Related: Chris Meadows on the written word vs. the competition in the era of the iPad and other multimedia machines.. – D.R.
Tell the truth. How many print books did you read in the last week? How many e-books? In the last month? The last year? Are you reading more or less than in the past? Share the numbers in the comment area if you’d like. Here are my answers.
Print books: Two books in the last week, six in the last month, and 50 in the last twelve months.
E-books: One in the last week, two in the last month and eight in the last twelve months.
My totals of books read are higher now than they have been in the past few years because I realized recently that I was reading fewer and fewer books; as with so many people I meet, my work and much of my play seems to have migrated to the Web.
To help me read more and concentrate more on what I am reading, I recently started a Web site where I conduct long form interviews with writers. This has meant committing myself to reading books and thinking about them before talking to the authors. And that has certainly enabled me to read more books—I have thus recommitted myself to the joys that deep engagement that long form writing and committed reading enable.
Most likely, TeleRead community members read more in general and especially read more books than most Americans. It’s also a pretty safe guess that if you are being honest, the number of books you read today is much lower than it was five, ten, fifteen years ago whatever your background or book reading history.
In fact, you may have purchased just as many books as you did in the past, maybe more. You have more money than in your youth, and books are still relatively inexpensive cultural investments. If you’re like most heavy readers, you buy books based on the notion that you will read these books, or that you should read these books, a sort of self-imposed cultural belief system. Books are indicators of our intellectual life, after all. After all, having books in your house defines you as a certain kind of person.
But as long as we are being truthful, let’s admit that we have bought (and own) more books, by far, than we will ever read in our lifetimes. And we are likely reading fewer books than in the past.
Are we reading less? Probably not. In fact, the evidence is that we are reading more than ever. But it’s very possible that there is a shift in the way we read (and therefore the way we think). Print books require time and attention— both of which are in short supply for most readers. What does it mean for the future of our culture if books are no longer the primary carriers of our values and ideals?
Americans are consuming vast amounts of written information online. Actual reading is clearly at very high levels. But reading long form, immersive texts is very different from reading—and thinking about—short snippets of information, blog posts and micro-stories. It’s intriguing to think about how the rise of e-readers may change the way we read books too—carrying around a pocketable reader or an iPhone and reading while standing in line, or at the dentist may change our consumption rates of long form narrative yet again.
This whole discussion is loaded, of course—is it really such a bad thing if fewer books are being read? I don’t know. In fact my interest in raising this question here is to celebrate change. Many of my friends and colleagues in the book business got into publishing for the obvious reason that we loved books and writing. For this particular interest group, of people who love books, hang out with other book lovers, and talk about books all the time, it will be difficult to accept the concept that the definition of a book can and will change. But change is the defining characteristic of our time.
It’s not the book publishers but the behavior of readers that will define the future of reading and of culture. What will it look like? E-reading and new digital communication forms and formats will take over, and faster than anyone imagines. Books are artifacts of modern technology no more or less than digital creations. People adapt to new technologies in ways that suit their needs and interests, and equally new technologies are created around the perceived needs of people.
The electronic reading future is already our present.