Will there be books in the future?
Recently, someone asked me if I thought there would be “books” in the future.
So, never to over analyze things, whenever someone poses a question like this a few things occur to me… What does this person mean by a “book”? And, what motivated this person to pose such a question in the first place?
The “book” – container and contents (“medium and message”)
In 2013 the question of “what is a book” certainly is legitimate. Does the person think of a book in the traditional sense – that is, a physical object that carries/conveys/transports writing? In this sense, the physical medium of paper and ink is a container. Is “the book” the container or what it contains?
So, in 2013 with the ascendency of digital distribution and the decline of traditional bookstores it’s easy to understand the difference between the container and the contents of the container. In brief, the new container is the digital distribution but “the book” remains the same – if what you mean by “book” is the contents (the message)
The deeper question of “the book”
It begs the deeper question. Will there be “books” in the future? And here we mean by book not so much the content as a genre of thinking.
Back in the 1960’s Marshall McLuhan came on the scene with a phrase that is linked to his basic insight – “The medium is the message”. Prior to McLuhan people had the idea that the medium is an innocuous container and what really mattered was the content. So in the case of a book the container should not matter in the least. What is important is the content (message) and it does not matter if the “book” is in digital form, “paper and ink” form, or any other form or container.
The idea of an innocuousness container goes far deeper than the simple example of a book. What about the containers of mass media such a radio, television, newspapers, telephones, and the internet? Are they all just innocuous containers of content?
“The Medium is the Message”
McLuhan says, no. “The medium is the message“. Briefly, what this means is that the medium (radio, television, newspapers, telephone, etc) changes us in a way – perhaps a diabolical way – that lies below the level of consciousness.
In essence, the message (content) is the meat that distracts the guard dog so the thief can rob you. The crime is the theft of the way we think. The thief is the medium and the content (message) is the distraction.
Building on McLuhan, the idea is floating around that the medium of the internet is changing the way we think – and not in a good way.
Briefly, the internet has made us “shallow”. On the internet we see a page at a time. And even on that page we might skim a few lines of each paragraph. Pages on the internet are filled with links. And in some cases – like the link I used above to Marshall McLuhan to help people if they don’t know who he is – is not so much helpful as it is a distraction from reading the rest of this blog entry.
Maybe someone clicked on the link, read about McLuhan in the Wikipedia, followed the links on the Wikipedia page, and never came back to this blog. Those people are not reading this paragraph. Those people fell for the power of distraction inherent in the medium of the web.
The Take – Will there be books in the future?
So, will there be books in the future? Perhaps there will be old books in the future. But, if McLuhan and others are correct about the medium’s ability to change us in diabolical ways below our level of consciousness then we might say that “books” might not exist in the future. And in this case, by books I mean a genre of “long form thinking”.
After the affect of the internet perhaps our ability to think deeply about anything will be diminished to the point that people of the future may not be able to read the books of the past nor create new books for future generations. People living at “internet speed” simply will not be able to pay attention long enough nor think in a sequential manner or deep enough to read a book or write a book – as commonly understood in the 20’th century.
Find out more…
Check out this video from the 1960’s. As for the term “Global Village” in the 1960’s who doubts that we have truly arrived and that “Global Village” may not be a term we use anymore since this is now our native habitat in the early 21st century. What about the prediction of the end of “literary man” and the rise of “tribal man” (a new man created by the electronic media). When you hear the term “tribal man” in the video think about today’s social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and all the rest Think about the diversity of “public identity” that people fashion for themselves in social media. Does anyone have an identity anymore other than what the media creates for people?