Ending the snobbery of reading?
Serious readers think they are better than everybody else.
Of course, they probably are. Reading enables you to expand your experience base in a safe, hyper-accelerated way compared to real life. It isn’t just that you can find out about aardvarks in Africa, or marriage traditions in Malaysia…you get to see things from the perspective of other people, be they actual contemporary thinkers, historical figures, or fictional characters.
All of this low-risk enrichment gives a reader the ability to better predict the impact of what they do in the world outside of books.
Governments have recognized this fact, and have, in some cases, made it illegal to teach the disempowered to read and write. That was true in the United States, when laws prevented giving the tool of literacy to slaves, perhaps out of concern that they would use that tool to reshape the status quo. Whether it’s preventing an “under class” from reading at all, or choosing what is available for them to read (as was done in the Soviet Union), this widespread strategy is still in use today…and shows that those in power recognize that books are a path to equality.
Outside of governments, upper social classes have also wanted to make the neighborhood of literature a gated community. In some cases, that was actual restriction of distribution. In others, it was making books expensive…especially books seen to be of particular value. It might be acceptable to have the denigratingly called “penny dreadfuls” read by the “working class” and poor, but mind-expanding books were bound in leather and stamped in gold, out of the economic reach of all but the rich.
It’s also been possible to use social pressure to discourage reading. If someone always has their “nose stuck in a book”, that was a reason for dismissal from social events.
E-books are changing all that.
In a much bigger way than paperbacks (which had some of the same effect in the last century), the way that e-books are immediately available, conveniently accessible, and often free, is democratizing reading in a way never seen before.
It’s not just that people are reading more…it’s that more people are reading.
This was made glaringly clear at Thursday’s announcement of new hardware and Kindle services by Amazon.
Jeff Bezos told us that Kindle owners read many times as many books as they did before they owned Kindles…more than four and a half times as many in 2011.
Simple math tells us that it isn’t all serious readers.
If you were already reading one hundred books a year, you don’t jump to five hundred with a Kindle. If you were reading one book a year, though, you might jump to five books a year.
That type of average growth can only come from people who were at best casual readers.
I think we’ll see that leveling of the reading field happening even more with the lower price of tablets which incorporate reading as part of their entertainment palette.
For $159 (less than some EBRs…E-Book Readers, which most benefit serious readers), you can get a tablet from Amazon:
So, someone who mostly watches TV and plays games has books available to them…instantly, in the same place.
This summer, the Olympics were solidly front and center in the public awareness. Someone who doesn’t normally read a book probably wouldn’t have gone to a brick-and-mortar store to buy a book on it, or even ordered a paperbook online. However, if they can simply click and read the book (again, in the same screen where they watch their favorite shows) I think they might do that.
Making reading part of what the mass population does changes the world.
What would it mean if everybody in America read at least five books a year? How would that change the way they saw society and the world?
I can’t wait to find out.
What do you think? Am I exaggerating the value of what is at heart a distribution system? Will multimedia content make books more accessible…but less life-affecting? Will the digital divide simply strengthen class separation in readers, rather than weakening it? Is the love of a well-made paperbook more about respecting the author than keeping it out of the hands of others? Can reading reinforce prejudices (if you only read books from one viewpoint) rather than expanding acceptance? Does having fewer sources of books (a few online retailers, rather than thousands of individual brick-and-mortar stores) dangerously concentrate who decides which books are available? Are there books (or genres) that make people less powerful by giving them a falsely fictionalized view of reality? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.