Imagine with me, if you will, a classroom roughly eight decades from now: children sitting at their desks, their laptops in front of them, fingers typing quickly away at the keys taking notes. Instead of turning to a selected page in their textbooks, they point and click, summoning an online text. There are no writing implements around; the idea of writing thoughts down on paper is obsolete. Why write something when you could type about it instead? There is no need to teach penmanship in elementary school, only typing etiquette. Literacy implies knowledge of basic functions on a computer. Reading is done only online, and books as we know them today are obsolete.
Before tossing this idea aside, consider this immutable fact: our society is becoming more and more centralized on the digital world. The more actions that can be controlled by a single electronic device, the better. Already we can use the same hand-held gadget to check email, send messages, take pictures, get directions and access any internet site. Naturally, the literary world has begun to follow suit; allowing the world to view a wide variety of book excerpts and other texts on the internet. The book reviewer has been released from his former newspaper/magazine niche and set loose on the world wide web, with opportunities to express his feelings to the literary community online through blogging (such as this).
Another factor to consider is the far off cry of environmentalists, which in recent years has become louder and more poignant. Rather than ignoring those who promote recycling and “save the fill-in-the-blank” advocates, society as a whole is realizing the sense that these people have been trying to instill in us the whole time. People are beginning to utilize recycling centers more frequently, and are starting to cut back on excessive paper usage. Logically, cutting back on paper usage means more trees have the opportunity to grow; taking part in photosynthesis, providing the world with oxygen. There really does not seem to be a down side to this. Combining this idea with the aforementioned digital fixation however, and soon the world is asking itself why it needs to use paper in the first place.
There would be no need to write letters with electronic communication, and no need to handwrite an essay for a class when it can be typed and submitted by email. Furthermore, when you can access books online and read from your computer screen, why would you need a physical book in your hands?
The demise of the book has already begun, and with it, arguably, the downfall of literacy. Our current generation is being shortchanged by a lack of literary focus and of predecessors who would rather read the quick notes on a book than actually sit down and read it. All throughout high school, I can remember my fellow classmates looking for any possible way to get out of reading for literature class. The text was always too long or too boring to keep their interest, so they would research the book online to absorb a basic plot summary for an exam.
These students are incredibly computer literate. These same classmates that could not suffer through The Great Gatsby could find at least seven online sites that gave you plot summaries, and even a YouTube video reenacting a scene from the book. Furthermore, they cannot put their thoughts on paper, but can journal about their classes on MySpace, using shorthanded and purposely butchered spellings of words that would have made F. Scott Fitzgerald cringe. I fear that since my high school years, these practices have only become worse.
I do not dislike the electronic literary world by any means; I simply mean to call attention to the idea of books becoming extinct. My personal nightmare begins in a setting much like the opening scenario, where people no longer read books. Period. It is hard- and dare I say it painful- to imagine a world where children must grow up with no concept of what it is to open a book for the first time. A generation that will never experience the aroma of a new book, bending back the spine to see the text in a clearer light.
By all means, keep pushing the envelope in broadening the literary world to reach as many people as possible. I only ask that printing continue. There is something about taking the time to read a brand new book that is so liberating, a feeling that too few people experience. Furthermore, the act of writing a story itself, the way the words look on paper, is another element that could never be replaced. Allowing the flow of ideas to come directly from your head to your pen that feels so organic rather than digitized. This is a feeling that should never be compromised, let alone become obsolete.
Those of you reading this blog—return to the book. Go back to the stories you once loved to read, sit in a comfy chair away from your computer and read them once more. Rather than checking the news headlines online, pick up that newspaper. Better yet, find a brand new text to absorb yourself in. In doing so, I hope you remember what it was once like to read a book as a child, traveling to the world within the novel, allowing the imagination to run free without the aid of a computer screen. Long live the book, and let the print go on.