Will people still read in the future?

This question and debate was motivated by my comments on the recent blog post The Future of Reading by Phil Simon.

In the following OCDQ Video, I share some of my perspectives on the future of reading, specifically covering three key points:

  1. Books vs. e-Books
  2. Print Media vs. Social Media
  3. Reading vs. Multimedia

  If you are having trouble viewing this video, then you can watch it on Vimeo by clicking on this link: OCDQ Video


A Very Brief History of Human Communication

Long before written language evolved, humans communicated using hand and facial gestures, monosyllabic and polysyllabic grunting, as well as crude drawings and other symbols, all in an attempt to share our thoughts and feelings with each other.

First, improved spoken language increased our ability to communicate by using words as verbal symbols for emotions and ideas.  Listening to stories, and retelling them to others, became the predominant means of education and “recording” our history.

Improved symbolism via more elaborate drawings, sculptures, and other physical and lyrical works of artistic expression, greatly enhanced our ability to not only communicate, but also leave a lasting legacy beyond the limits of our individual lives.

Later, written language would provide a quantum leap in human evolution.  Writing (and reading) greatly improved our ability to communicate, educate, record our history, and thereby pass on our knowledge and wisdom to future generations.


The Times They Are a-Changin’

The pervasiveness of the Internet and the rapid proliferation of powerful mobile technology is transforming the very nature of human communication—some purists might even argue it is regressing human communication.

I believe there is already a declining interest in reading throughout society in general, and more specifically, a marked decline across current generation gaps, which will become even more dramatic in the coming decades.


Books vs. e-Books

People are reading fewer books—and fewer people are reading books.  The highly polarized “book versus e-book debate” is really only a debate within the shrinking segment of the population that still reads books. 

So, yes, between us book lovers, some of us will not exchange our personal tactile relationship with printed books for an e-book reader made of the finest plastic, glass, and metal, and equipped with all the bells and whistles of the latest technology. 

However, e-book readers simply aren't going to make non-book readers want to read books.  I am truly sorry Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but the truth is—the Kindle and Nook are not going to making reading books cool—they will simply provide an alternative for people who already enjoy reading books, and mostly for those who also love having the latest techno-gadgets.


Print Media vs. Social Media

We continue to see print media (newspapers, magazines, and books) either offering electronic alternatives, or transitioning into online publications—or in some cases, simply going out of business.

I believe the primary reason for this media transition is our increasing interest in exchanging what has traditionally been only a broadcast medium (print media) for a conversation medium (social media).

Social media can engage us in conversation and enable communication between content creators and their consumers.

We are constantly communicating with other people via phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and status updates on Twitter and Facebook.  We are also sharing more of our lives visually through the photos we post on Flickr and the videos we post on YouTube.  More and more, we are creating—and not just consuming—content that we want to share with others.

We are also gaining more control over how we filter communication.  Google real-time searches and e-mail alerts, RSS readers, and hashtagged Twitter streams—these are just a few examples of the many tools currently allowing us to customize and personalize the content we create and consume.

We are becoming an increasingly digital society, and through social media, we are living more and more of both our personal and professional lives online, blurring—if not eliminating—the distinction between the two.


Reading vs. Multimedia

I believe the future of human communication will be a return to the more direct social interactions that existed before the evolution of written language.  I am not predicting a return to polysyllabic grunting and interpretive dance. 

Instead, I believe we will rely less and less on reading and writing, and more and more on watching, listening, and speaking.

The future of human communication may become short digital bursts of multimedia experiences, seamlessly blending an economy of words with audio and video elements.  Eventually, even digitally written words may themselves disappear—and we will communicate via interactive digital video and audio—and the very notion of “literacy” may become meaningless.

But fear not—I don't predict this will happen until the end of the century—and I am probably completely wrong anyway.


Please Share Your Thoughts

Do you read a lot of books?  If so, have you purchased an e-book reader (e.g., Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook) or are you planning to in the near-future?  If you have an e-book reader, how would you compare it to reading a printed book?

Do you read newspapers and/or magazines?  If so, are you reading them in print or online? 

How often do you read blogs and other publications that are only available as online content?

How often do you listen to podcasts or watch video blogs or other online videos (excluding television and movies)?

What is the future of reading?