I’ve often heard older adults lament the lack of book reading by today’s youth. Many of us observe the majority of younger people limiting their reading to texts filled with atrocious spelling and codes known only to them.
Until recently, a large portion of society read books almost every day, from the time they started pre-school into adulthood. Prior to the 1900s, books were expensive and scarce for most, other than basic textbooks used in schools. Even earlier, education and books were primarily only the domain of the wealthy.
For me, growing up, when books were in abundance and social media was unheard of, it was natural to read for entertainment and education. Many of us didn’t have a TV, and if we did, the programming was very limited. We had no cell phones or screens to read from or to send photos with. I’ve read thousands of books in my life, most before I was 40. It was not unusual for me to finish a book at 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. I’d get out of bed after only a few of hours of sleep and go to work. It’s hard for me to imagine what my life would be like if I’d not been a voracious reader.
Any complaining we do about the failure of today’s youth to follow in our footsteps is our failure to understand the nature of each new generation and their ability to adapt to changes in society at large. Those growing up in a world of seemingly infinite choices for entertainment, information, or communication would be considered odd if not taken advantage of the vast array of choices. The fact is, if we’d been born into today’s world, we’d be making the same decisions to use social media as they have. If we read books at all, it would likely be on a tablet or phone.
Even with all the choices available today, there will always be a segment of dedicated book readers of a wide range of ages. I don’t need to research to know that’s true. Many great books are available for any age group. For the young, there’s been the “Harry Potter” series, having sold over 400 million copies. Not far behind are “The Lord of the Rings,” “Hunger Games,” “Ann of Green Gables,” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” There are many others less well-known, also written for young people that have sold millions of copies. Readers are out there but are overshadowed by the constant appearance of teens relentlessly poking their cell phones. Unseen are the millions of readers snuggled up with a good book at home.
Unless our future includes an apocalypse, I expect that most physically printed words will become rare as time wears on. Books, magazines, newspapers, and other printed media will probably be accessed only in electronic form. Even I now read more on my computer, tablet, and phone than I do on paper. I can easily research any topic in hours or a few days that might have taken weeks or months fifty years ago in a large library of printed books. I’m very thankful that it is so. My small personal library has been reduced to a few shelves of textbooks, out-of-print copies, and a few favorite novels, but I rarely consult them anymore.
I will not mourn the passing of printed books. I’ve gained the wisdom to accept what I cannot change and the ability to appreciate what the future holds in its place.