The death of the book has been predicted for centuries. There were those who thought that the invention of printing heralded the end of civilisation. Cinema, radio and television have all been presented as the murderers of our most treasured cultural icon. The Internet is the latest suspect to hold the smoking gun.
The problem is that this is a murder without a victim. More books are being published than ever before. The mass media of the twentieth century have generated print, not destroyed it. Books derived from movies and broadcasts groan on the shelves of bookshops throughout the world. Newspapers are filled with stories about media people, both in reality and in the soapy world, which they inhabit. Far from killing the book, the media have been one of its saviours.
Computing, and the development of the Internet, may be different. Some books are indeed being replaced by electronic media. Who wants to use a twenty-volume encyclopaedia when information can be retrieved instantaneously from a CD-ROM?
Why should a lawyer spend time (and a client's money) searching through massive tomes, when what is sought can be found in seconds from a database? But no one will lie in bed reading a novel from a CD-ROM. Even with laptops, electronic books are not easily transportable.
This medium, so powerful and so pervasive, has its limits just like any other. It is, of course, the greatest revolution in communications since the invention of printing and arguably comparable in its impact with the invention of writing itself. The marriage of computing and telecommunications has finally broken the tyrannies of time and distance to which we have been subjected since the dawn of time. But reading — and the books, magazines and newspapers that we read — still have a part to play. They will continue to instruct, amuse, influence and infuriate for decades and centuries to come.
(from Sure, abridged)