Books Are On the Way Out (But Reading is Thriving)

old books mildew.jpgPictured: Old media collecting mildew

New media is consistently vilified as contributing to the stupidity of users and is presented as a sort of Pied Piper, hypnotically leading children away from books. Currently, the target is cell phones, and in times past they went after television and video games for the same reason.

But let’s take a step back and look at things critically: books are far from ideal as a form of media. When one considers their inefficiency, it’s easy to see just how great it is that they’re on the way out. They’re cumbersome to carry about, especially in quantity. A trip to the library is inconvenient, and the library charges a fee if they don’t get books back on time. A trip to the bookstore can quickly get expensive if you buy books new, and if you go for used books, you risk purchasing a book blighted by mildew which, if it slips your attention, can damage your entire collection. In light of all this, and the existence of alternatives, books have become impractical.

Those who would disagree with me might bemoan how difficult it is to get children interested in reading, imagining the days in which children would happily take a trip to the library. Their main motivation appears to be a quaint rustic feeling that comes with doing anything unsophisticated. But the fact is, cell phones and visual media are the reality of the present time, and it’s better to prepare children for the world that is, rather than some notion of what someone would prefer it to be.

Fast fact: reading is thriving. There is more reading today than there ever has been, and this is because it’s more efficient to get reading to people than at any other point in history. And here is the device instrumental to this reading revolution:

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That is a cell phone. Say “Hi”. It’s a wunderkind when it comes to reading. How so? Assuming the average size of a Kindle book being 2631 KB (source), 256 GB of storage on one of these can hold 102,027 books. A 1 TB MicroSD card increases that amount to 510,139. This is comparable to the most generous estimates of the size of the Library of Alexandria. And you can fit it into your pocket.

What’s that? Your cell phone doesn’t have that kind of storage? That’s okay, because you still have access to a boundless ether of literature if your cell phone (like most) has a simple program called a “browser”. You can use it to browse the internet and read countless pages filled with news articles, research papers, stories, discussion threads, advice columns, encyclopedia pages, and on and on.

While those desperate to justify their fix of outdated media may turn to public schools as champions of books, that’s not going to help them very much, as schools are increasingly turning to tablets for education. And why not, considering the ubiquitous use of screened devices in the adult world? Again, the idea is to prepare children for the real world, which involves familiarizing them with devices that are actually used in workplaces, both today and in the years to come.

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The fact is, books, textbooks, and libraries are on the way out. I, for one, welcome tablets as their academic replacement, as I have memories of continually lugging heavy textbooks about at the insistence of teachers and professors, in spite of infrequently needing to actually use them, which I understand to have been a typical college experience. Having to carry a small, glowing display screen that fits in my pocket is an excellent alternative to a bunch of cumbersome, expensive books.

One might ask, “Okay then, what if your phone breaks? Where are your books, then?” The answer is, I still have them. The books on a person’s phone or tablet are associated with the account that purchased them, so if a person loses their tablet or decides to buy a new one, their previous collection is available on their new device. To most of us, this is pretty obvious, but evidently not to the person who had to ask this question, which really goes to show how poor a job that person is doing keeping up. While the rest of us have access to a boundless sea of ethereal literature in our pockets, they’ve been assuming us to be senseless just because they don’t comprehend what we’re doing.

Even when I’m playing games on my cell phone, it’s helping me to be a smarter person. I’ve been playing an RPG that challenges players to work with limited resources over a long period of time, so that getting a single character to the point of being adequate could take as long as months. While playing this game, I’ve planned out my moves months in advance using careful calculations on a spreadsheet. My planning paid off when I barely unlocked a rare character within a strict time limit. This kind of care when it comes to resource management is something that a person can learn from if they’re not that great at managing their finances. Even those farming games that we’ve been making fun of can be played well with some careful planning. It’s too bad it’s much easier to assume that someone on their phone is playing some vapid bird-flinging simulator with all the depth of a puddle of rainwater.

So, to summarize: If you want a book, you have to take a trip to the store or the library for it. After that, you have to carry the cumbersome thing around with you if you want to have it wherever you go. Also, the library will want it back, and will charge you a fee if you don’t return it within a time limit, and in a condition that’s to their liking. However…

You can store hundreds of thousands of books on cell phones, not that that’s even necessary because these same phones have a browser that grants access to boundless information, whether a person is at home, sitting on a park bench, at a supermarket, or on a lunchbreak. Also, you can look at bright, colorful pictures on them, and even set one as your background. And you can ask some of them questions (verbally) and get answers (verbally). Also, movies and games. Also, navigation. Also, photography. Also, a bunch of other features so numerous that I don’t feel like listing them all.

In a sense, it’s like the old choice between beef jerky and celery. Most people would go for the sweet tasty delicious beef, and enjoy every bit of the experience. It’s one of life’s easy choices. However, there are a few who would go for the celery. They’d be more bitter for the experience, and afterwards stew over how much happier the people are who went for the beef jerky. So it is with technology: the people who embrace it get to benefit from how much better it makes their lives, while those who refuse get to savor whatever vacuous platitude that prevents them from being happy.

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Books have had an important place in history, what with the invention of the printing press expediting the propagation of ideas. However, for the propagation of ideas, books and the printing press have long-since become obsolete. The obsolescence of old media may make people feel like they are being left behind, but the reality of the matter is that they are only doing it to themselves.

This post was published using Firefox for mobile.

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