The bell tolls for print media

By Tina Shaygan

If you have taken the train or any sort of public transit recently, chances are you have seen people on their iPads and Kindles reading. In comparison, the number of people actually carrying a paper book or newspaper is steadily decreasing. Print media, which includes books, newspapers and magazines, faces elimination as information becomes increasingly digitized and overall interest in reading declines.

E-readers are highly portable and can carry an entire collection of novels, textbooks and presentations condensed into thin, lightweight electronic devices. Some of these devices integrate other forms of media, such as television, music and gaming that make them appealing as all-in-one platforms. This makes ebooks a more convenient option than print books, since their reader only need carry one item that integrates ebooks, movies, audiobooks and other mediums. Unfortunately, this advantage has the downside of tempting people into turning to more accessible media formats, such as visual and auditory sources to save time for a news or entertainment fix.

The availability of ebooks is not the only factor in the elimination of print media. Many people no longer have the attention span or the time to sit down and read at all. This is proven through many surveys, such as a 2013 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study of 160,000 adults which found that reading rates and comprehension from 1994–2012 have been steadily declining. Physical newspapers and magazines, which tend to feature longer articles, are less appealing when the blurbs provided by Google, Yahoo, or news clips from stations such as CBS can provide coverage to satisfy a fleeting curiosity on current events, if there is any.

Adaptations of classic novels such as this summer’s Great Gatsby could revitalize some interest in the novel, but reading long pages that require focus does not produce the same instantaneous gratification that two hours of shiny lights and heart pumping music delivers in a film. The trend of converting famous books into Hollywood cinema is not genuine interest in the original work, but a reflection that many members of our society have become too lazy and distracted to bother with reading, despite their desire to feel cultured and educated.

There are obvious benefits to reading, such as improved communication skills and a greater understanding of the world around you. Children who read for pleasure in elementary and high school tend to experience greater professional success later in life. Literacy overall is a huge issue in North America. 42 per cent of Canadians have insufficient reading levels, according to the International Survey of Reading skills. This is unacceptable given the level of development Canada and the United States otherwise enjoy.

Ebooks and e-readers have both environmental advantages and disadvantages compared to paper books. The lack of paper in electronic devices prevents the destruction of trees. The paper industry produces hundreds of millions of tons of toxic waste per year, much of which is released into water. North America alone currently produces 500 million tons of paper per year.

However, in a consumer economy, production focuses on the cheapest and most convenient product for the consumer. The popularity of tablets, smartphones and e-readers are grounded in a desire to stay up to date with their latest versions, both as status symbols and for convenience’s sake. Books, however, maintain their value as they get older. Companies like Samsung release new e-media technology every few months. How often do you upgrade the paperback version of your favourite books?

Bizarrely, cutting down trees is in some ways more sustainable than producing tablets, as paper books have a longer market value and spilling coffee on them does not necessarily demand a new purchase. Sure, an e-reader is capable of storing thousands of books, but if you consistently buy a new reader you create garbage, consume resources like plastics and earth metals, and drive enterprises like the Apple factories in industrial China which host inhuman working conditions. On the upside, recycling programs for electronics readers have begun to take form and there are improving methods of donating old readers to children in developing nations.

Print media faces elimination. Shortened attention spans, a general disinterest in complexity and an array of electronic alternatives are to blame. There will always be people who find value and entertainment in snuggling up with a cup of tea and a good book but if print media goes the way of the vinyl record and becomes a niche market, you can always hug your iPad in bed too. It’ll keep you warmer anyways.

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