The daily missive from Digital Book World contained this gem in a discussion of how books and the internet will supposedly "blend and merge" leaving no distinction between the two:
Of course ebooks as they currently exist are fine for many people. But those who assume that this is acceptable are also assuming a stable media industry. In entering the digital arena, books (e- or not) are brought into direct competition with not only other time wasters (games, video, etc.) but other forms of reading, namely the web and apps. If the ebook ecosystem cannot support a diversity of content and interfaces, the web and apps will step in to fill the gaps. - Baldur Bjarnason (UK Web Developer, marketer)
BROUGHT INTO DIRECT COMPETITION WITH NOT ONLY OTHER TIME WASTERS ...
In the words of Thank You For Smoking's Nick Naylor, "You're from Vermont, Senator -- the home of cheese. Isn't it also true that cheese kills in the form of high cholesterol and heart disease?"
Of course, cigarettes also kill, although the most noteworthy thing about Ortolan Finisterre's anti-cig campaign is the awesome screaming death skull and crossbones logo he is hoping to put on all cigarette packs. I would like a t-shirt of this logo. Maybe a Chameleon/screaming Thank You for Smoking death skull combo.
Yes, some books are "time wasters." This is all Baldur sees. Baldur sees non-fiction as "instructing people on how to do something." He suggests this purpose could be better-served by direct instructions in the form of videos or other content.
Baldur, clearly, has never read a really good novel, a really good short fiction collection, a great poem, or a great non-fiction book. Because then he'd understand that these forms are their own form, and they are in no way equivalent to ...
- Angry Birds
- Call of Duty
- Blog posts
- YouTube videos
- Social Media interaction
- Online articles/magazines
- "Top Ten" slide shows
The Color Purple isn't a "time-waster," it's a life-changer.
Here's one reviewer's comment about Alice Walker's book: "The Color Purple is one of the strongest statements of how love transforms and cruelty disfigures the human spirit that this reviewer has ever read."
And about The Lord of the Rings, "Tolkien's tale combines fantasy within an ethical and moral framework to create a story that has value for every age group. Over the years, my perception of the books has changed considerably. My first few readings where in childlike (or hippy-like) wonder, and then, over the years, I have become more conscious of the works as literary efforts and some of the wonder has worn off. But even so one cannot but be amazed by the amount of scholarship and effort that went into making The Lord of the Rings an epic which deeply touches almost everyone who comes into contact with it."
This is only in danger of being over because of the thinking of individuals like Baldur Bjarnason and their potential to dominate the conversation. I'm calling this type of thing 20th century thinking; however, the danger always exists that dominating/domineering voices can take precedence to the detriment of others.
Baldur, let me apprise you of something. The written word, regardless of its delivery format, is a different form of communication than videos, audio recordings, radio, film and television -- or games. Yes, many books are about escapism or entertainment. But even then, it's a different form of entertainment to the other media products. The written word affects the writer thusly: as Toni Morrison said, "I write in order to know what I think." The written word affects the reader thusly: the reader reads to discover what he or she thinks. The act of reading changes the reader. If playing Angry Birds changes the player at all, it's probably not in a very tangible, positive direction.
When humans invent some other method aside from books to communicate complex ideas, emotions and stories that can be accessed over great distances in time and space, then there will be a change.
When we write, physically, a change occurs in the brain. A positive change. Learning and growth occurs. When we read, physically, a change occurs in the brain. A positive change. Learning and growth occurs.
Indicating to people that books are only about entertainment, or that complex ideas, emotions and concepts may be easily communicated in 10 minute Khan Academy or TED videos, shows the mark of a shallow mind. Perhaps, a mind which has neither written much nor read. Yes, we have many people who are like that these days, and they have ever been with us. In 1910, fewer than 10% of Americans graduated from college. Today, the graduation rate approaches 40%. In 1810, when the first book publishers emerged in Europe and the US, literacy rates were around 50% in men, and "about a third of women could write their name."
I have come to believe that the double-bind of "books are for smart people" (and about boring, nerdy or otherwise unappealing topics) and "why waste time reading a book when you can waste it playing Call of Duty or something else exciting" is all about one thing. If people float through life with no growth and no change, then they're quite easily led, are they not? Ideas that have occurred to others ... skills, capacities, abilities ... these aren't going to be there. I do not accept the conclusions put forth by Thomas Piketty regarding the inevitable accumulation of wealth in the hands of a tiny few in the West - because I do not equate money with value (or wealth). But I do accept the phenomena Piketty identifies and will add to it another: the fact that people so little recognize or value the written word and the act of writing and its intimate connection to the act of reading. Further, that they do not recognize the value of forms such as the novel or poems and instead equate this to a Facebook meme or Twitter conversations.
We have near 100% literacy rates today, and in countries like Canada, college graduation rates approaching 60%. More women than men are graduating from college throughout the western world.
This woman is as opinionated as Bjarnason, but the opinions are based in analysis of data and an understanding of human learning and growth. A static or devolving society most certainly will focus on Angry Birds or YouTube videos or the latest film release or Twitter celebrity war. One that is vibrant and growing in body and mind will grow and consume real food, not "corporate food," and will create and consume ... real books. And it matters only slightly whether they are paper books or e-books.