The Death of Books, and the Birth of a New Era?

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the rise of the book came after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD. With contact with Egypt dwindling, papyrus became a difficult material to obtain. And with this move from papyrus to parchment, from scroll to book a new age began, just as when stone tablets and bark were set aside millennia ago.

Indeed, when films want to portray an ancient, uncivilised or mysterious time, there will often be a scroll featured: an embedded symbol of foregone and primeval customs and cultures. And now, after 1,500 years of paper and ink (in varying forms), it is in our lifetime that the book must give way to the next format of literature.

First, it was the sending of letters that became more a novelty or a formality, when the Internet and emails took over. Indeed it has become rare and thrilling to receive a personal letter in the post, reserved for high days and holidays. Then came Google Books, an online tool which meant not every tedious trip into Hallward Library was necessary. Now with Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad (and soon to be countless other competing models), reading a book printed with ink may, in a few generations, become such a rare activity that it will justify a Facebook (or whatever the new fad is) status and several comments and ‘likes’ to go along with it! In a century or two, reading a book could be seen as archaic and primitive as carving a stone tablet would be seen by us today.

Considering how long books and other printed media have been fundamental to our society, there is something awe-inspiring about being present at a time when that hegemony could be challenged. The internet will surely be regarded as the biggest game-changer of the modern era, but this creeping abandonment of the printed word represents a true paradigm shift. That said, history could always be repeating itself – we have gone from reading on stone tablets, to reading on shiny, plastic ones!

Michael de Vletter


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