Tuesday, May 17, 2011

End of an era?

In my lifetime, we have seen so many new technologies - but I guess I was never expecting to also watch the decline of older ones.

Today I have heard discussion, online and on radio, of the impending doom of three things we would never have imagined life without: Newspapers, books and the home telephone.

Apparently, only one third of people list their land-line phone as their most important form of communication.  It certainly has little value or importance in my life anymore - the sole reason I keep it is to receive calls from the Breastfeeding Helpline. If you call our number these days, my message-bank tells you we rarely check it and you will be better off calling us on our mobiles. Most incoming calls tend to be people selling things - or my mother-in-law! At work, caller ID shows nearly all incoming calls are made on mobile phones and people rarely leave a land-line for me to return calls - unless it is a work number!

Growing up, I never knew a day without a copy of The Sun (later to incorporate The Herald and become The Herald-Sun) on the dining table of our home. My father read it every day at breakfast. I remember Jeff Hook's cartoons of political figures like Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser. Even in our non-football family, playing spot-the-ball was fun. The comics were essential. And I had an endless source of horse photos to cut out. I guess there was news in those pages too ;) But nowadays, I only scan the paper if it is available when I am in a coffee shop and most of the content is stale by then. Between news blogs, social media, radio and TV bulletins, my access to news is constant and it seems archaic to wait for a newspaper to arrive to keep in touch. And I am not alone. How sad, given my high school goal was to become a newspaper journalist, leading me to do work experience at the local paper and to unsuccessfully apply for cadetships once I left school!

But perhaps most shocking of all is the very real threat of printed books become extinct in my lifetime. When I read this yesterday, I was moved to write in the comments:
It is interesting to read this after a weekend away at an event almost totally dedicated to the sale and purchase of second-hand books (Clunes Back to Booktown). As a book tragic who has noticed a decrease in my own reading in recent years (finding it harder to embed myself uninterrupted in a story), this discussion rings true. My pile of books to read grows faster than my books read.
At the same time, as a newly converted ereader (I have a Kobo) I wonder about the social aspect of books and the future of sharing, swapping, fossicking and browsing. If we do reach the point when paper publishing moves aside for epublishing, where will this leave the book community? We are already seeing the alarming decline of actual bookshops - will we also lose the cosy world of the used book store? is that a world we want to live in?
I have been immersed in books since before I can remember and collecting them is a passion. But watching the rapid decline in bookshops (in my local shopping centre we had four only a few years ago - now it looks like only the independent store will remain and they on shaky ground) and the increase in online options - which I have readily embraced - and seeing the incredible growth in ebook sales in what seems like months, I am starting to believe the doom-sayers who predict the death of the book. And I feel very sad about that - and a tad guilty too.

So there we are - three major communication icons always taken for granted on their way out. Because of people like me who have so embraced digital technology. Not unlike the decline of the trade of my grandfather and his father - blacksmiths who must have felt the same when there were less horses to be shod and petrol stations took their place in society.


MissEmmG said...

We love our ereaders in our house, 12yr old DS has kindle, and I have kindle app on iPhone and iPad. I actually think I read more because I always have a book with me. That said I have still been buying hard copies, as I like the idea of sharing. All our kindles run off the same account, so as long as we aren't reading the same book at the same time, we can share books between devises. Jacob and I have been reading more and more of the same thing lately. But your right, the ereader stops the book swapping community that lives amongst my friends and family. But after all this ereading my book shelves (and ashamedly the stacks of books on the hall way floor) are still growing all the time.

eBz said...

I can see one huge positive in the decline in books and newspapers.. think of the tree's that will be saved, I know I do everything online, I haven't purchased a book, magazine or a newspaper for myself for months even years in the case of the newspaper, and like you I only have a home phone for other people to contact me and really I should just get rid of it and save myself the $$$ as people ring that from mobiles anyway lol!