The medium is the … squirrel!

A couple of weeks ago, MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the One Laptop per Child initiative, foretold the death of the printed book. Today, he foretells the death of book-reading: “I love the iPad, but my ability to read any long-form narrative has more or less disappeared, as I am constantly tempted to check e-mail, look up words or click through.”

11 thoughts on “The medium is the … squirrel!

  1. Van der Leun

    Negroponte? The MIT Media Lab? I’m surprised those two are still around. They are so 20th century.

  2. Pertti Mäkitalo

    This kind of disability to read is common and it worries me a bit. Whether it is only relic and therefore doesn’t feel comfortable for us “book-reading generation” or it is really sign of lost ability to concentrate and thoroughly process new information. This will be seen.

    I know many who like myself have started to fight against this kind of behaviour. Not letting email to disturb, turning instant messages off etc. to grant one-self some time to think and read.

    But as said, this might just be relic and nothing to worry about. New generations will outpace us in many more ways than only this reading thing :)

  3. David Seid

    You owe it to yourself to investigate MiniBük. It is the answer to nearly every drawback of traditional books, reading and distribution. Ebooks, while they overcome the physical, cost (some) and distribution limitations–do not represent fundamental improvement in content communication. Content remains bloated (bloviated) and unfocused. MiniBük solves this problem with single topic focus plus the reinforcement of physical presence and a printed spine. No longer is a codex as demanding of cost: time (reading & writing) and space (storage, shipping or weight) but retains all traditional benefits of shareability and dissemination.

  4. Raulriera

    Yet your recent posts are very short, afraid your readers will “too long didn’t read” on you? :)

  5. Tom Chandler

    In one sense, doesn’t his statement contradict itself? If people can’t read long-form text in e-formats – and we can assume people still want to read novels, books, etc – then isn’t predicting the death of the object that makes it possible (the printed book) a little premature?

    If the only thing that makes reading a book-length work is the book itself, then there’s a strong motivation for the book to remain in our lives.

    He’s also ignoring the reluctance of some of us to buy ebooks for fear our investment will be neutralized in just a few years by new formats (and obsolescence of existing formats).

    I still own books I bought twenty years ago, and read them from time to time. Will such a thing be possible two decades from now with the Kindle-format books I buy today?

    Five years?

    I’d be surprised.


    Took me a sec to figure out the reference to Up! I don’t typically think in terms of pop culture. But it’s right on point.

    I note that everyone seems to have a crystal ball about where the culture is going and how our minds will adapt except me. Statements are made with such certainty.

    It’s difficult for me to imagine how great a difficulty the inability to read long forms will be. If it’s only narrative, there are many alternatives that may suffice, though probably not with the same depth of detail or nuance. For other, more intellectual tasks, the inability to read without distraction and comprehend large bodies of text seems to me far more problematic. But we’ve already transitioned from being a society of producers to a society of consumers, so on the short term at least, the diminished value of our various forms of production is reflected in our being malnourished by all but a tiny portion of those things we consume.

  7. Tom Panelas

    Somewhere, years ago–maybe it as in Being Digital, or maybe in his Wired column–Negroponte reported that he was dyslexic and confessed that he never much liked reading. So now he predicts that the thing he never liked is going away? How convenient.

  8. Rachel Lee

    …so maybe the iPad isn’t the best format for long-form narrative. In general, this kind of sentiment is getting a bit cliche. If personal anecdotes count as evidence, I spend vast amounts of time online for pleasure, work, and school, and I still love reading. Even books. I can still read for hours at a time. I am still interested in — and can still understand — complex narratives.

    As with all moments of increased access to information, we need to learn how to filter — both as individuals and as a culture. But rather than undermine my interest in or ability to read complex narratives for lengths of time, digital media (and their associated radial reading practices) actually make such behavior more desirable, not less. In a so-called fast-paced media culture, immersive reading performs an important function — a different kind of intellectual experience.

    I still don’t buy the “books are dead” argument, either. Books are extremely efficient machines; they store certain kinds of information really well, and they’ve survived other disruptive technologies in the past, such as film, radio, and television, all of which have demonstrated proficiency at disseminating narratives. Rather than mourn the death of the printed book or bemoan our collective inability to read immersively for lengths of time, set aside a few hours a day and pick up a book.



    So many of your readers/comments are always lamenting something…the death of this, end of that, and how the world’s just not the same anymore. WHY??

    I don’t think anyone wants to go back to writing on papyrus or cranking out printing presses. Societies and cultures change over time. If someone hasn’t figured that out by now, something’s really wrong.

    So if I assume, for a moment, that it’s not a lack of recognition, then it’s a fair assumption that there’s an over romanticized notion of “how things should be.” Again, WHY?? One of the best points in the book (yes, I said book) “Good to Great” is that the companies that became great treated data as data. Information about the company, its products or services was just that — information. But analysis of data requires sound judgment, not romanticism.

    Books will exist. eBooks will exist. There’s reason and markets for both. Just as sales of vinyl records increased shortly after the entry of CD’s, books too have a purpose. Yes, records still exist. Let me say it the geeky way: every mode of use has a beneficial place and time for consumption.

    The relentless feeling of pressing email or text messages is largely among the ‘digital immigrants’ not the ‘natives’ that operate with all senses on. My phones buzz and beep, but depending on my task, I know when and what to focus on. The convenience is “what mode of use best suits the situation I find myself in?” Answering that question take a sound mind free from romanticized constructs or haunts of what could/should be.

  10. Rod

    I think I’m lucky to get this information before I grow older… I never thought the internet had such a huge impact in my cognitive behaviour. Yes it is true, Instant information is a really bad habit… And spending too much time online, might be unhealthy at some point. I don’t read like I did a couple years back. I’m a writer, and one of the main things I didn’t study literature… Was this, nobody is going to read in the future. There is no turning back, twitter alike information won…

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