts, and vice versa. At this point, there are still many people who love the feel, smell, and ‘real’ aspect of printed books. It boils down to personal preference, and as long as there is a (substantial) demand for printed books – while making their digital counterparts available online – then I won’t have to worry about it too much right now.

Can you imagine the tension headache I’d get if I had to read all 7 books in THE DARK TOWER series on a monitor/Kindle/iPad?! I’d need eye laser surgery after that… and a few hundred Nurofen Plus to boot.




4 responses

23 08 2010

Hi! Excellent web blog, thanks for sharing the info! one for my bookmarks.

24 08 2010
Liske van Lill

thank you so much 🙂

13 09 2010

Nice article.
Thank you 🙂

13 09 2010
Liske van Lill

thanks 🙂

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