Thinking Out Loud: Is Reading Dead?

U.S. military using manga (comics) to teach Japanese children about security alliance.

So to get the answer out of the way — no, reading is not dead. Either as a communications tool or as a hobby.

While Wired recently declared that the Web is dead, reading is far from dead. How much of social media is written? Texting, Twittering, Facebooking, and Tumblring are all based on the written form. While Google has recently started a phone service, many people use their smart phones for written communications.

And there have been a wave of new reading devices — from the Kindle to the Nook to the IPad that are selling well. And the idea that Amazon is now selling more ebooks than hardcovers shows that people do want to have new ways of reading. (I use Stanza).

That isn’t to say that there aren’t drawbacks to many of the new ways of reading — both in terms of new hurdles for accessing information and ownership of information. At the heart of the Wired article is the idea that more and more information is being accessed from places that are not the open web anymore, whether they are through apps or behind paywalls or passwords. And I have many misgivings about the licensing terms that are placed on those that use ereaders — basically, the first sale doctrine, allowing a purchaser to sell a book to others doesn’t really apply for ereader books.

I think about all of the massivekid/teen/adult book crazes — Harry Potter, Twilight, and now potentially the Hunger Games series -that have been as big as Star Wars was, in terms of the overwhelming interest by fans. There hasn’t been a new non-book/comic tie-in movie,  band, television show (with the possible exception of Lost) or other mainstream media item with this level of sustained interest in years.

This isn’t to say that reading isn’t going to change. The ability to annotate and share will continue to grow in a way that will continue to morph our ideas of what a completed work is. But just as errata for books and corrections in newspapers hasn’t ended reading, these new ways of reading won’t either.

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