iPad will be a much bigger boost for audio and video than reading
When it comes to the iPad no unproven claim is so wild that it doesn’t deserve to be written about. We have already heard that the device will save the newspaper, magazine and book publishing industries, change how everyone uses a computer and make people into better journalists. What's next, curing cancer and paying off the national debt?
Actually nothing quite that extreme, just changing human nature because “iPad Owners Will Read More, and Faster.”
According to Chris Dannen at BNET,
- “It will happen because, for the first time in 600 years, reading will have finally gotten easier.”
- People will have more choices in what to read
- The iPad allows publishers to make magazines more attractive via the use of video
- “Constant reading will become more feasible...”
First: Reading will not have gotten easier. Reading is the same whether on a page, a rock or a video display panel. Reading is one of the most revolutionary developments in human history and, of all the ways we acquire information, the least intuitive. As Maryanne Wolf points out in her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, reading – unlike watching or listening – doesn’t come naturally to humans. It has to be learned anew by every person.
Second: The lack of choice has nothing to do with the fact that we read so little. If you doubt that take a walk around a library or bookstore. The amount read by a person was much higher before the advent of radio and TV because there was no other way to get information. Once people had alternatives to reading they took them. The idea that the availability of a greater amount of unscreened and unedited text will entice people to read is bizarre. It is incredibly difficult to produce good, clear prose. Even the most experienced writers need help doing it. Sampling a dozen or so blogs quickly disabuses anyone of the notion that easy access to a printing press has provided the world with better reading material. As H.L. Mencken put it: “Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.”
Third: Dannen illustrates this point with a wonderful video that animates the introduction to each article. The animation undercuts the point he is trying to make perfectly. After seeing such super cool visual who would possibly want to then go to the static printed word? I certainly didn’t and I am a hyperactive reader. Consider this: “The New York Times is now producing 100 videos a month.”
Fourth: It’s the desirability, not feasibility, of reading that’s the issue. All these changes will no doubt make reading a lot easier for those of us who are already devoted readers – and that, I suspect, was Dannen’s problem when he wrote this piece. He is a writer and doubtless also a reader. He assumes that there are technical reasons most people don’t read. And we don’t.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2008 the number of US citizens who read fiction has increased to 50.2% of the population. Before you jump for joy keep in mind the study measured how many people over 18 who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months. “The data did not differentiate between those who read several books a month and those who read only one poem. Nor did the surveys distinguish between those who read the complete works of Proust or Dickens and those who read one Nora Roberts novel or a single piece of fan fiction on the Internet.”
We are not a nation of readers, we are a nation of viewers and listeners. And that is what will make the iPad a success.