Future of Reading

The buzz about the release of Amazon’s new wireless reading device called Kindle has been keeping the blogosphere busy recently. As with most emerging technologies there are both the supporters and detractors of this new gadget (see, for example, The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts) by Google employee Mark Pilgrim, and make sure you browse the comments!).

I found George Siemen’s reference to it in a recent blog post titled reading and books informative in this regard. George linked the news about Kindle with reference to the recently released NEA report from the US which paints a rather gloomy picture of the state of reading among young people in the US, concluding that they are reading less, and are reading less well.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach makes a similar link in her recent post titled the future of reading on the TechLearn blog. Sheryl appears optimistic about the adoption of this technology, arguing that it’s a changing world, and that if we want to remain relevant in the lives of our learners then we will need to use strategies and materials that fit their learning styles, not our own. Her post is well worth a read, as she shares her personal story of being one who does not enjoy reading books!

The NEA report goes on to say that…

The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.

Such statistics provide ready made ammunition for the technology sceptics and doom-sayers. So where should the real debates focus? Certainly not on the merits or otherwise of the aesthetics of the device, nor even on whether it provides colour or not (the current B/W device is bound to be a decision based on storage capacity etc). To me the development of these wireless reading devices and e-paper etc are further signs of a move towards the ubiquity of access to information, and the promise of the Universal Library, available to all, as described in the New Yorker article on Future Reading in which the author explores the evolution of digitalization of print, and the efforts of companies like Google and Microsoft (and now Amazon?) to dominate the field. :

The supposed universal library, then, will be not a seamless mass of books, easily linked and studied together, but a patchwork of interfaces and databases, some open to anyone with a computer and WiFi, others closed to those without access or money. The real challenge now is how to chart the tectonic plates of information that are crashing into one another and then to learn to navigate the new landscapes they are creating. Over time, as more of this material emerges from copyright protection, we’ll be able to learn things about our culture that we could never have known previously.

The New Yorker article explores some of the challenges to accessing information in print form versus the transition of many to the audio and film worlds of expression. We’re certainly in for some interesting times over the next few years as this scenario plays out, and the real future of reading is revealed!

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