The Book is Dead

(But not really)
By: Nancy Herrera
“Books have no future.” “They are lame and boring” “Reading books isn’t worth my time.” Students at Huntington Park High School can rant on and on about the death of the book. For them, it is no longer necessary. But is all this really true? Are books really withering away? A recent survey of 114 students here at HP shows that most of these fears actually are supported with evidence. Only 23 out of 62 freshmen reported that they read for fun. The percentage of students who read rises as they grow older, from 50% of sophomores, to 70% of juniors and all seniors. It is clear from this data that for most freshmen, reading is a thing of the past. More 9th graders report “never” reading to being long-time readers. There is one thing missing. Most students associate “reading” with books and other printed media. However, “reading” can mean anything that involves glancing at letters and words. This includes shopping lists, street signs and especially text messaging and the internet. Students are definitely doing the latter more. The only problem with reading on a screen is that, as Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows, it is “superficial.” His book gives the example of a letter written in the 19th century. It has much deeper and more complex prose than an average text message sent today. Reading literature takes more concentration than skimming internet pages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of time Americans spend reading print has fallen 11% since 2004. As more people choose to spend their time scanning internet articles, they may be losing their ability to contemplate and think calmly and deeply. Yet, as the survey shows, books are clearly losing their audience. They will either have to disappear or change themselves in order to appeal to a younger generation. For biology teacher, Cynthia Tiscareño, the transformation of the book is inevitable. “It’s like the transition from vinyl to CD’s to Mp3s.” She believes the way that books can remain relevant to a new audience is through e-books. (These are books which are read on a screen or an e-reader like a Kindle or an iPad.) Ms. Tiscareño believes that the Kindle can serve anyone. With e-books, people can search through a wide selection of titles. Anything that fits a person’s interest, even if it is, “zombie-werewolves with horror”, can be found easily and downloaded in 30 seconds or less. Reading ebooks has made it simple for her to read more books than ever before, owing to the fact that they are so accessible. She also reports that her vocabulary has “improved” because the Kindle allows her to search difficult words in its built-in dictionary. “I love my Kindle!” she repeated multiple times, showing enthusiasm for the device. “Books are not sufficient. They are going to get ancient and be left behind…. They are not necessary anymore.” Although she admits that books do have a special feel and charm to them, the number one advantage of e-books is their convenience. “Why carry around a thousand page book when I can hold 1000 books in the palm of my

hand?” For her, books are going extinct, along with the dinosaurs and so Ms. Tiscareño suggests starting a recycling program, where books can stop sitting in the shelves and instead serve a more useful purpose. She also points out that physical books are a drain on the Earth’s resources, even more than e-books. A 2003 study by the University of Michigan concluded that e-books have less of an environmental impact than their paper counterparts. It takes one year for an e-book reader to offset its carbon use. After that, e-books only spend 0.1grams of CO2 to transfer an e-book onto a device compared with 7.4 kilograms of CO2 required to print a copy. Ms. Tiscareño’s advice to the public: “Try a Kindle. You’ll never go back.” But wait! “Don’t give up on the book just yet!” said Mr. Sanchez, an English teacher at this school. He said that even though preserving books may be an, “uphill battle”, there is plenty of value in books. For him, there is a unique feeling in reading a work of literature. Reading is an, “…escape, something that captivates the senses.” Mr. Sanchez equates reading a book to a date, where the hands-on experience of actually touching the book, getting involved with its story and writing on its margins, is something no device could ever replicate. “A computer is cold and inhuman. It is the antithesis of literature.” The battle between electronic and physical media is for him, a fight of convenience vs. quality. There is much more quality in reading a physical book because it lets one get lost in the text. He said that reading electronically only allows us to read “wide” but not deep. This is the same condition described by Nicholas Carr that would lead us to become “pancake people.” It may even take away our humanity, in the way we process information organically without any regard to time. However, a witty 11th grader noted that by then, we would have iBrains, where books are just directly uploaded to our brains, with notes included. Far from advocating a book recycling program, Mr. Sanchez thinks that students should look at their school libraries as, “temples of intellect.” He cites a New York Times article that calls our library system, “underutilized.” There are resources in our school library that students don’t take advantage of, like the Gale Cengage Database, which has an index of thousands of articles and study materials. A library also has the information that can help with thinking and distinguishing real news from fake news. On the internet, it is much harder to tell which is which. Mr. Sanchez is part of a determined minority of people here at HP that still read books. There are 3 people in every grade that reported reading more than 5 books every three months. It is surprising how passionate both sides of the argument can be. The determined disinterest of non-readers can be equally matched by students who say, “I don’t use the internet because it is a waste of my reading time.”, “I’ll read ANYTHING.”, “People will ALWAYS read” and “Books will stay around for a very long time.” One girl, Laura, 12C, spoke of the unbeatable “sensation” of a regular book. For the most part though, it is clear that this 500 year old technology will have to change. Student’s speculation ranges from pessimistic: “There won’t be any books!” to cheery: “I think that the future of books is bright.” Many say that books will be used in electronic form, on devices like Apple’s iPad. Feedbooks.com and three HP students

believe that books will only become “thinner” as short stories thrive. Yet, there are too many die-hard book fans to think that they won’t survive. It seems much more likely that for now, the book will live on, side by side with the internet and other types of media.