the future of reading

The Economist had a great article last week titled Not bound by anything that attempts to answer the question, “Now that books are being digitised, how will people read?”

One of the author’s central ideas is that books are migrating online and ceasing to be books. Take for example wikipedia. He also writes,

Many fantasy fans, for example, have already put aside books and logged on to “virtual worlds” such as “World of Warcraft”, in which muscular heroes and heroines get together to slay dragons and such like. Science fiction may go the same way, and is arguably already being created by “residents” of online worlds such as Second Life.

What makes this claim somewhat more interesting in that it is tempered with the statement that

Most stories, however, will never find a better medium than the paper-bound novel. That is because readers immersed in a storyline want above all not to be interrupted, and all online media teem with distractions (even a hyperlink is an interruption).

I don’t think all fantasy readers have set down print books though I’m sure some have. However, many people are certainly getting the same (or greater) satisfaction from games in addition to reading books. With sales of the Wii, Xbox 360, PS3 approaching 8 million units (and let’s not forget the 8.5 million World of Warcraft players), it is safe to say that more people are either replacing or supplementing their reading with gaming.

The article isn’t just about gaming. There’s an interesting bit about recapturing the oral nature of poetry though podcasting, and getting haiku text messages. Both of these things, by the way, are services that any library could offer at no real cost…

2 thoughts on “the future of reading”

  1. Aaron,

    That’s for the tip on the Economist article, I’ll have to go back and read that one. I think the idea of creating interactive stories is already happening to some degree for higher level players in WoW. Although there’s plenty of dissent within gaming journalism (the 1 up podcast covered the topic a few weeks back) about whether user created experiences are more engaging and satisfying than scripted game narratives. Those that agree that a good story will always be more engaging than an open environment, will agree with you that a good printed novel will never go away.

    I think your point about 8+ million next gen consoles and WoW players creates new opportunities for literacy. Fans of the Halo games devour the mass market novels because they expand a universe that they already care about. Blizzard also did this with Diablo and Warcraft. Rather, than books becoming games, we might more books set in game worlds. As Gee, Prensky and others have pointed out there is a lot of learning and reading that go on within games and we should tap into it rather than discourage it.

    thanks for the post.

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