Reading Rights: Purity or progress?

Magdalena Waz

(Drawing by Annie Raccuglia)

Soon it will be time to start wrapping things up for good. I’ll have to decide whether we are somehow worse for our lack of desire to interact with art or whether I’m just being stubborn and annoying for constantly changing how I define and place value on art. It just indicates how complicated the question really is and how insufficient my blaming of anyone or anything for the demise of the written word is.

It’s easy to blame television, video games, movies and all entertainment for our short attention spans and lack of time to sit down with a book. But we often forget all of the ways in which the Internet, for example, improves our ability to seek out the art that would be difficult for us to find otherwise. I don’t have to go to the library for a poem. I can probably find it on Google. Purists, of course, suggest that this mediated interaction is not enough. It doesn’t feel like real reading.

So does that mean that we should denigrate it to the same level as doing something like playing Tetris? Does Netflix cheapen your experience of watching “Battlefield Earth?” No. It can’t. The film would be just as stupid if you projected it yourself. The Internet and devices like the Kindle should be thought of more as iPods, storage containers for the things you appreciate and want to keep with you. That makes it sound like technology just wants to flatter literature.

We haven’t noticed it here in Appleton, but Borders stores all over the country are shutting down. Yes, online operations will continue, but the number of places young high schoolers can go to grab a hot chocolate and sit down with a book is dwindling fast. The ability for students to pair hanging out with friends and reading books is disappearing. But we don’t care so much because we already like books, and after we graduate we’ll just read in our own apartments where we’ll want to spend time.

It’s easy to blame Amazon for Borders’ downfall and, by association, technology. After a while, though, it becomes difficult to shy away from the fact that people make Amazon work. People make technology, and if we use it as a weapon against books and reading, well of course we’re going to destroy them.

The idea that one can wield power in a correct way and in an incorrect way is obvious to everyone, but too often we get caught up in particulars. I feel guilty because I own a Kindle and am supporting Amazon and its unsustainably low e-book prices, but I am still reading. Working writers can’t live off of the fact that I read what they write, but my reading certainly makes a case to a publishing company that these writers should publish more books.

Because things appear to be pretty far-gone when giant bookstores shut their doors, we can admit defeat. It’s okay to give up on Borders, but it’s not quite okay yet to give up on new forms of reading and potentially new forms of browsing. A period of upheaval might not necessarily equal doom.

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