Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is Print Dead?

Available now 

Shortly after Christmas I visited Barnes & Noble. I spent a lovely afternoon having a latte in the cafe and  browsing the shelves. I walked to the registers to pay for my purchases. As I stood in line, I perused the magazines racks near the counter, and was stunned by the banner across Newsweek: This is Our Last print issue. Something in me shifted; science fiction is no longer fiction.
 Those of you who subscribe to and read my blog regularly know of my ambivalence with emerging technologies, particularly in the book realm. I own several devices, and use them regularly. I composed The draft for this post on an iPad, so arguing against technology is moot. However, my argument is not to ban existing platforms, as is happening in this Texas library,

Is this a trend? The library of the future?  Look at the accompanying illustration in the artcile. What do you notice about the people? There are none, only a series of screens and empty stools. The shadowy figure behind the desk is solitary. Does that mean libraries will not only do away with printed matter, but their staffs as well?

Libraries throughout the centuries have adapted to the needs of their clientele. Every few years the death of the library is predicted, yet libraries have demonstrated a perseverance and adaptability. Yet this latest shift could put a serious dent in library services.

(Bookstores, however, are experiencing a shakier fate. see

Probably a gazillion of us have some access to screen technology, be it a TV, computer, laptop, smart phone, e reader, or tablet. I use all of the above to some extent, yet there is an aesthetic to printed books not found with a digital version. Perhaps this reveals my age. I grew up in a time before reliance on cell phones dominated our lives, relatively un-tethered to friends and family if I ventured out alone. Now I can update my status 24-7 via Facebook, revealing what I ate for dinner , find the weather and upcoming TV listings on my phone, yet when I use my e reader, Big Brother knows what I am reading.

E readers are great for travel. When I take a trip more than three days long, I generally like to pack 3-4 books, which now that airlines charge us for every last speck of dust in our luggage, loading a variety of books on my Kindle makes sense. The device is about the size of a trade paperback, and weighs about the same as a hardback book.

My Kindle is the second generation, which does not have a backlit screen, yet,  there are some issues with reading from backlit technology, particularly at night, the blue spectrum light emitted by screens interrupts sleep patterns.

This is bad news for those of you who like to curl up with your iPad or Kindle Fire and read in bed.  

 I don't hate technology. It enables me to write and post this readers in a variety of places, twitter, Google plus, and Facebook. In the old days, before blogging, when all opinion pieces  were printed through edited means, my ideas would be limited to cocktail hour chats or perhaps a letter to the editor. Now I can have a global dialogue and Instant access to feedback.

Another ironic bonus to technology is instant books.  I live an hour's drive from a brick and mortar bookstore, so if I need or want a book right away, I download it. Recently a publication where one of my stories appears (Triskaidekan,) was delayed by the printer, (see photo at top.) but the publisher posted an e book version, and I gained instant access to the anthology, which I was able to promote via social networking. Yet I still plan to also order a printed copy.

Ironically, readership is on the rise, yet print media are declining. It's the chicken or the egg. (Is digital downloading of books on the rapid rise due to vanishing bookstores, or are book stories vanishing because of digitalization? But this post isn’t supposed to be about bookstores…)  According to the Pew Research  Center , “The popularity of electronic books is increasing in the United States, with nearly one-quarter of American bibliophiles reading e-books, according to a survey released on Thursday…The number of e-readers aged 16 years and older jumped from 16 percent in 2011 to 23 percent this year, while print readers fell from 72 to 67 percent in 2012.”

But technology has its limits. Things break down. The power goes out, security leaks, files corrupted, devices get lost, or stolen, (who steals books anymore?) screens break, or go wonky. There are also economic issues.  . I live in Appalachia, where 45% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunched.  Many of our students in my HS still do not have access to computers and the Internet outside of school. Checking out books is free.

Lets hope the death of printed matter becomes, like the predicted death of radio with the advent of television, a shift n emphasis, where books and gadgets forge an alliance rather than declare war.

Please visit your local Library. Ask for information. Check out a book or other printed media. 

1 comment:

  1. As an addendum, I attended a workshop for school Librarians on e books, and the jury is still out in their efficacy in school libraries. Those so have them say kids still gravitate back to reading print for pleasure. Students say they are tired of reading screens for class work and research.