I was struck last night that it’s quite an antiquated art form we practice these days. I was looking at the glowing screen of my high tech laptop and fiddling with drafts on a tiny little USB drive on my keychain and all of the other technology we use to basically put words on a page. No pictures, no video, no high definition graphics or sounds or anything. Black words on a white page.
And yet this art form has survived an onslaught of competing entertainments. Radio should have killed it. Television should have killed it. Video games and now portable DVD players should have killed it. Why do people still read books?
Until recently, I suspect the portability of books were their chief benefit. You hear the term beach book, airplane book, train book, solitary confinement book, etc. For a long trip, or a long wait, there’s nothing better than 300 or so lightweight pages crammed between two covers and bought for under 10 bucks. Hardcover books exist mainly for libraries, collectors, bibliophiles, and those with much disposable money who want to be the first to read the new hot book.
But with the rise of ipods, portable DVD players, portable video game systems, and the like, will books remain a viable travel and entertainment distraction? I think so because they are still the cheapest and most efficient for the dollar. Are these the only reasons for the survival of books or is there some inherent joy from words on a page that can only be had through books, or stories, etc.? I think the market for online short stories and novellas will only continue to grow and ebooks will eventually make a stronger stand and become a large part of the publishing scene but I suspect physical books will still remain, mostly as a prestige symbol.
Maybe I’m just saying all of this to justify my spending six months or more writing this next novel. What do you all think? Is this just rehashing an ages old debate?