While we're on the topic of vanishing books, the Times has a piece about how consumers actually prefer reading "books" on their tiny smartphone screens, where they can do "everything." But it's the doing everything, combined with reading, that defeats the purpose of the book. Multitasking and distraction interfere with immersive reading. And spraying your smartphone with "Smell of Books" won't help.
As a blogger who spends too much time on the Web, I've noticed my own ability to focus on a book has become impaired. My brain is changing. And so is yours.
smartphones: 3, books: 1
The Autumn 2009 issue of the Wilson Quarterly looks at The Future of the Book. Among a series of articles, including one about "Your Brain on the Web," Christine Rosen, senior editor of The New Atlantis: Journal of Technology and Society, offers an excellent essay called "In the Beginning Was the Word." She writes about how abridgment, beginning with Reader's Digest and ending (so far) with blogs and tweets, has contributed to the demise of depth reading--and, ultimately, human empathy.
So, at risk of doing exactly what Rosen warns us against, I'm going to highlight a few quotes from the article, self-consciously abridging it in blog style. Since the article is not available online, I hope it will inspire you to seek out the magazine to read the whole thing.
"Our screen-intensive culture poses three challenges to traditional reading: distraction, consumerism, and attention-seeking behavior."
"We live in a world of continuous partial attention, one that prizes speed and brandishes the false promise of multi-tasking as a solution to our time management challenges. The image-driven world of the screen dominates our attention at the same time that it contributes to a kind of experience pollution that is challenging our ability to engage with the printed word."
"With the purchase of a traditional book, your consumer relationship ends when you walk out of the bookstore. With a wirelessly connected Kindle or iPhone, or your Wi-Fi-enabled computer, you exist in a perpetual state of potential consumerism."
"the transition from print reading to screen reading has increased our reliance on images and led to a form of 'social narcissism.'"
"[The] concern--that a culture that craves the image will eventually find itself mired in solipsism and satisfied by secondhand experiences--has been borne out. We follow the Twitter feeds of protesting Iranians and watch video of Michael Jackson's funeral and feel connected to the rest of the world, even though we lack context for that feeling and don't make much effort to achieve it beyond logging on. The screen offers us the illusion of participation, and this illusion is becoming our preference. As Boorstin observed, 'Every day seeing there and hearing there takes the place of being there.'"
You can read the rest of this essay by buying this issue through the Wilson Quarterly website, or finding it in your local indie bookshop.