I mourn the exponential decline of books, reading, thinking with words... the remorseless fading of literature as an intimate island for the private self. Exponential decline? Yes. Terrifying? To a writer and reader, yes. As the editor of this magazine, which is a 'print' magazine on the Web and labors its focus on writing and reading, the visage is rather dim.
The hope of galloping technology, though not so immediately galloping, continues to emerge. It is the great 'black & white' hope.
It may save us from the lurid no-nothingness of environmental religions, the immoral moralities of fairy-tale religions, the consuming obesity of over-population.
And then again it may not.
Despite rumors and misinformation to the contrary, Thai people read books, more than most other populations. Given the arguable quality of the
Thai education system and the hardships that prevail among the population particularly in the rural areas, books and the joy of reading remain a favorite pastime.
In a Thai village, a few years ago, I sat in a little, outdoor bar in the heat of the afternoon, drinking a cold beer. Sitting next to me, a
villager, a farmer, taking a break. Between my broken Thai and his fractured English, we managed a reasonable conversation. At one point, he reached into his shoulder pack to get a
cigarette and a book fell out. It was a paperback, yellowed and dog-eared. He told me it was a novel by a famous Thai writer and he carried it around with him for the past 20
years. Why? Because the book was a friend, which made the writer a friend and they were always there when he needed them. He smiled when he said that, and so did I. There was
nothing embarrassing about this personal moment.
Recent surveys show that less than 45% of the U.S. population read books (or magazines or newspapers, for that matter). The numbers are similar
in Europe and much higher in many other countries. The obvious and most demeaning factor is the explosion of media—the pixel is replacing the ink drop.
The internet, in its quick-fix, here and there way of comprehension doesn't lend itself to reading books. Amazon and Sony notwithstanding,
the experience of reading a book on a screen is like dining alone in a delicious Italian restaurant—the intimacy of sharing is missing, in this case, the sharing of your mind
with the mind of the writer. You can't get through the glass. As with all screen media activities, you're passive, sitting there as the display takes you along. With a
printed book, you can touch each page with its not-perfect paper and its not-perfect ink. To experience a printed book, you have to join it, it doesn't do it for you the way a
screen image does. You and the writer talk to each other and share, almost as if you and the writer were in the same room. You don't need an on-off switch or batteries or
protocols or rules. You just need light and quiet privacy. And if you're visually impaired, you have the voice of a reader, holding a book, almost as if it were the voice of
This may all seem a bit odd coming from me as you read what I write on a screen. Scene4 is an electronic publication, designed as a print
publication but presented now only on the Web and not by choice. A few years ago, a group approached Aviar proposing investment financing to take this magazine back into printed
distribution. Given its worldwide readership and the idiosyncrasy of its content, they believed that it should again have a printed edition and that it would make a profit (which
was equally important to them). After much discussion and some irreconcilable editorial differences, they realized that only 50% of the readership was in the U.S. and reading was
on the decline. It deserved a print edition, said they, but who would eventually read it?
This is not a "luddite" tainted treatise. I find evolution and the evolution of technology exciting, thrilling, rich with hope and a
vista of personal freedom. And I believe that the book will evolve and maintain its place as one of the grand devices of human history. To that I offer a vision. It's not just
science fiction. Isn't all science fiction until it's not? Just think of describing a movie to Cicero or a mobile phone to Alexander Pope.
In the relatively near future, perhaps, you will be able to hold and read a book, page for page, printed in a medium that will allow you to
make your book as small or as large as you like and with any material feel you desire.
It will be opaque or transparent... you will be able to see all pages including both the front and the back of any page at any time.
You will be able to make a page as large as a wall, free standing, so that you can walk along as you read and step through it to read another
You will be able to walk into a book, touch the words, listen to the words, read the words, remember the words. The variations will be almost
unlimited and yours alone.
All with the privacy and the intimacy of a written, printed book… just your mind and the mind of the writer.
Try describing that to Gutenberg.