The way we enjoy books has changed massively over the previous decade – how is this change going to expand in the next?
If there’s one thing that has remained a constant over the messy, chaotic years of human history, it’s our society’s insatiable love of reading. It’s the one thing we all can rely on – to be able to come back to a book after however long a time and find it comfortingly, unequivocally the same. However, the times they are a changin’; how we read and what is written has undergone massive upheaval over the past decade with the rise of paperless technology and developments in societal ideals. If such massive changes can occur so quickly, you may wonder as we leave the previous decade – what will reading look like in the next?
In this article I predict what that could be – although it could be as off the mark as the future speculations of Back to the Future Part II, hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces included. You can only really predict the future as an extension of the present, and right now books are less read in print form than encountered. We listen to them on Audible (unable to deal with being seen with an E.L James paperback in public), we watch the film adaptations, we read the summaries online. Perhaps in the future we will need this more – with the climate crisis in full swing, we might have to rely on paperless, eco-friendly versions of the text itself rather than their classic paperbound counterparts.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Think books being told in weekly podcast episodes like a Dickensian serial, books produced entirely online. We might only be able to print the important classics, meaning novels with glossy covers and that quintessential bookish smell between the pages become a precious rarity. Does online reading mean the potential loss of bookshops and libraries though, those spaces for us readers to come together? Or will something like Twitter (or its future alternative) provide a space for that community instead?
As it is, we already have books published online. Think back to the Wattpad books of your teenage years (if you can bear it). Anyone can publish anything now; much of our culture’s mainstream fiction started out in the dodgy back alleys of online self-publishing. We might have to prepare for more of it, for the focus to shift from pretentious literary publishing houses to the roots of where the work is produced. Some might argue we’re already there, (I’m looking at you Rupi Kaur).
What about ideas for books? Where will they come from? Already it feels as if we’re scraping sequels, prequels, and spin-offs from the grimy bottom of the giant fiction barrel. Will humanity finally end up with no more new ideas? Will we be struggling to write anything without plagiarising ourselves? Will the commuter have an odd sense of deja vu flicking through their copy of Jane Eyre 2: Electric Boogaloo? Will anyone care what they read?
I think they will. Whatever epoch we consider, we see the same things – that books, in themselves, always stay the same. There is usually a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the way we read them, the content of those books, and how we interact with a text, is constantly shifting. In the times we live in now, we rely on the escapism of fiction; a release from the stresses, personal or political, of everyday life. If our social climate continues to heat up, we may need to cherish books more for what they have always been – a steady hand and a wise voice guiding from the past. Perhaps a decade from now we will need them more than ever, in whatever form that may take.
Just maybe not any more Jane Eyre sequels.