We live in a funny age – a very entertaining age, to be more exact. It seems fair to say that it’s never been easier to be entertained that it is right now. Most of us are more or less addicted to the constant stream of images, GIFs, videos, Snaps and Vines available at our fingertips. Just take a look at the number of people hunched over their smartphones and tablets around you right now.
So, with all these fancy gadgets and apps – and new ones popping up daily – where do books fit in? After all, these ink stains on a paper still demand a considerably longer attention span than your average viral video. So have books become obsolete?
Far from it, if we know what’s good for us.
True, the way read and enjoy literature might have changed and is in fact constantly evolving. The most obvious example of this is the onslaught of e-books. Suddenly you can read the latest bestsellers as well as ancient greek tragedies from the screen of your mobile devise. But as modern and hip as this might seem, books themselves haven’t really changed. Even if you are reading the Iliad off an iPad, the story and even the format pretty much remains the same. It’s still “just” words on an empty page – or a screen, to be precise – that have the undeniable power to captivate and transport us.
Another key trend when it comes to books in the 21st century is the compulsive serialisation. This goes for anything from Harry Potter to Fifty Shades and beyond. And after the series turns out a success, it is without an exception adapted onto the big screen. But though the cynic in us might write this off as a manifestation of the modern, money-hungry society, this is not the whole truth.
In fact, readers used to pretty much clobber each other over in order to be the first to get their hands on the latest instalment in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick-series. Craving continuity and a thirst for excitement is nothing new. And as for the movies, keep in mind that Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was adapted into a film some 80 years ago, just three years after the book first came out.
But why should you stick with reading in this golden age of social media? I would argue that you should keep reading books precisely because of social media. Even though it is called “social media,” often times it can leave you feeling isolated, as so much focus is put on only what is on the surface: what people’s face, bodies and lives look live on the outside – or how they want their lives to appear. Sadly, the Internet also festers a lot of hate and anger. You only need to scroll through the comments on any given YouTube video to witness this.
In many ways, books are the exact opposite. Books inherently go beneath the surface and their power is also experienced internally by the reader. Besides having the astonishing ability to evoke joy, sadness, goosebumps and beyond, perhaps most importantly, books build bridges between people and give us as a rare glimpse into what it is like to live and exist in this world as another human being. As F. Scott Fitzgerald oh-so-eloquently put it:
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
So don’t let the Vines and hashtags fool you. Books are timeless for one simple reason: what is really contained between those covers is nothing short of magic. And that is something which never gets old.