No big surprise: physical books (their usage, at least) are going the way of AM radio, the fax machine, and Myspace. Encouragingly, when Yale announced plans to relocate a majority of their collection of books from the main library, students staged a sit-in. Well done.
Statistics show that today’s undergraduates have read fewer books before they arrive on campus than in prior decades… it is all too conspicuous that we reached Peak Book in universities just before the iPhone came out. Part of this story is undoubtedly about the proliferation of electronic devices that are consuming the attention once devoted to books.
The sharp decrease in the circulation of books also obviously coincides with the Great Recession and with the steady decline of humanities majors, as students have shifted from literature, philosophy, and history to STEM disciplines—from fields centered on the book to fields that emphasize the article.
The steady decline of humanities majors will have a negative impact on the collective perspective of our culture. Without a certain depth of knowledge in history, philosophy, the arts, and yes, theology, we will lose the why. “I study engineering!” Cool! Why? “Uh… it’s lucrative? I like it? They said I should? I dunno…”
My friend, engineers can change the world for the better (infrastructure) or worse (nuclear war).
We will know how to do something without asking if we should, which is my paraphrase of Dr. Ian Malcolm (in the middle) from the book/movie Jurassic Park.
I read a lot less than I did 5 years ago, and it’s because I, too, am now wired for articles and blurbs, skimming a webpage or google books for the essentials. The long, slow burn of a novel or commentary is something I have to fight for, a battle best won if my iPhone is out of reach. I sense mental atrophy when I’m not reading. Conversely, reading something — anything, really — has a profound effect on my thought life, my outlook, and even my general sense of God’s presence. He is, after all, a Wordsmith.
What if we practiced a 1:1 ratio of electronic media to print? What if every 30 minutes on XBOX led to a 30 minute time with a book (electronic or print)? Or, maybe ever binge on the Netflix can lead to a disciplined binge of the Narnia books? The shaping of our minds can’t be limited to only utilitarian goals, and the leaders of the future will need to think differently, which only happens if our brains are shaped differently now.
So… whatcha readin’ these days?