LESSON 10. FUTURE OF BOOKS IN THE DIGITAL AGE
1. Look at the book cover. Guess what this book is about.
2. How do digital technologies influence our lives, student learning?
Read the conversation on how we read literature in the digital age between Gaudenz Metzger, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, and Philipp Schweighauser, a literary scholar and Professor of American and General Literature at the University of Basel.
GM (Gaudenz Metzger): In the past decades computers have changed our society. The digital revolution has had a powerful effect on lots of fields, including communication, economics, art and science. The impact of digital technology is visible almost everywhere in our lives: shaping social behaviour and mentality but also practical skills like cooking, driving and reading. Professor Schweighauser, can you tell us about your personal reading strategies? Do you prefer books or digital devices or a mix of both?
Philipp Schweighauser (PS): I still read novels, short stories, poems, and plays in print. The reverse is true for scholarship, which I read in electronic form whenever available. What I appreciate most about e-texts is their ready availability, their ‘searchability’.
GM: It’s often said young people prefer reading electronically. But print hasn’t disappeared. Why does the analogue continue side by side with the digital in the 21st century?
PS: We hold a book in our hands, we feel its size, its weight, and the quality of paper that is used. Books also have a powerful visual quality to them; think of the cover design, think of the title page, think of the typeface that is used. And yes, every book has an individual smell. There are also scientific studies which suggest that we can remember texts we have read in print better that texts read on digital devices.
GM: How has our increasing use of e-book readers and tablets changed the way we read literature?
PS: On the most pragmatic level, digital reading devices enhance mobility and save space. With an e-book reader, you can bring thousands of books along for your vacation. With many an e-book reader, you can also look up words you do not understand or find out more about the history of characters and the places they live in. And if it’s your sort of thing, you can also find out which passages in the book you’re reading other readers have found most interesting.
GM: So far we’ve talked about reading strategies but if you think about things like emojis, the computer is also modifying the way we write. Do you think human language and expression will undergo a fundamental change in the next centuries?
PS: This wouldn’t be surprising since technological inventions have radically impacted human language and expression throughout the history of humankind. Think of the invention of the phonetic alphabet in the 2nd millennium BCE, think of the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century, think of the invention of the telephone, the typewriter and the tape machine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All of these technologies have fundamentally changed the way humans lived their lives, communicated, and perceived their world.
GM: In the future computers may dream and write world literature. Is this a possible scenario for you?
PS: Sure, with the help of machine learning, computers will become ever more adapted at emulating neuronal processes and producing texts that pass the Turing test, but culture–the world of signs and meanings–will remain a predominantly human sphere. Even if computers do one day dream and write halfway decent literary texts, who will analyze those dreams and who will enjoy those texts? Computers?
3. Look through the interview again and guess the meanings of the words in bold. Match the words with their definitions.
4. Which ideas do you share with Professor Philipp Schweighauser?
Write your opinion about the future situation with literacy and books. Record your ideas and send to your teacher.