I wanted to share with you a very intriguing article in The Times that identifies the major trends in the year ahead. Two in particular have significant resonance for the book world and pick up on the issues that were discussed regularly here in the blogworld in 2009. The first is:
‘Constant Partial Stupidity – When you’re constantly scanning mobile phones and computer screens, your attention is so fragmented that you can’t concentrate on one thing. That ‘s known as constant partial attention. The next stage is that you’ll start forgetting things, missing important pieces of information and making mistakes, and you’ll never get around to quality thinking.
This matters at work where you’re scanning masses of fast-moving information, you’re under pressure to react quickly and you’re rushing. At home you have so many passwords in your head that you forget your PIN and can’t get money out, then you phone your bank and can’t remember the password.
Research will confirm that multitasking is a myth, we’ll see phrases such as slow media emerge as people realize that if you read things on paper you are more relaxed, you register more, you reflect and see the big picture. This is why paper is not dead and why, while news will mostly be delivered online, serious comment and analysis and novels will largely stay on paper.’
I thought this was really interesting as it chimes with my own experience. I love the blogworld and am a fan of the internet, but I don’t want to read a novel online and I would never swap my library for an e-reader. I’m also prone to checking my email too often, and it really does undermine my focus and concentration. Also, this is part of a larger gripe I have that we worship new technology in unhealthy ways. New technology isn’t the solution to all our problems, it’s often just novelty that has yet to reveal its disadvantages. I suppose it’s the blanket imposition of it I dislike – I’d rather we took some time and figured out what new technology is really good for, how it can alter our lives in the most positive ways, rather than how it can be turned into yet another expensive gadget that we are obliged to possess because it has replaced a traditional product. So publishers take note: the reading experience is what readers buy books for, and if we want a calm, reflective and relaxing experience, paper remains unsurpassed for providing it. This is not to say that e-readers don’t have their place – they do – but not as a blanket substitute for the traditional book.
The second item that caught my eye was:
‘Flight to the physical – If virtual connection can never match its physical equivalent, this is partly because we associate digital with speed, being disposable and therefore of low value, and partly because we like to hold and touch real things. When you’re living in a world that is volatile and uncertain, people seek the safety and security of something tangible. They don’t want shares in a software company, they want gold. Downloading a video is easy and efficient, but it’s a soulless experience compared with going to a good video shop, having a chat with a movie buff, and looking at row up on row of illustrated titles.
The public library, feared moribund in recent years, is in its element because it’s about much more than books. It’s a quiet and safe community space, an experience that enables you to access expertise from commercially uncorrupt resources, and that’s both ethical and resource-friendly.’
Isn’t that great? Libraries provide a vital counterpart to our fragmented, uber-commercialised world. They offer community, resources, an essential service and they are ethically untainted. Librarians do it for love. Here’s hoping that particular message does indeed take root. It’s struck me as all kinds of ludicrous that library services should be ever reduced at a time when the economy is going downhill and more people than ever need access to the free books they provide.
It was altogether an interesting article. It also spoke about ‘fear fatigue’, or the way that eventually, we will tire of endless scaremongering (swine ‘flu and the recent recession having been sensationalized beyond belief) and become either resigned or cynical. The author thinks this is healthy – hysteria can’t be good for anyone – but that really, we ought to have a more intelligent approach to the whole issue of risk. It also spoke about the way that increasingly people would insist on manufacturers being environmentally and politically ethical, and would want to source their goods in the immediate vicinity. Apparently the article was drawn from a book, Future Files, A Brief History of the Next 50 Years by Richard Watson. I thought he spoke good sense and might look out for the book as it made me think about the things I wish could change for the better. I have such a fear that we are going to go down in history as the generation whose greed destroyed the environment and the Western economies, and as the generation who chose entertainment over enlightenment. If I could wave a magic wand I’d enchant people into wanting less materially but more spiritually and intellectually. What big cultural change would you like to see occurring in 2010?