Does the Book have a Future?

As Oscar Wilde, an Irish writer and poet put it, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”. The books today still have a strong impact on the makeup of its readers, even though it has undergone many changes in the last few centuries ago. Back then, the book was only available for the rich, educated priests – being literate was an important step towards being powerful. However, as time passed and technology improved, literacy rates have gone up and many more people now have access to the book. The book has evolved into a formal medium in which information is passed on from writers to readers. In spite of the rise of forums and social media, books will still be able to maintain its popularity, instead of being squeezed out of business by changing its form – from the printed text to e-books, electronic books for short, audio books and micro books.

Proponents would argue that the rise of social media would lead to the decline of books, because social media is more convenient and accessible, and provides a platform for people to share their information, and this improves the quality of the final product. Books are just a single directional way of transferring knowledge and ideas, while new media like forum pages can facilitate discussion and collaboration amongst groups of people. However, as opponents point out, the benefits that these new media platforms bring are hinged upon the assumption that contributors are sufficiently knowledgeable, fair and objective in their posts, something that we cannot take for granted. However, books are more credible as authors need to be accountable for their words, forcing them to be more careful with the accuracy of what they say. In most cases, radical people with extreme beliefs are more outspoken on these new Web 2.0, discursive media platforms, and their words leans towards spurs of emotion. The moderate majority, however, is silent or less active most of the time because they do not seek to impose their own ideals upon others in discussions. This lack of proportionality creates warped perceptions that cloud readers of these online forums. For example, the Kiasu Parents Forum, a commonly visited site for Singaporean parents, is often flooded with feedback from parents clearly unhappy with the Singaporean education system – they form a majority of the posts on these forums, although the number of posts does not represent the general sentiment of the people. Instead of pooling together birds of the same feather, books which are typically written by professionals or experts in the field, are more credible – they are actual people who are accountable for what they write, as compared to that anonymous participant on the forum website, making them more believable and trustable in the eyes of a reader. This means that those who are really interested to understand the system better would still choose to read books, which provide concrete examples to support their claims. This can be seen through the heated debate over the quality of Wikipedia versus its competitor, the Britannica. Wikipedia is not seen as a credible source for obtaining information because it people are free to edit and add information according to their personal inclinations without having to take responsibility. As a result, many Wikipedia articles have inaccuracies that stem from an excess of “cooks” which “spoil the broth”. In comparison, readers trust the Britannica more, because the authors will be brought up to task in the case of misinformation. The accountability of books and their authors makes them a more accurate source to obtain information, a fact that many still recognize. This maintains the book’s popularity as a form of information transfer.

There are some critics who would argue that books will lose their prevalence in society because of the changing lifestyle and literacy habits that do not complement the nature of book reading. To be able to read, one needs to focus on the content of the book, which is difficult in this modern day and age where people lack the patience to read, and are always multi-tasking. A constant effort to focus to read a book and digest its information will build into a habit of learning, a skill that it important to everyone. The education system aims to encourage students to learn on their own, and develop their own passions the long run, which they will pursue even in the absence of mandatory homework. For example, the “Teach Less, Learn More” campaign organized by Singapore’s education system seeks to encourage students to take the initiative to independently learn more about specific topics that they have a passion in. In addition, in other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom, the National Literacy Trust is heavily supported with nearly six million pounds in donations. Its initiative, the “Gift of Reading campaign”, encourages older students to read to the younger generation, which will hopefully build up a culture of reading. This will help to expose students to a variety of topics, spurring students to cut some time out from their busy schedules to sit back, relax, and immerse themselves in the words of the author. In response to the changes in the desires of the new technological generation, authors have changed their style of writing. This led to the conception of the e-book and self-publishing, where authors could appeal to a specific niche of readers without relying on traditional publishers. Therefore, by changing the form of the book, authors can now use audio and electronic content to broadcast their stories and ideas to the new generation. Surveys across the world have also noted that many that make up the new generation are extremely receptive towards e-books and audio books. This is because they can access the author’s words through their smartphones and tablets, which are be much lighter and less bulky than the original book. The concept of the book has thus shown to have changed and adapted to the different lifestyles of the youths of today.

Another reason why people would conceivably pick up a book to read is the fact that it is entertaining – it almost seems as if one is transported through space and time into the imagination of the author, giving people a sense of awe, and in some cases, happiness. Pessimists of the future of the book would exclaim that the book will soon become impertinent in the lives of the technologically savvy generation, because alternatives like movies and video games now provide a clear image of the world depicted in books – the fact that people can see the events of the book taking place right before their eyes makes the story more appealing and believable. Despite this claim, optimists point out that the problem with the high definition movies we watch is that they tend to flesh out every single detail, which invariably leaves little space for imagination. For fictional books, however, their magical effect comes from the space the reader has to derive their own takeawys from the words of the author. The beauty of language is that there can be certain nuances, plays on words, and strong descriptions of emotion which can be difficult, if not impossible to represent in a movie. Movies are developed by directors, whose one opinion or interpretation may differ vastly from that of other readers – the close bond between writers and their readers can best be experienced when a reader finds his or her own personal meaning to the events of a story, as compared to having it being told in the same way, with the same biases portrayed in a movie. Therefore, the entertainment value may not exist for some. Some want to have the experience of unraveling the intense story at their own pace, and have their own interpretations of the ideas being put across to them. This means that the book has its own unique ways of putting across ideas to its readers, something that cannot be replicated in a movie or game.

Although there has been great acceptance for the new social media platforms where people can interact and share ideas, books will still remain. Books still fulfill their aims and functions of providing new insights and ideas supported with credible examples, so they will still have a vast audience. However to meet the desires of society, the book will have to adapt as well, turning to alternatives such as the e-book and the audio book, just like how people adapted from using sticks to drawl words in the sand to writing using paper and pen. Thus, it is safe to say that the threats to the book will definitely not squeeze this form of information transfer out of existence, and the latter will be a part of our lives for a long time to come. 


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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.