Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Our Bookless Future (claremontreviewofbooks.com)
103 points by jseliger on May 10, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 101 comments

This is really missing the point, IMO. The difference between paper print vs digital "print" is not the issue. The problem is more that TV, movies, social media and YT have created a post-literate culture where the primary model of communication is visual and emotional, not textual and abstracted.

That culture is extroverted rather than introverted, geared towards triggering simplistic emotional responses rather than exploring complex arguments with nuance, and actively hostile to abstraction and focused deep insight.

This mode has always existed, but long-form writing used to offer a potential refuge from it. Without a strong written culture that refuge ceases to exist.

What I think is interesting about YouTube is how it provides money and an audience for content creators. I generally prefer reading to watching videos, because I can read faster than I can listen. But people make videos because they get 1 cent per view (or whatever) and because viewers of other videos will be pushed in their direction. There is just no other platform that does anything like that. Text ads on text content don't seem to pay very well, and nobody has made a platform like YouTube for authors. (Medium was supposed to be this, but I've never been encouraged to spend much time on Medium. There is no recommendation, so you don't get "lost" there like you might on YouTube or even Wikipedia.)

As for books, they require a large investment with a minimal chance of returns. Nobody recommends your book. There is no way to have advertisers sponsor your book. So to write a book, you need to secure financing and build a bespoke marketing campaign to make a profit. That is just too hard, so people make videos instead, because the financial aspect and finding an audience takes care of itself and the creator can focus on content. (Of course, there is still plenty of randomness; lots of great channels with 3 subscribers and 10 views because the recommendation algorithm never found them. But losing the recommendation lottery is a lot different than not having anything at all. So people keep trying, and I think a lot of good channels do get discovered.)

I think you may be overestimating the ease with which people can make videos, post them to YouTube, and have the money roll in. The relatively few who are really successful mostly had to/have to work pretty hard to create and promote their content. And there's still a huge luck of the draw ("lots of great channels with 3 subscribers and 10 views").

As for books, it really depends on what your goals are. No, you're very unlikely to end up making a good living off of it. But, for example, if you're in technology, having a book or two to your name can be enormously helpful to your professional profile. I've certainly gotten opportunities by being an author. Even if I've just basically made beer money, it's been a very good payback.

Not overestimating the ease at which one can "make it", but the infrastructure exists to make it. That is lacking for other forms of media, which is why people aren't doing them anymore.

I guess I'm not seeing the distinction. People do have nice little side businesses built around blogs, which are pretty easy to set up. (I'd never go the Medium route; I've published there but only as a copy from elsewhere.) And anyone can publish a book on Amazon even if they can't/don't want to go through a traditional publisher.

I just don't see recommendation engines/other infrastructure on YouTube as offering any particularly unique discovery and monetization mechanism vs. other media. If anything, it seems you're more dependent on the whims of Google than in the case of, say, an independent blog.

Yes, I agree. These days I find it harder and harder to consume long-form content. I have to consciously tell my self "Hey, you're going to finish this paragraph," which is such a depressing thought to have. The web has turned my attention span to mush...

This is a big part of what’s argued in Amusing Ourselves To Death.

> The problem is more that TV, movies, social media and YT have created a post-literate culture where the primary model of communication is visual and emotional, not textual and abstracted.

This seems equally well a description of a pre-literate culture, so there doesn't seem to be any reason that the pendulum couldn't swing again.

TV series might not be as long as books but all the multi-year long series people put however many hours into them as the series was long. Breaking Bad had 62 episodes, average 45 mins each = 46hrs of watching that show. That feels like more time than most novels.

The amount of people who have the means to produce a TV-series is probably smaller than those who could write a book though

I don’t think the length of time one pays attention to something is a good indicator of its quality.

Long form is still very much there. People just seem to be going for it less

I'm the opposite. Ever since I got a Kindle I've been reading a lot more books.

Nailed it!

> The problem is more that TV, movies, social media and YT have created a post-literate culture where the primary model of communication is visual and emotional, not textual and abstracted.

Simply not true. There is more writing in the last year ( digital and print ) than there was in all human history prior the 2019. Each movie now creates countless textual/abstract comments, posts, essays, analysis, etc.

> That culture is extroverted rather than introverted, geared towards triggering simplistic emotional responses rather than exploring complex arguments with nuance, and actively hostile to abstraction and focused deep insight.

I have to disagree. There certainly is more overall fluff, but there is also more substance.

> Without a strong written culture that refuge ceases to exist.

Except that there have been more textual and abstracted content created in the last year. More people are literate and writing than ever before.

Quantity is not quality.

Compare an issue of (say) New Scientist from the 1970s with a contemporary issue. Or an issue of Byte from the early 80s with a modern equivalent, if you can think of one.

See also:


More words are written, but many of them are worthless drivel.

A lot of comments are debating the important of physical reading versus screen reading. I think that’s actually missing the point.

> “Behind our screens, at work and at home, we have sutured the temporal segments of our days so as to switch our attention from one task or one source of stimulation to another. We cannot but be changed.”

This part rings true for me.

Last summer I read Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” and then “Digital Minimalism,” in which he gets very into this topic of hypermedia and distracted living. It greatly influenced my thinking about how I use my time, and made me more conscious of the need to focus and actually be present with one activity at a time. This has greatly increased my productivity and lowered my stress level, so I highly recommend it.

Newport argues that a lot of what is “wrong” with today’s computers (in every form factor) is the very thing that makes them so useful: they can do so many things. So unlike a paper book, which is really only for reading, a screen is for displaying all kinds of things, and if we are reading on a screen with notifications turned on then we’re probably reading distracted which means we aren’t reading well.

I read almost exclusively on my iPad or phone. I find it quite comfortable to sit on the couch and read from either device, but I prefer the iPad (mini). When I occasionally still read a paper book I find the experience is really no better or worse than reading on the iPad, except that the iPad has hundreds of books stored in the space and weight of a single magazine.

However, I do think one reason the experience is qualitatively equivalent it is I don’t do a whole lot else on my iPad, so I don’t find it to be a distracting device. I associate it with reading.

Another relevant book on this topic, “Moonwalking with Einstein,” is all about memory. That book essentially makes the case that (educated) people in the pre-internet era had to hold a lot of material in their heads, because you couldn’t google stuff, and so everyone practiced using their memory more, committed more “important,” things to memory, and generally did a better job retaining things they learned.

All of these are interesting, complex side effects of the internet and the ever more ubiquitous computer, and I think there is a lot for us to think about here. On a personal level, we have some opportunity and perhaps obligation to ensure our lives are enriched by these technologies and push back on the negatives that come with them. But just FWIW, I don’t think trying to switch back to only reading on paper is, by itself, the answer :)

Thing thing about committing stuff to memory is that it results in a fragmented install base across the 'user base' that may not get updated regularly. Even just double-checking Google before you act on existing knowledge may prove that new insights have caught up with what you held to be true, and you need to update your knowledge. I'm fairly certain that this "knowledge in the cloud" aspect of Google actually makes us faster and more coherent as a whole. It's just going to be somewhat of an issue when there is no internet around.

I disagree. I think this "trivia based" knowledge is leading to a decline in overall ability and innovation. I've noticed it in myself.

The problems we are starting to face are not google-able problems. Despite this wealth of information, people still struggle in math class, physics is still hard, engineering students still drop out, etc. Analytical, problem solving activities are getting harder to do. Sure, I can look up the date of X, but so what?

Now that there is absolutely no barrier to entry, I'd wager much of what you google isn't even truth. Look at anti-vaccination, holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, survivorship bias self help not based on anything. There is no inherent curation built into the internet - on one hand, this is good - but I think we are now seeing the negative effects grow exponentially.

On a related note regarding dedicated devices, I recently got a new iPod Touch with zero apps installed / wi-fi off just to force myself to only listen to music w/o any distractions. Sales guy at the Apple Store Tokyo was like — Why the hell are you buying an iPod in 2019?

I agree with your points about distraction, and I think "Deep Work" is a critically important book. That said, it's easier said than done.

I only have one iPad and I do use it for many things including work, and it is shared with family members. That makes it full of distractions.

I have thought about getting a second iPad dedicated to reading, but since you can't uninstall Safari, I feel I'm going to end up getting distracted by the Internet. I'm not confident I have the self-discipline to never go on the Internet when it's just a tap away.

I do think having an iPad-like device with no functions except a book reader would be an interesting product.

But aren’t you talking about an ebook reader like a Kobo or a Kindle then? They exist already.

I have both, and they are just too slow. I think if I were reading fiction page by page, it would be fine. When I read non-fiction for learning, it's very difficult to skip forward/back, re-read sections, highlight/annotate, flip to the footnotes and back, jump to the table of contents and back, etc. All of these actions are frustratingly slow on the Kindle or Kobo. The iPad is fast enough to make a good reading experience. But the distractions.

Annotating on the Kindle is a real pain but looking up footnotes is quicker than a book with end notes. Highlighting is a bit slower but has the advantage that you can export all your highlights in a pdf or spreadsheet.

I want to second the sibling comment about screen time. I used this to “remove” mail and safari from my phone for a long time, and found that it completely changed the way I use the phone. It’s pretty easy to go to settings and toggle allowed apps, so I didn’t think it would work, but what I found is the added step of having to toggle safari on before I could use it meant I would mindlessly unlock my phone, find nothing to tap on, and then think “oh yeah, I don’t really want to mindlessly surf the web right now.”

You can disable Safari using the "Screentime" restrictions. Having to go into Settings, find the Screentime section, enter a passcode and find the setting to re-enable Safari may provide enough of a effort barrier that you don't bother with whatever thing it was that sprang to mind as a potential distraction.

For even more effective control, let someone else set your Screentime passcode :)

There is yet another thing about that quote. When I was still a programmer often the best ideas came when I had lunch break or a tea break or waking to work, etc. Our mind needs free time to make the deep connections. What exactly that 'free time' means is a bit elusive - sometimes playing simple games like tetris or minesweeper would work (or work as a step into the right state of mind), but I think that it needs to be something that we can do on autopilot, like walking, or eating. Reading hackernews or reddit also felt like the right thing, and maybe it did a part of the job - turning attention away from the work matter, but it probably wasn't very effective (it still had some other good outcomes - like finding new programming ideas).

This is exactly what is taught in https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

This line from the article really caught my attention:

> In sum, Wolf says, the paper reading brain has better memory, more imagination, immersion, and patience, and more knowledge than the screen reading brain.

I've been torn for years about how to feel about my reading and writing habits. I love reading physical books, especially when I'm trying to develop a deep understanding of some topic, and I have, at times, made concerted efforts to take notes on paper and keep my daily schedules and to-do lists in notebooks. But at the same time, I love reading the articles and other types of content that are surfaced by users here and on other sites.

I can't be certain (could just be confirmation bias of some sort), but I personally find that what Wolf said in that line is true. When I read and write on paper, I feel like I have a deeper connection to what's there and am more able to reason about it. Reading and writing on a computer feels more detached, like I'm just consuming the content without understanding or just dumping out ideas without thinking.

I believe this is simple conditioning. There are many people like me who learn better from ebooks, online-papers and pdf's rather than dead-tree books. We can annotate, attach notes, add/remove highlights and most importantly: search without needing a painful index and simultaneously study 2 or more books on the same subject with little trouble in shifting context.

With paper books, all this is very painful - too much jugglery needed.

I've found all of these things to be unhelpful compared to just having a notebook next to my book, the added writing down of information helps me retain information better.

I question the benefit of search beyond finding a sentence or two. Most large ideas require more than a sentence or two to explain something, and ignoring the context before and after could limit my understanding.

In any case, most substantial non-fiction books have both a table of contents and an index.

I don't disagree that it could be conditioning. You make really good points about the benefits of doing things digitally. At some point I really need to spend a few months going all-in on doing it digitally and see if I can make it work for me.

Definitely an area where everyone works differently and it takes serious effort to figure out what's best for you personally.

I think there's a bit of a problem when directly taking content thought for a specific medium, like physical books, and transporting it unchanged to another media, like ebooks.

Quick example: when you're reading a book, you have always two pages available to yourself to read. When you read an ebook, you have one, or part of one page on the screent at a time. That doesn't lend itself to going back and re-reading. A physical book has the chance to keep our attention on a larger scale than an ebook.

But lets twist that example. When I was in primary school, one of my brightest classmates had a severely impaired vision. He'd had to practically stick his face into a book or sheet of paper to read. Probably a large screen with adjustable fonts, and good contrast, would help him read.

I think we need to find a new balance to how we consume written media. But I wouldn't cry that books are disappearing, rather I think "old books" do not adjust so well to screens, and that "screen books" lend themselves to ways that old-written-media couldn't do. We need a new balance to get the best from both worlds, and have an improved medium to read from.

To each his own, I guess. With the exception of search, I can do all of those things more easily in a physical book than electronically — I find that the physical motion and context helps me remember things.

I replace searching with maintaining my own comprehensive index. It forces me to think about what I’ve read and consider the situations in which it might be useful so that I can file it away correctly. I read fewer things this way, but they stick in my memory better, for probably a similar net result.

I wonder if there’s a correlation between usage of debuggers vs printf, and the different strategies you all have taken towards reading.

I don't notice much of a difference with reading, but I do feel the same way about writing; digital todo lists or notes just don't work for me.

I used to think this was about the act of writing in itself - that doing it by hand forced me to be more conscious of the information - but writing with e.g. an Apple Pencil on an iPad is just as useless as typing.

I'd really like to figure this out because I love the idea of searchable notes that are available anywhere, any time, and aren't dependent on a dead tree for their longevity, but I haven't found the solution yet. I have a theory that it might be related to the fundamental experience (friction, texture) of a pen and paper, so I'm considering a reMarkable[1] but I'm wary of obsolescence.

1. https://remarkable.com

The single-purposeness and simplicity of non-digital tools is important, I think. Paper doesn't have a web browser hovering behind that icon, waiting to be easily clicked at any moment. Our brain knows that infinite oceans of content and stimuli are lurking there.

As someone with ADHD I can absolutely identify with that. I've tried ebooks in the past but due to distractions tend to come away with very little comprehension of what I've just read. Dead tree books are a lifesaver, I'm able to completely unplug and can consume multiple chapters in a single sitting.

It'd be worth trying out a proper ereader. I picked up a Kobo Libra so I could get back into reading and away from audiobooks a bit. I've read studies that the brain can't tell between the two, but I was halfway through an audiobook recently and realized I had no clue what was going on.

I bought this as my summer project -- basically, 'Steve, let's retrain your brain to focus on long form reading again.'

What I like about an ereader / eink is that its not some flashy screen with a bunch of stuff going on in the background like an iPad or whatever. The screens look great and have an amazing refresh rate these days.

The Libra is a 7" screen, which I figured should be good enough to read PDF'd magazines in landscape -- and I was right [1]! This uses KOReader [2]. While the images themselves aren't the same as a color magazine/screen, it's good enough. For epubs everything is exactly as you'd expect.

With my own ADHD, the initial get-down-to-reading is tough, but I've noticed that it is getting easier with each session. And it is also getting to the point where I am looking forward to reading.

[1] https://i.imgur.com/9hncMyI.jpg

[2] https://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=295612

I still find a huge difference between ereader and physical book myself. I have a Kindle Fire, which I keep constantly in airplane mode and use no apps except Scribd on, but I find myself reading much faster on it, and also remembering much less of what I actually do read. And I can barely read pdfs on my mac, even with airplane mode and other distraction-reducing things turned on. I just don't like the format. I've come to realize I truly do best recall from physical books, and if I want to learn something new, I'll likely buy physical, though I might use pdfs for a while to test quality.

are kindle fires eink? If not, you should check out some eink -- its so much better than an LED/LCD etc screen.

They're not unfortunately, but the Scribd app also doesn't work on the e-ink readers either (Scribd is really the only reason I have a Fire over e-ink). Lately my Fire has been having issues, so I'll likely switch over to e-ink next time I purchase one and give it a shot. But I think it's just something about physically holding a book that helps me retain more from it -- I've found this to be true even when I'm reading the same book on both (taking the Kindle out walking on a windy day, but reading the physical copy at home)

I think a lot of people have the same experience with paper vs a device -- even an e-reader. Even if it's just a placebo, it's still valid.

I had an old Kindle Keyboard (wifi.) I struggled reading off of that thing -- whereas this new Kobo Libra actually looks like paper and is a breeze to read off of, which may also be a placebo. :)

Same here. I’m so much more productive whenever I write down my todos on a simple sheet of paper. I have a very elaborated online todo list. But still, paper works more effectively. I have no clue why and it frustrates me

When you write a note on paper you've made a unique physical object and maybe that fits better into our memories somehow, for example by inhabiting a space that we can recall?

Whereas digital data appears to break the mental physical space rule that a thing exists in a certain place? As for notes on a phone or computer, they've disappeared into another dimension and are harder to think of as being "at hand." We can't really use our spatial memory on digital stuff, I'm guessing.

A Kindle might be better since your current page in your current book opens as soon as you wake it up, more like a physical object and less like something that disappears into and reappears out of a magician's bag.

I find with my Kindle and ebooks in general that I'd really like some minimal but ever-present indication of my place in the book, even a single pixel progress bar, maybe in part because I yearn for some kind of spatial-object relationship with the book.

With pen and paper notes I've got a 3d object that I've altered. Maybe it feels more present in the same way that cash on a table feels more like "real money" than the credit card next to it.

I think part of it is that paper is completely unopinionated: all it’s doing is holding whatever marks you make for later. That means your brain has to do the work of deciding what marks to make and their meaning; the more work your brain does on any given task, the more memories there are for you to latch onto when remembering.

I've also thought about trying out a reMarkable! I'm a little too cash-strapped to justify it these days, but maybe sometime in the future.

I agree with other commenters here that a lot of it could be conditioning, but I've also found, like you, that even handwriting on devices is lacking compared to doing it with pen and paper. My personal theory is that it might have something to do with the ability to reason in a more spatially oriented way when we use pen and paper to write things down.

Agreed. I still remember best when I take notes on paper. (I was a voracious reader as a kid, still read a lot now). I bring notebooks to meetings and write notes. It helps my recall immensely. I've tried so many other todo and note apps it isn't funny. None of them really worked as well as me keeping lists on paper of things to do: A list of what I want to accomplish today, a list of key things I need to do, and a big sparkfile (half on computer, half on paper) of things I want to remember.

Same here on bringing notebooks to meetings. I didn't for a long time, but I picked it back up recently at the urging of a friend, and I've found myself really enjoying it. Doing something with my hands while in meetings really helps me to stay focused, and I've definitely found that I remember better.

That’s mostly because you’ve become conditioned to experience screen reading as mindless content consumption and dumps.

Eh, cry me a river.

To put things in contrast: the Russian Empire, home of many great writers, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Checkhov just to name a few, had a literacy rate of about 24% overall; and at that, less than 13% of women were literate[1].

The truth is, reading has never really been the pastime of the masses, save, possibly, for a brief period in the 20th century.


> Eh, cry me a river.

Such substance.

> To put things in contrast: the Russian Empire, home of many great writers, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Checkhov just to name a few, had a literacy rate of about 24% overall

Like another poster commented, Russia had serfdom until well into the 19th century. Look at central and western Europe, if you want to see a literate society in that time.

Also, what is your point with this? Poor societies had bad literacy levels? Illiterate peasants don't care for books? I struggle to see the point with that observation.

> The truth is, reading has never really been the pastime of the masses, save, possibly, for a brief period in the 20th century.

Not dying of diharrea before the age of 5 has also never been the pasttime of the masses until a hundred years ago. What the hell does that mean? If people start dying of preventable diseases again that we should not worry?? If indices of progress start stagnating, or in this case, regressing, then we must wonder how on earth we are doing so badly.

My point was that great literature doesn't need the involvement of 90% of the population to exist.

If 90% of the people stop reading books "deeply" (and that's assuming they ever did), we still get to have Tolstoys of our day for the people who want to spend their time that way. This is no loss for humanity.

You picked "reading books" as your metric of progress, but that choice needs to be justified. If, instead, you picked "watching programmed television", you could be similarly concerned as more people are cutting cable, but fewer people would take this argument seriously.

Famines and disease were also much more common prior to the late 20th century. If our progress regressed it would still be cause for concern, even if the status quo hasn't lasted so long.

My point was that great works don't need everyone to be a reader to exist.

If we go back to 20% literacy, we still have to likes of Tolstoy.

Arguably famine and disease are bad for those who experience them. Replacing reading books with blogs, games, and video? Not quite so clear.

I argue that nothing is lost at all. The bookworms (to which, I hope, I belong) shouldn't be said if 90% don't participate in their favorite hobby.

> The truth is, reading has never really been the pastime of the masses, save, possibly, for a brief period in the 20th century.

Nor has widespread participation in the political process, yet the benefits of democratic society seem worth preserving/enlarging.

If your argument is that new things are worth keeping, then it applies just as well to reading blogs instead of books. Or watching TV, which seems to be going away. Should we fight for the preservation of the TV culture?

My point was that great literature doesn't need involvement of the masses (unlike democracy).

Russia was literally still a medieval feudal society in much of the 19th century, so not really representative of civilization at the time. 19th century Britain was home to the "penny dreadful" (cheap books often with a horror or romance angle designed to attract the working class reader)


My point is that literature will be just fine without the participation of the 90%.

Penny Dreadful existed because Netflix wasn't there. So it will be gone - again, is this a huge loss to the civilization? I don't think there's a sadness that people aren't reading more literature of the Penny Dreadful kind.

And as I said, it's not a slippery slope: you don't need the 90% for great literature to exist.

Most people will read fewer books. And it's fine.

A thing doesn't need people to be great. It is in itself.

It is the people who need a great thing to inspire/guide them.

To paraphrase you,

Great literature doesn't need the masses, the masses (present and future) need great literature.

Let's not turn to sophisms.

We'll have both plenty of readers and great writers even if most people primarily turn to mediums other than books for entertainment.

Dispute this.

I strongly agree with this quote from the article: "What bibliophiles really fear isn’t the disappearance of books but the elimination of the time and space needed to enjoy them."

I absolutely love reading books but it takes a really conscious effort to carve out time and space in the day to to it. I need quiet and I need my other interruptions to pause.

I own a ton of paper books but I've recently switched to Kindle. I find that having a small and self-illuminating reading device makes me way more able to take advantage of reading time when I find it.

The following assertion interests me greatly:

> She points out how the “physical and temporal thereness of books” provides a tactile support for the reading circuit’s development that e-books do not, while noting e-books nonetheless continue to spread to classrooms and children’s bedrooms.

Why would this be the case?

Is there a measurable difference between dedicated "paper-like" e-book readers like the Kindle vs. e-books on multi-use digital devices like mobile phones, tablets and computers?

I imagine it could have something to do with the physical fixedness of a book. I can remember the positions of the line breaks in some of my favourite books as a child and it wouldn't surprise me if the physical layout of the words on the page (and how far through the book you are) somehow factored into the way the brain stores the memories of reading the book.

With an ebook you have the same little device with exactly the same dimensions for every book (no memorable covers or different formats) and there's no physical indication of how far through the book you are. And you can change the font size.

I think all these points are valid. As someone who spent the first 30 years of my life reading physical books, the transition to e-books has been difficult for a lot of the reasons you mention.

I wish the author was more specific on what "reading circuit development" means.

The frustrating thing about e-book reading devices is how slow they are. Flipping to the table of contents or flipping around the book just doesn't work. Mobile devices, tablets and computers are faster, but the experience still isn't as good a physical book. And then there are distractions.

That's a fair assessment. The brain doesn't store information so much as reproduce your experiences while reading during recall. It lets you relive, in part, the lighting, the angle, how heavy the book was, whether your edition had a defect on a particular page, the feel of the paper, the smell...

All of that comes in to play.

For my last read-through of Children of Dune (roughly a year ago now), I read it on the Kindle app on my phone. I remember the hotel room in Mumbai, the look of the text (white on a black background), the sun going down, and the characters moving through my mind. Would I have developed these recall skills if I hadn't spent my life reading paper books? I'm not so sure.

Just found this presentation online by Maryanne Wolf:


See page 30 for the "reading circuit" diagram.

I think where you are in the book as you read along is another sensory impression that can form stronger memories about the book's contents.

I always have a sense of where to go back to to refresh some old ideas if my memory gets blurry. Knowing how far into the book it was already aids my recollection.

Yes, this 100% resonates with me.

Maybe there is a spatial element, as in a mental mapping that is done based on the location in the book both seen and felt in the hands.

I miss my Palm TX. It managed to be so poor at almost everything it tried to do that uninterrupted reading was the only thing it was really good for.

A pocket device without notifications. Can you even still imagine? I barely can, and it's only been eight years.

I like my kindle for so many reasons, especially the screen which doesn't strain my eyes. But this is by far the biggest benefit over reading on my phone or a tablet.

I'm in the same boat. I wonder how soon e-ink readers will get great response times and then share the same problem as modern tablets compared to the old palm.

The author got pretty much everything in reverse. Books are Lindy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindy_effect

Sunday morning follow-up reading:

Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction


Analog Anchors for the Online Adrift


>In these later letters, Wolf sounds like the kind of alarmist digital enthusiasts often deride. After all, they say, reading is not dying; it’s thriving. Wolf herself quotes a study from the University of California, San Diego, showing that an average user consumes 34 gigabytes of data per day—the equivalent of nearly 100,000 words.

How is that the equivalent of nearly 100,000 words? I appreciate people read a lot of text messages, articles, posts, etc. But they don't read 100,000 words worth of those things on average a day by any means. 34 gigabytes of data is also definitely not 100,000 words, more like 5,100,000,000 words or 17,000,000 pages.

Is it based on some 'a picture is worth 1,000 words' argument?

Reading is not thriving. It's hard to find anyone that actually reads books, even if you count reading on eReaders, even if you count listening to audiobooks! People consume a lot of data because they're watching Netflix, YouTube videos and Instagram (and downloading the same JavaScript over and over again on every website).

The whole article is just bizarre. It conflates so many unrelated things and doesn't seem to have any real thesis. People not reading books doesn't really have anything to do with people using phones except for the indisputable fact anyone here will attest to: going back to reading books after not doing so for a long time is really hard. You find your mind wandering, you find it hard to read linearly one line at a time without skipping around, etc. The kind of reading you do of a blog post is totally different from the kind of reading you do of a novel. That people read pamphlets in the 18th century has nothing at all to do with the decline in people reading books today.

I literally have students coming into tutorials that cannot write. They cannot write down answers on paper. They struggle to write (to write!) because they've been told they can just type and never have to write. It's absolutely bizarre, but that's what they're told by their school teachers, apparently. They also can't sit still and read something without getting out their phones. Students complain that their lecture notes aren't put online and they have to actually attend lectures and take notes themselves even though it's been proven again and again that handwriting notes in lectures is much better for information retention and synthesis of ideas than typing or god-forbid not taking notes at all.

Personally, I'm really unsure whether I would even let kids have access to the internet. I had a lot of great experiences online as a kid (I have very fond memories of RuneScape from ages 9-12), and I learnt computer programming online. At the same time, I think you have to be really careful to limit it. It shouldn't be the primary means of entertainment. Mobile devices are probably the main issue: avoid them and at least you can ration and supervise their access to the internet. It can be a tool for research, homework and learning (and fun and games) without the dangers. The mixed messages ("don't share your personal info online" + "put all your personal info online on Facebook and Instagram") are unhealthy and confusing to kids too, I think.

I also “lol’d” at 34GB being equated to 100,000 words. A sibling poster suggests it was supposed to be 100k books, but I’m skeptical, it sounds to me like just a false correlation (the author saw somewhere that people read as many as 100k words per day and elsewhere that they consume 34GB of data and mistakenly connected those two dots).

Not being able to write is common in Japan. Of course the average adult can write quite a bit but they'll forget how to write various kanji and most people blame it on the fact that they usually they no longer have to write them, they just type the sounds and the computer/smartphone turns it into the correct character.

This is especially funny in a Japanese class where the Chinese students end up correcting the teacher's kanji mistakes. Though, now that computers and smartphones are as common in China as Japan I suspect the same thing will happen in China.

Maybe it's the same thing as forgetting out to spell because we know the device will spell check and correct for us.

> How is that the equivalent of nearly 100,000 words?

It was probably meant to say 100,000 books. That would be 0.34 MB per book which is reasonable. For comparison, the first Harry Potter book as a text file is 0.4 MB.

> Just a few years ago, the Kindle was being blamed for the death of the traditional book. But the latest figures show a dramatic reversal of fortunes, with sales of ebooks plunging. So what’s behind this resurgence?


There's a thriving independent self-published Kindle market which isn't included in the sales of the mainstream publishers. So there is no "dramatic reversal of fortunes."

Also ebooks are so freaking expensive when I can get used copies for pennies on the dollar.

Personally, I too find a future without books depressing. I do not have any scientific data to back me up on "physical books being better than digital ones", it's simply my personal preference. As someone that spends all day on the computer, I cherish the moments I spend doing something like reading a book, or running, or cooking. Something that feels a little more connected with reality.

The effect of a bookless society can already be seen for centuries: suffice to compare development of societies that use them vs those that don’t. There is a clear correlation between GDP and the number of centuries (millennia in Chinese’s case) written medium has been in use.


Google China's "century of humiliation". China was the world's biggest economy until the 1870s. Here's just one chart showing it. This is well known to everyone who has studied economic history.


You could have asked your question with more humility and less abrasion. Just because you don't know about a topic doesn't mean there isn't reams of research about it.

The questioner asked about sophistication, not size of economy.

Chinese technological leadership petered out after the Four Great Inventions ( so around 800AD ) and the economy grew on the back of trade.

The Century of Humiliation took place because China was already well behind the technological edge by that time.

The peak of ancient China’s sophistication might have been during the late 1200s, during the Song Dynasty.

They achieved all kinds of marvelous inventions in this era. And while they didn’t quite achieve the abstract notions of calculus, they did master systems of equations, which is the precursor to linear algebra. And we know today, that linear algebra is the fundamental foundation of computer science.

But, they had a fertile valley in the south, and became the breadbasket of Asia. This was probably what Genghis Khan envied, and why the ancient Chinese spent so much sweat and fortune to build their Great Wall fortifications in the north, to defend themselves.

But alas, Khan succeeded, and decimated the Chinese, and set them back a few hundred years. It took a hundred years, until the Ming Dynasty were able to overthrow them. But the Chinese were never quite the same again. The Ming did build the fabled fleet ships of Zheng He, and traded with Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Then the Ming faded, and were replaced with the Qing Dynasty. And this dynasty was some combination of the Mongols, so the Mongols eventually ruled China again, by decree. So thus, at this point, they had no need for any more Great Wall fortifications. The enemy was now inside the gates.

At this point, the Qing had dominated the local lands, and thus had no further military competition. Until the Europeans and Americans came, and handed their ass to them, and murdered, and drugged, and enslaved them along the way.

Thus, their complacency was the downfall of them.

Of course, the Qing were also incompetent and did stupid things, like empower a woman as their leader, while the world was undergoing massive shifts in power. And she spent their money on rebuilding the gardens, instead of investing in military armature. But, the Europeans were also to blame for this, because they stole all of China’s money through forced reparations. It’s kinda hard to save money, when the thieves are stealing your gold at forced gunpoint.

And the rest is history.

The belief that they already has achieved the best society and thus there was no need to pursue progress. Combine that with a strong emphasis on cultural conservatism and authoritarian rule.

i have heard arguments that porcelain is to blame. Because their porcelain solved many problems that the west used glass for so they never developed much glass and thus were unable to progress on to making lenses or labware so no glasses, telescopes, or microscopes, also no prisms or high quality mirrors. Without these advances you are unable to study much of biology, chemistry, astronomy, optics and medicine.

> his copy survives crisp and clean to this day, with only the first and last pages cut.

Like TAOCP, then, eh?

Timely article for me. I'm getting ready to move, and have been giving books to Goodwill and throwing some away. (I doubt even Goodwill have takers for Access 2 or VB 3 books.)

I really treasure books, but I'm not finding not so much as I did in the past.

>It won’t be long before all living memory of a time before the personal computer is gone.

And there is some evidence that maybe 100 years after that time all living memory of a time with the personal computer will be gone.

Maybe we ought to be printing manuals, documentation, manufacturing methods, etc on Tyvek.

This article is the epitome of "back in the day, everything was better". There are no links to back up claims or credentials, and lots of relative facts without context.

Paraphrasing "rich kids are more literate than poor kids despite both having a lot of screentime" doesn't prove anything about books and literacy.

This is a pure opinion piece with cherry picked facts.

This is really a book review; if you want all the figures and facts, read the book it's reviewing and discussing. Heck, they even tell you they won't be repeating it all there!

"The Claremont Review of Books is the proof that conservatism is a living and civilising force in American intellectual life, and a powerful challenge to the dominance of the academic left."

Oh okay.

Yet for more time stories were essentially oral and the oral tradition of being read to while working, and of reading aloud to one another kept knowledge alive for many people. Oral story telling and reading aloud presumes high literacy when a shared activity

I wonder how books compare to scrolls, or clay tablets.


Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact