Anthony Grafton’s article ‘Future Reading’ which features in this week’s New Yorker has created something of a stir. Its basic premise is that the activity of reading has been transformed in the last decade. Coincidentally The Reader magazine was founded ten years ago in 1997, making it probably one of the last literary magazines to have been founded with paper and print as its primary medium:
It’s an old and reassuring story: bookish boy or girl enters the cool, dark library and discovers loneliness and freedom. For the past ten years or so, however, the cities of the book have been anything but quiet. The computer and the Internet have transformed reading more dramatically than any technology since the printing press, and for the past five years Google has been at work on an ambitious project, Google Book Search. Google’s self-described aim is to “build a comprehensive index of all the books in the world,” one that would enable readers to search the list of books it contains and to see full texts of those not covered by copyright.
Still, despite the pace of the digitization process the experience of screen reading and paper reading are different and it seems to me that the real revolution is not going to be one in which pixels replace print, but a working out what each does best. If I want to search, then Google, Yahoo and the rest have pushed old-fashioned indexes off a cliff; if I want to read in the bath, I’ll take a paperback. And that is to say nothing of the feel of old books, the quality of digital copies, or of serendipity, a library’s greatest asset.