Consider all the futuristic movies you have seen. Common elements feature in most of them, such as air-borne cars, robots and voice-controlled technological gadgets. Have you ever seen a book being read in any of these movies? Not likely. Could this be a foretelling of what will eventually happen to reading and interest in literature?

In 2010, The Guardian reported that British independent bookstores were closing at a rate of two stores a week – and this from a country with one of the largest reading cultures in the world. Liam Borgstrom, an assistant lecturer in publishing at UP, says, “That’s more because of competition with online retailers than anything else. So while we are doing many more things via technology at the moment, one of the big things is buying literature. People hear about a title via the media and, rather than buying it in a store, they order it.”

Perdeby surveyed 80 Tuks students who have tablets and found the following: excluding their use in lectures, only 31 of these students consider reading on their tablets as one of its primary functions. The other 49 listed social networking, gaming, music and videos as the activities they most use their tablets for.

Thando Msutwana, a second-year electrical engineering student, says, “I don’t read e-books on my tablet. I play games on it or use it for social networking. It also looks cool to be seen with it in hand.” As with most things people possess, the image the object helps portray is important. Holding a book in your hand seems to say something quite different to holding a tablet in your hand.

Borgstrom says, “I don’t agree that technology has overtaken an interest in literature. Those people who would rather spend all day with their gadgets, reading Facebook, taking photographs of food and pursed lips, would not be readers anyway.”

Many reading apps have been developed for the gadgets we use, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that people are concerned with taking advantage of these apps. There is little you can do with a traditional book other than read it but tablets and other devices offer a wealth of other activities. On the other hand, e-readers should also be considered. These devices were almost exclusively dedicated to reading but have now evolved to include a range of entertainment or media uses.

On the technological-interest site Webgranth.com Steven Bowen, a webpage developer, says that the websites containing technology news show that product reviews are highly in demand because the public wants to be kept updated on the latest technological advancements. “These days, with the increasing advancement in technology, the public interest for electronic gadgets [is] also rising day by day,” Bowen said.

With technological devices infiltrating almost every field of work nobody wants to be left behind. It may no longer be about print versus technology but about how to converge the two. An article on bigthink.com, “Young people still read books, both online and in print” says, “For many young people, e-books supplemented, rather than replaced, print books.” This may confirm that people who read e-books are people who have already established a love for reading.

An article on ThePremierTutors.org, “Do electronic gadgets help or harm your education?”, mentions that, “In a survey of 1 200 e-reader owners, Amazon reported that the owners’ purchases of non e-books increased by 3.3 times.” The convergence of technological devices and literature could thus be seen as mutually beneficial. Last year, CNET.com reported that the people who are “most likely to read an e-book included people with college or graduate degrees”. This correlates with the exposure factor of having been in a learning environment that naturally promotes reading and the use of technological devices.

However, reading is often something you grow up with and not a habit easily picked up in the middle of a person’s life. Lefa Sithole, a third-year mechanical engineering student, confirms this by saying, “Technological devices are more entertaining than reading. Most people will enjoy a [technological] device to play with, whereas reading requires a more specific type of person.”

Our generation has grown up with technology rather than reading as a prominent factor in our lives. The 2006 movie Idiocracy takes a satirical look at a future society where people have become stupid as a result of commercialism and a lack of intellectual stimulation.UrbanDictionary.com goes on to describe the term “idiocracy” as a situation where “citizens have forgotten every form of good education”. Borgstrom believes that “In the future, books will likely be as popular as they are now. [They will be] revealed for their old-school charm and reading will still be considered one of the greatest mental challenges available to us. When skinny jeans and big glasses go out of fashion, hipsters will be identified by carrying books.”

Photo: Hendro van der Merwe

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