The future of reading
Long before Gutenberg invented the printing press, the written word, we are told, was transcribed and shared painstakingly. Receiving information was a luxury that a select few could afford and many rich transcripts were lost in tragic circumstances or to the ravages of war. Gutenberg's invention certainly revolutionised reading and reading habits and shifted the needle in an entirely different direction.
Cut to the 21st century and we know for a fact that the age of digitisation revolutionised reading yet again. Even today, we are all living and experiencing this digital revolution. Every day seems different from the last, new ideas emerge rapidly, innovative solutions are found to address potential problems, and technology seems to be at the centre of it all.
Attempting to envision what the landscape of reading will look like in the next decade is akin to looking into a crystal ball. Imagine with me, if you will. You're sitting in front of the crystal ball and gazing inside. You feel like you are supposed to see something, but you don't know what. Then gradually your mind's eye begins to see a milky flush or a sparkle. Images start to emerge. Visions, perhaps? The sceptic in you wonders how much of this could actually come to be, while the dreamer in you wants to believe that anything is possible.
While the future is full of uncertainties, I believe one thing to be certain: readers will still read but what will change is the way in which we consume information. People will always buy books, whether digital or physical, for their compelling stories, useful content or beautiful imagery.
Will paperback books disappear? No. There are things that paper and ink do better than pixels and there's a visceral connection there that a screen cannot replicate. Physical books don't require electricity, they can be stored for decades without being corrupted and, as it turns out, people reading them retain the information better than they do reading an e-book.
On the other hand, will paperbacks be largely displaced in the coming decade? Sure. Digitisation will do to books what it did to cameras or the radio. It made the older models obsolete and a collector's item, which is how books could be seen as well.
Looking ahead, advances in print technology will impact how and where books are published. Sustainability will probably be key and less waste a greater focus. Resource scarcity will mean greater scrutiny of how books are being produced, and what happens to the materials once that book is no longer wanted. In fact, publishers will probably be held to the same ethical and environmental standards as other industries.
The crystal ball still emits hazy visions: what seems fantastical now can be the paradigm shift of tomorrow. One thing remains constant, though - the written word will be important. But we are on a precipice of unfathomable change. We are tinkering with genes and cloning sheep. We are going to figure out how to make drastic improvements genetically and mechanically. Holidays on Mars are already being booked. Anything is possible, really.
Assuming that we are successful in these attempts, the need for writing and information will always be central to everything we accomplish. As long as people like me need to read on a flight or a metro station, we will be on the lookout for great content. Sure, our reading habits might evolve. We might download content from the cloud rather than the racks of a library or bookstore, but as long as there are great writers, stimulating content and moving stories, readers will seek out the writing that inspires them.
There will certainly be fewer printed books in future, but they are unlikely to go away. Like they were in the times of Gutenberg, a luxury item, physical books will probably be so again. Hold on to all your paperbacks - they're about to make you a part of an interesting tribe. No matter what esoteric future technology we cannot currently fathom arises, the written word will still persist - like it has from the Renaissance right up till 2020.