Let’s make books live forever [OPINION]


This is a guest blog from Titash Neogi on why we should take responsibility for keeping books popular. Titash has 10 years of experience in equal mixes of technical product management, consumer-internet user-behaviour, code jockeying, user experience design and startup team building. He also developed BookMachine Connect.

For those of you who graciously read my previous post, this might seem like a u-turn. I might also sound a bit dramatic by the end of it. I hope I will be excused for both these faults, by the content and cause of this post.

I just got back from Publishing Next, Goa, where the overarching theme of every discussion was technology’s impact on people, the dwindling size of reading populace and the challenges of the future tech-centric world for publishers. There was a general consensus that publishers need to reinvent themselves and that technology is changing everything in the world of books.

Needless to say that I went in with the agenda to emphasise tech’s impact on publishing, and was perhaps a front runner in the war cry to digitise, video-ise and generally change the entire model of book publishing in the wake of things to come. And even when I was doing this, and saying things like: ‘Will we read as much in ten years?’,  ‘Are we not consuming more and more video / audio content?’ etc., I had this nagging feeling of missing something. I found myself dreading this future and I felt I did not want to live in such a world.

On my way back, as the plane made a wide upward circle over the golden beaches of Goa, I settled in to my Gerard Durrell. And allowed myself to be carried away in vivid descriptions of the beautiful island of Corfu. And it was then that I had an ‘aha’ moment?, ?amidst a loud chuckle over Durrell’s description of tortoise hill and an announcement that food would now be served.

I realised that reading is far too precious an art form to be surrendered to the vagaries of technology. It is too important a part of who we are as human beings, to shrug and say ‘well no one’s reading anymore’. We are doing a great disservice to future generations by letting go so soon to the onward march of short attention spans, riding on the wave of tech.

Reading (and books) needs to be celebrated, glorified and given its due in our academic / social framework. If current generations aren’t reading enough, or are consuming more video, it’s not as much because of tech, but because of us as a society. We aren’t doing enough to make reading popular.

While readers look down on the mass of non-readers and publishers lament the onward march of tech, we are all collectively losing one of the highest forms human communication. When a deadly virus spreads, we don’t say ‘well let’s all get infected and die’. When trees start dwindling, we don’t let deserts appear easily.

Reading isn’t dwindling so much because tech is to blame, as we?—?the readers, authors and publishers?—?are. We aren’t doing enough to celebrate books. We aren’t doing enough to help others learn to enjoy reading.

When someone doesn’t drive, a zillion people offer to teach them them to drive. When someone doesn’t drink, there’s such a social pressure to make them drink. But when a non-reader turns up to a reading party (which BTW never happens) no one thinks it odd. There’s not really such a thing as non-reader anyway.

Those of us who love books, and make our living through books, need to take a collective and conscious decision to popularise books. To teach more and more people the joys of reading. It’s incumbent upon us to pass on the joy of books and reading to future generations. We cannot be such selfish people that having experienced the pleasures of being lost in words and passages, of turning pages, we deny the responsibility of passing this on to our children.

Technology isn’t the key to the future of books. We are. And this post is a call to arms for all my fellow book lovers?—?let’s fight back and make books live forever.

You can follow Titash at @tneogi or read more of his posts here.

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