Saturday, November 29, 2008

People of the Book or People of the Screen?

Today I read where a friend listed Gutenberg as one of the 5 things he loves. Yet there are many who are predicting the death of books as more and more of us look to the Internet and devices such as Amazon's Kindle for our reading enjoyment and as we spend more and more time doing so. The potential death of reading as we know it is the subject of a very interesting and compelling article by Christine Rosen:People of the Screen (And the irony of the fact that I both found and read this article online is not lost on me!)

I live in a house and work in an office full of books. I love the feel of books in my hands. I love buying books. I remember reading a book on speed cleaning and how the author recommended getting rid of books because they were dust traps and I thought he doesn't get it!

I grew up around books. In the stacks in my house are books that belonged to my Pop. Not only do they have meaning because they were his (and he died when I was four) but because when I was young and visiting my Nanny I would read them. Without his book recommendations from beyond the grave (by virtue of his bookshelf), I might never have read Tennessee Williams plays, histories of Dallas, and Robert Frost.

I remember the joy of taking my children in my lap and reading to them (even when they demanded the same book over and over). When I was nursing my babies, I had books and magazines with "nursing length" articles and chapters to read as I held my children. I read to them from books from the time they were infants. In fact, I remember a pastor sort of laughing at me when I announced that we were reading the Chronicles of Narnia to our six-month-old.

I find the Internet to be a useful resource. I use it often for sermon preparation, for learning more about the background of a book or movie, or to simply learn more about our world and culture. I don't think that screen reading is bad.

But I do wonder if we are risking losing something beautiful, if we allow electronic devices to take the place of books. Just as we've lost some of the beauty of our oral culture to TV and radio, will we lose the beauty of the long novel, the intense exploration of a theology or philosophy book for the short, pithy blog? Will we miss the joy of taking our children in our arms and visiting another world with them? And will our children lack the ability to imagine, to concentrate, and to persevere because they have not been given the gift of books?

And for those of us who claim to be a people of The Book. Would it make any difference if we read our scripture on-line? What if I brought my palm or my Kindle into worship, would it mean less if I lifted my electronic devise up to the sky instead of lifting my Bible as I declare "The word of God for the people of God!"?

I'm sure someone screamed that Gutenberg's press would change everything for the worse as scrolls that could only be read by a few were replaced with books that could be shared with others. It definitely changed the church and how we understand the reading of scriptures! So am I simply responding with a knee jerk conservatism to change? Or are we really facing the loss of something good and valuable?


Shane said...

I'm sure at some emerging church somewhere they are lifting up a palm proclaiming the word of God. That will probably take some getting used to.

Marty said...

My Bible is littered with notes and underlining and highlights. I'm not sure how you do that with an electronic device. And it is interesting to go back and read what I thought a while ago; does the reading still affect me the same way? Or, have I evolved and have a new thought that may change the reading for me?

I love the tactile feel of a book between my hands, turning the pages to follow the authors imagination and thought processes. Sometimes, I feel I've lost a good friend at the completion of a book.

I would probably enjoy an electronic reader for the lighter stuff I read; but the good stuff, the deep stuff requires a pen and the ability to return to it again and again until the pages are worn and well loved. Thanks for reminding me of the graces of a good book!