Sep 21, 2006

The future of : reading

There are very few things I'd rather be doing than curling up with a nice book (preferably a non-fiction one.) But as pleasurable as I find the habit, I have to admit that reading as we know it has a bleak future.

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the probable future of reading ever since I read Michael Rogers' latest Practical Futurist column (also the subject of my last post.) I agree with everything he writes about in the piece except that it'll probably happen much sooner than 2025.

Why does it look all too likely that long-form reading has a not too distant expiry date? Because it's already happening. In fact, as Michael argues, long-form reading is an artificial construct. And to cultivate and retain this 'artificial' habit, we have had to invent the myth of the virtues of reading.

It's plainly obvious to most of us that long-form reading is not an indispensable skill. There are a disconcertingly large number of people who get on with life - and are even very successful - without having read a single book.

The other development running concurrent with our growing realistation of this truth is the insistence of the Book Brigade as to the indispensability of reading. I think it's a sign of an impending defeat, that makes their cries get louder and more insistent - while in reality, they only end seeming up more and more out of sync.

So, does that mean that we (and the generations to come) will stop learning anything new? Of course not. It only means that knowledge will no longer be the prerogative of books and will increasingly be found in other places than just between the covers of a book. And simultaneously this knowledge will be broken down into more meaningful bits - and one will absorb information continuously rather than be drip-fed at regular intervals with books.

In fact, I think it's a paradox that future generations will spend less time reading long-form literature but will be more intelligent and knowledgeable than us. This will be possible largely due to the multimedia rich home and work environment we'll build in the future. Additionally, the very  environment around us will be information-rich, virtually eliminating any need for an artificial habit like long-form reading.

But there are several artificial habits we pursue for pleasure. And needless to say lots of people - including me - will continue to read for pleasure. But can we afford to have a smarter-than-thou attitude because of it? Perish that thought.
About the author:
Iqbal Mohammed is Head of Innovation & Strategy at a digital innovation agency serving the DACH and wider European markets. He is the winner of the WPP Atticus Award for Best Original Published Writing in Marketing & Communication.
You can reach him via email or Twitter.


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