I read something scary recently. And no, it was not a horror story. I work in publishing and we have to keep abreast of developments, so I’ve had a glimpse of the future. Publishers are now starting to look toward the time when information will no longer be conveyed by the written word. A picture’s worth a thousand of them, after all. This new future will convey information by video, or whatever the replacement of video will be. Perhaps some are looking forward to the Matrix direct downloading model. Perhaps the computer will be able to simulate the pleasures of reading a book, of browsing in a bookstore, of writing with pen on paper. Something about the process and discipline of reading has made us what we are.
Star Wars, as others have noted, is set in a world with no paper. You won’t find a scrap blowing in the wind, even on Tatooine. Nobody is shown reading. Plenty of action, but no wizard behind his big book of spells, no princess writing down her inmost thoughts. Make a recording and plug it into your R2-unit. Perhaps this is heresy, but compare this to Star Trek. The episode “Court Martial” has Cogley (Elisha Cook, before he applied to become Rosemary’s landlord) saying to Kirk, “Books, young man, books. Thousands of them. If time wasn’t so important, I’d show you something. My library. Thousands of books.” We always thought even the future would have plenty of reading material. Now we’re being told the technology is passé.
The constant emphasis on “data-driven analysis”—mostly in an effort to get more money—seems to mistake the downloading of knowledge for the pleasure of reading. They’re not the same. I love movies, as any regular reader will know. Perhaps ironically, I write books about them. The thing is, I watch them largely to write about them. Knowledge downloading is getting the cart before the horse. I’ve read even nonfiction books wrapped in awe. An author’s way with words, the phrasing, the craft, the artistry. These are pleasures. Sure, images can show an interpretation but there are those of us who will always want to read the book before we see the movie. Can you get the actors’ faces out of your head if you do it the other way around? There are those who celebrate this sterile future. And there are those of us who won’t even go there if we don’t have a book in hand to read, just in case.