It’s 2039, and Your Beloved Books Are Dead

On the 600th anniversary of the Gutenberg press, we can still celebrate how stories are shared.

Comments: 194

  1. The dead of the book always has being around the corner for some decades but no technology has surpassed the advantage of readability on physical print. On other hand technologies like Internet and electronic devices have create new ways where stories can be mixed with different multimedia formats. RPG and virtual novels have blend old folks stories with complex NP dialogs to keep the utterance in virtual adventures. But it does not mean the book has died there it just got more friends.

  2. A “ book” is simply a recorded story or article using print. At 69 I have basically converted to nook books electronic versions, NYT internet, Apple news. These are still books, novels, magazines and newspapers in that you can absorb them quickly or slowly. Ie read. Probably 5 times faster than listening to the news or book tapes. Bottom line it’s not that different, I pick up my I pad and open the book newspaper or magazine. The real issue is reading ability. Even the NYTimes has gone to fancy videos and pictures. That is the question READING

  3. Story is everywhere. The success of Netflix and HBO series, many of which derive from novels, demonstrates that narrative fiction is far from dead. As a writer, one can now read the original novel, and then watch its reinvention for weeks at a time on cable. I think of this much like the retelling of Greek myths. One can analyze character changes, setting and dialogue. It is tremendous fun. Shows like Euphoria and The Watchman are a cultural breath of fresh air. Without the Watchman, most Americans would not even know about the Tulsa race riots. Game of Thrones— based on Martin’s novels—captivated America. The whole country was talking about its final season—and the fate of its controversially handled, but undeniably powerful female heroines. Reading on kindle allows one to sample a book before buying and keep a vast library with far less burden than physical books. My husband and I own thousands of physical titles. Despite hiring a librarian, we cannot always find them—my husband often repurchases books. So now, we purchase only the most special books in physical print. Story and books are not yet dead!

  4. Beautifully and creatively put Ms. Harrow. Cheers :)

  5. Due to vision and other health stuff, I listen to audiobooks. Everything from Rome to the Jack Reacher series. David Attenborough narrates a recent book as well, so I'm back into books by listening.

  6. I am in my early 60s. Having lovingly assembled a library of thousands of books over my life, many signed first editions, I now wonder about their fate. Visiting estate sales recently has underscored for me how one person's treasures are another's burden, or worse, unappreciated 'stuff' to be discarded as expeditiously as possible. Articles such as this make me think I need to deacquisition many of my books as possible before I reach my 70s, while there are still enough book lovers around to appreciate them. I never thought this would happen.

  7. @Bergen Citizen Unfortunately, you've correctly assessed your situation. Where I live, there are only a handful of bookstores that still purchase used books but these only offer store credit. I've begun to reduce the number of books in my own collection and the method I've arrived at is simply donating them to the local Friends of the Library.

  8. @Bergen Citizen I have been donating my books to friends, family, and organizations for the past few years. Like you, I had assembled a large personal library, but realized that my books would probably be a logistical burden rather than a cherished inheritance to those who settle my estate after my passing. I have spent a wonderful lifetime reading great books but am at an age when it is time to pass them on rather than leaving the task to someone else who may not care about the books as much as I did.

  9. @Bergen Citizen You're more generous than I am. I will hang on to my books, if to nothing else, until the bitter end. I've carted most of them around from pillar to post for almost 60 years and can't imagine being without them.

  10. The internet is ubiquitous but is not edited. Without an editorial component, there is no filter. This can be positive in repressive situations, but can cloud the reader with too much information of unknown etiology. Publications, either in news form or books have editors that we have come to trust which is important in society. Saying that, I admit to preferring the physical book and magazines as well whereas I get my news (from trusted sources) online now.

  11. Books are also beautiful and are an art form

  12. @Alexis Adler, It is the first art form that catches this reader's eye when visiting a house, and a glance at the titled books helps to give a better perspective of what is of interest and meaning to one's host.

  13. Gov. Jay Inslee said that everything comes back to climate change. So, too, with reading a book. Millions will be on the move twenty years from now, their only worldly belongings stuffed into a back-pack. No room for books there! Will there be libraries at homeless shelters? Sure. The stacks of the low-land libraries, say Florida and Texas, will grace the walls of the auditoriums where the homeless will be served. In the volunteer kitchens will be endless tomes on the "Joy of Cooking". But there will be no new books. In the future it will be illegal to cut down a tree and release its stored carbon. Besides, great forests will be unable to run. Too hot? Too cold? Too dry? Too wet? It's tough on tress when they have to gather up their roots and move elsewhere. It is predicted that many huge cities, worldwide, will be under water in 25, 50, 100 years. All of those libraries will be under water. How will those books be dispersed? Will they be dispersed? Can books survive the coming climate collapse? I don't know. I do know that "Powell's", one of the country's largest bookstores, is at an elevation of about 20 feet. And, I do suspect that the 1%ers are building mansions in Colorado. No one will ever read their libraries, not even themselves, but at least the books will be high and dry for the next 600 years. Thank you, Gutenberg. You were the greatest asset of my life. Will there be books in the future?

  14. @rosa — if "In the future it will be illegal to cut down a tree and release its stored carbon," books will not be the only product we'll miss. What will we do for toilet paper? Only cheap paper (newsprint) is made with wood pulp. Better papers can be made with cotton, hemp, mulberry and other non-tree fibers. But yes, your concerns are real and warranted.

  15. @rosa The climate won't collapse. It'll be as organized as ever, and completely systematic. We, on the other hand, not so much.

  16. @rosa — i’ve got books in my library over a hundred years old that weren’t printed on wood-based paper! When the last solar cell finally breaks and the battery runs out of juice as the apocalypse rolls over the nation, my normal hemp-based paper book will be in my back pack because what good were the electronic devices in 2036 anyway after the “syndicate” had all history changed and wikipedia became the word of g-d?

  17. What a story of change and hope! Being a practitioner of scenario planning for imagining different futures and preparing for them with appropriate strategies, I love this scenario about the future of stories even beyond printed books. What a compelling story. I am curious to see how we will get there. Whichever way, imaginative stories will continue forever, eventually with very different media.

  18. "Books May Be Dead in 2039, but Stories Live On." Why start with that premise which is looking increasingly unlikely? Fair comparisons of total cost indicate that a physical book is often less expensive than an electronic one and does less damage to the environment and climate. Yep, American towns and cities are certainly losing their bookstores. That loss is partly due to the monopoly power of Amazon. Go somewhere else and visit a bookstore. Bookstores elsewhere are busy until late in the evening. Germany, for instance. The new need not be the enemy of the old. Books will find their own balance. By the way, Gutenberg did good but it's probably time to share the credit. The Koreans and probably the Chinese before them were already printing with moveable type in the 8th century.

  19. Yes, maybe this is the virtual age of story-telling. A good tale, a well-written journalistic piece, an informative biography do not lose their force or power if related digitally. And classics are made, Pulitzer's are won because of what is said, how, and why. But I will tell you a story of the present, not the future. It is not fiction but real and happening in the present time. One of my most enjoyable experiences is regularly visiting our locally-owned book store. It is buzzing with people of all ages and from all walks of life. We can sit there drinking our coffee or tea and eating our pastry while interacting with strangers as well as friends and acquaintances. And I would posit that most of us like the feel of a book, turning pages which are now environmentally friendly and recyclable. I look at my home library and not only cherish but also reread those awesome books from Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath to Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude to Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. So, that is my story. And yes I read my NY Times digitally and will continue to do so. To be honest, however, I like to read those wonderful comments from my peers, to learn and to maintain some kind of a social a book store.

  20. I’ve been most surprised by how the format used to tell a story changes the story’s form. When news outlets were first transitioning from print to digital, I expected that I would get the exact same news stories—the same depth, detail, and length—and the only difference would be that I would look at the story on a computer instead of on a sheet of paper. Boy, was I surprised! Digitalization was not merely a new container for the same words. Instead, digitalization completely changed the style, structure, and shape of the story. That is what I miss the most about paper. Digital stories are different. Shorter. Shallower. Designed more to manipulate than to magnify human experience. If someone creates 3-D experiential story-telling, will people lose the ability to separate their physical reality from the outer reality imposed upon them by the story?

  21. @Heather "Digital stories are different. Shorter. Shallower. Designed more to manipulate than to magnify human experience." If I read a book on my tablet it's the exact same story, in the exact same words, in the exact same order, and the exact same length as in the hard copy, you know. Newspapers vs. online news is something different, but let's not confuse the two.

  22. I'm no more likely to read a book for the story than I am to look at a Caravaggio to see what the Apostles looked like. I read them for the prose.

  23. @Jack Daw Yes indeed! The idea that form and content are separable in the case of prose is ridiculous! Imagine Virginia Woolf's "stories" without her way!

  24. @Jack Daw I think the man who said "Madame Bovary, c'est moi," an author notorious for his struggle to get the prose exact, would be dismayed to hear that. As would Tolstoy, Eliot, Dostoevsky, Dickens ...

  25. @Jack Daw - Great comment. " I read for the prose". The NYT article is very well written but it left out this aspect - some of us just love the way a good author can turn a phrase. To say nothing of poetry... Emily Dickinson's terse poems can never be made into a virtual "experience". They get into another part of our brains.

  26. Harrow's piece suggests that the end of the "book" era has happened because a new form of story-telling has become popular and taken the books place. That's not true. The end of the book is a result of economic forces and technological change. It's not VR that's replacing story delivery, it's Amazonian-capitalism.

  27. Serious reading (books, essays, hard news) improves human intelligence, increases empathy, expands the imagination, stimulates and exercises the brain, improves communication and attention skills and elevates the mind. TV, movies, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and video screen drivel rarely accomplish that. The increase of serious reading the last 600 years was a boon for the human IQ. Now, with the decline of serious reading in deference to TV and internet 'sugar high' junk food reading, the human IQ and critical thinking skills may be in actual decline. This is an awful development. We need forced reading camps is we expect the human IQ to remain healthy.

  28. @Socrates I was with you until the forced reading camps.

  29. @Socrates Agreed. Critical thinking skills are in decline and the fact that Trump is President proves it.

  30. Serious reading requires EFFORT. It requires practice. Serious reading is challenging. It must be shared with others. Intellectual history lies in the balance. We have a lot to lose. Or is it already gone?

  31. The end of the printed book is near or in fact has arrived. I like to read five or six books on my computer, shifting from one to the other on my 50 inch screen. But this fictional narrative, excellent by the way, suggests the texts themselves, paper or electronic will be replaced by neural implants that create virtual realities where books are "experienced" rather than just read. No doubt about it, sometime in this century virtual reality and the killer app, a neural implant will transmogrify the human brain turning everyone into cyborgs with what should approximate native superintelligence. So everyone will be able to converse in any number of languages, understand string theory and post doctoral level literary theory. Everyone will have instantaneous access to all the information stored in the public domain. Being human will be something else entirely and mere books will be from a distant age. I believe it. It is going to happen

  32. @Yankelnevich — I thank god I am too old to live to see that, if it happens.

  33. Virtual reality and its fictions and non-fictions will one day supersede books, films; humanity by technological and narrative advancement, sophistication, will devise a multitude of immersive experiences and society will leap forward? I find this difficult to believe. It's not so much the capacity for technological and narrative advancement I doubt, the imagination of humanity, but its tremendous fear and suspicion of the imagination, both dreams and nightmares, and its evident distrust of the difficult and actual lines of development both in evolutionary and historical-cultural sense the human race has taken, all we have left behind in the name of progress. For all of human progress, books, internet, art, film, social media, etc. the emphasis appears to be on the creation of a sterile, predictable, safe socio-political environment, this the official non-fiction reality, and if dreams and nightmares are to intrude, the various fictions, they must be strictly policed to preserve the stability of society. And this is obvious when we reflect on the grim politics of the day, to "overcome humanity's problems", and all the grappling with the fake news, deceptions, propaganda, narrow agendas, gossip, rumor, and conspiracy theory on the internet. There is a profound suspicion of the range of capacity of human dreams and nightmares, not to mention the effect of such on reality. Really, a greater choice in dreams, nightmares, realities that we can have awaits us?

  34. Recently I re-read a little-known book that had thrilled me at the age of twelve or so: "Mists of Dawn" by Chad Oliver, the story of a teenage boy who goes back to the Ice Age in his uncle's time-space machine, makes friends with a Cro-Magnon family, fights Neanderthals alongside a Cro-Magnon friend of his own age and with the help of a loyal wolf-dog--and suddenly, I was twelve again, living that adventure of the imagination. Sure, it's a corny book, a book for boys, and its anthropology is outdated: the Neanderthals are monstrous "half-men," and the very term Cro-Magnon is now passé. Still, that printed-word adventure played itself as vividly in my mind as if I were seeing it on Netflix. Since most of my reading nowadays is online and for professional purposes, it was the first book I had read merely for pleasure in many years. But . . .what magic! What a theater of the mind! That kind of experience will never be duplicated by any other form of technology. For make no mistake: books are themselves "experiential" in a way that no other "experience" is. Anything else that comes along will be different, sure--but not better, just different, just as hearing Homer recited by bards, as he was in pre-literate Greece, was, we may be sure, just as magical for that audience as reading Homer in a book can be for us-- different, yes, and maybe--who knows?--even more thrilling for them than even the best of books can be for us.

  35. The scenario seems extremely unlikely and, should it come to pass, highly undesirable. One. Books tell stories, yes, but many kinds of books offer much more: they analyze the stories people tell. How can a virtual "experience" do that? Books of philosophy, history, criticism and literary art tell complex stories but also require the reader to engage in thinking - how is a virtual experience that inundates one in sensory input going to activate the critical faculties? And without an informed citizenry with the ability to question authority how are we going to sustain democracy? (see any day's news stories). Two. I am fascinated with what will happen when virtual reality meets the physical realities of the climate emergency? I suspect that virtual reality will disappear as everyone struggles for survival in the real world.

  36. To all and sundry: reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Sincerely, The Printed Word

  37. @dej1939 Anyone remember Burgess Meridith in the Twilight Zone where he only wanted to read. Then a bomb destroyed everything and he had time, no disruptions, etc. As he sat down to read, he broke his glasses. Even as a child, I could so identify with that.

  38. @dej1939 The sales of e-books peaked about 10 years ago and have been flat ever since. Meanwhile independent book shops are flourishing, and even on Amazon most secondhand printed books are far cheaper than the kindle version, which AFAIC only a zombie would prefer over the real thing.

  39. @dej1939 A newspaper (yes, newspaper) story from 2050: The Verse ended its bankruptcy reorganization yesterday, emerging a shell of its former self. "It's part of the backlash against the internet, a hunger for life that isn't connected to a network that governments and corporations can monitor," said Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books. Only 25 years ago, it was common to see subway passengers and coffee shop customers staring at screens; since the eye cancer scare of 2040, everyone carries around the latest New Yorker, Atlantic, or Paris Review (and oh yeah, the New York Times). The papers and magazines are of course later dumped in non-polluting solar powered energy generators which have solved climate change. Storytelling with smells and illusions seemed cool for a while, but the experience was a passive one that left most people craving the reading experience. Curling up with a book, turning the words into ideas and images in our individual minds, may turn out to be a permanent human desire, like live theater.

  40. And when the electricity goes out permanently after an inevitable catastrophe won't people look around and find ... nothing? I believe the world will rue the day it migrated, step by step by step, into immateriality.

  41. @Anthony Electricity is and will continue to be the lifeblood of modern humans, and as such its production will be protected from destruction. After all, without electricity you can’t run the presses to print books and make them widely available. Sure, you could have small runs of hand-crafted books. But their scarcity would drive up their prices to the point where only the very wealthy could afford to buy them.

  42. @Anthony Bingo. After the climate catastrophe collapses civilisation (before 2039) you will find that paper reigns supreme again.

  43. Well, book sales may or may not fade in the near future, but like many things - including LP records and turtleneck sweaters- former trends often will make a retro comeback (perhaps in an updated version tbd). It seems that future generations always seem to discover (or is it "rediscover") past fashion items, TV shows, decor (do Lava Lamps and disco balls qualify?). For that reason alone I would not be in too much of a hurry to write the obit for the printed newspaper. Frankly, I would not be surprised to see polyester double knit suits for men return. Well, I hope to be long dead before then...if hip hop music does not kill me first. One of us has to go (yes, I stole that line from Wilde. So?).

  44. "I fail to see how telling stories with smell and touch, with petrichor and heat and the shadows of leaves on pavement, is inherently inferior to telling them with words." Unfortunately, the fact that you fail to see it does not mean that it is not true.

  45. I fear that not only is the book dead, but reading, whether on e readers, print, or paper books. Smart phones continually destroy the capacity for the human mind to attend to a topic/task for more than 10 seconds or so. Whenever I see a young person on a train reading a book, I compliment them for their anachronistic behavior. They always laughs and lament the fact that books are rarely read these days. Even a newspaper such as this. When I see someone 'reading' the NY Times on their phone I have to ask 'how many individuals have actually read an entire article on their devices'? Very few, I would surmise. Attention concentration skills are becoming a lost art and that is a danger to a society far greater than simply the loss of the capacity to enjoy a narrative on a book or device.

  46. I am actually much more likely to finish an article on my phone than when I have to hunt for the rest of it by flipping extremely large unwieldy pages aka a physical newspaper. Much harder than scrolling down and skimming to the end. And If I get interrupted then my phone brings me right back to the spot where I left off. But when I want to retain what I read, reading physical copies are better. It’s a different experience interacting with the printed page. There is room for both ebooks and physical books in my life.

  47. @boji3 "Smart phones continually destroy the capacity for the human mind to attend to a topic/task for more than 10 seconds or so." I beg to differ. I (and surely I am not alone in this) make use of the electronic medium to avoid becoming that most annoying of modern pedestrians, the 'cell phone zombie' - by using my phone together with an audio-book or podcast to listen to whilst commuting on foot to work.

  48. I agree that stories, not books, are our greatest treasure. But my love of books has always been twofold: for the stories and for the books themselves. I do, in fact, love paper and ink, bindings and covers, too. You can call me and my kind anachronistic but you can't say books weren't what we loved. Really, I did love books. I still do.

  49. First to the author's suggestion, that "books" are without impact anymore and can simply disappear, I can attest to the opposite.. because I'm the author of a book that was essentially suppressed and made to disappear (for political/legal reasons). It even cost someone dollars to make that happen! Secondly, notwithstanding some (glibly worded) truths in this essay, it's essentially illiterate. Proof is in this quote: "Stories are shape-shifters, infinite and immortal: They’ve been painted on the walls of Chauvet Cave..." .. which demonstrates (to me) that the author may not appreciate core media intersections, between fixed discourse, the imagination, and the matrix of circulation. A fictional story on paper is an artifact, not a "sensory event in the history of telling a private truth." A prose story (about historical people, or about a problems of life) is not a stone-age dreamscape. It's a point of reference in the evolution of knowledge; it doesn't get shape-shifted; it gets tested in the battle for being wise.

  50. In 1989, I attended the American Bookseller's Association's Annual Convention, held that year in Washington, D.C. The Tiananmen Square protests were unfolding on our hotel TV, the images seared into my memory. I also heard Isaac Asimov speak on the topic, The End of the Book during one of the convention's programs. He offered a futurists' argument on why the book could not possibly survive. He concluded his elegy for the book with an impassioned and hopeful description of something that might endure and outlast the book. He described an object that would be portable; it would need no power source but light, natural or artificial; would last for years if cared for, could easily be shared with others; could be mass-produced and sold cheaply. He then reached into the back pocket of his faded jeans and pulled out a dog-eared paperback book. He held it up and told us we were looking at the endpoint of technology, an invention that could never be improved upon, and that would never be replaced. Harrow's piece is fascinating and inventive, but I'm sticking with Asimov.

  51. @Joseph Durepos ". . . I'm sticking with Asimov." Always. Great man, great mind. Excuse me, I need dig into my books to read the "Foundation" trilogy again.

  52. @Joseph Durepos And you can still read it when you can't get WiFi!

  53. @Joseph Durepos Great comment, Joseph! My city of Santa Rosa, not far from the recent Kincaid fire, was without power for almost a week, a preventative measure since our PGandE grids are aging and woefully risky. No WIFI, no TV, but I had my books. I read two wonderful works of fiction - by flashlight - when it got dark, and I loved every minute of it. Indeed, the book is "an invention that could never be improved upon..."

  54. Some of us love books. I love the smell of a new book and the smell of an old one. I love the feel of the paper as I turn the pages. I love being able to stop and think about a passage; to leave my book on the couch and come back to it when I'm ready. I throw the poems of John Keats into my backpack and head to the local cemetery, where I can read without worrying about internet access. I love looking at my old books on the shelves and thinking, hmm, haven't read that one in a while, pulling it down and falling in love all over again. Luckily I have hundreds of books to keep me company when the bookstores are all gone, and the only technology I need to access them are my eyes and my brain.

  55. imagine what a standardized test might look like in this dystopia. For right now, at least, the SAT & ACT are old-school. I like it that way.

  56. Hopefully those racist tests will be gone by next year.

  57. What medium will enable individuals to make a complex, subtle, and sustained argument -- or to comprehend one? Look around: see what happens when no such medium or skillset exists.

  58. I don't buy it; there will always be hardbound books and people who want to own them.

  59. @sansacro Why are you so sure of this?

  60. @sansacro And blank books and people who want to record private thoughts in them.

  61. @AnotherOldGuy I am pretty sure of this too. However, an economic incentive to print and attempt to sell them may become ever more meager. Hardcover, soft cover too: always there will be those who want a full collection of Maigret's unusual mysteries.

  62. Books are forever. Gadgets? Here today, gone tomorrow.

  63. Ha! The Verse with its nonexistent barriers to entry sounds like the glut of self-published Kindle fiction. People buy it, sure, but it runs no risk of displacing printed books, now or ever.

  64. Our thoughts and inner dialogue are primarily via a language such as English. Writing records thoughts, and reading makes another's thoughts accessible to you. As long as we think via English, there will be stuff to read written in English.

  65. I remember a book about a man who went to sleep for periods of a hundred years or so, over around a thousand years- and , at one waking session, (around our time now), found that all humans had they're teeth surgically removed because-as the explanation went-the meat and food were so inferior or tough, that no human could posibly chew it. Rather than use a knife and fork-or cook it to some semblance of edibility, the Americans of the future had their =food pre masticated by mschines we now now as "blenders". I always thought it a great lesson in the humility of authors nwho wish to project todays prejudices on tomorow's peoples. However-the one part of the prediction that came true was I found I could give my mother-all but toothless in her last years-whatever foods she desired without the hassle and worry of of insisting she wear her awful " 19th century" invented dentures. Had she been a generation younger-I'd have had the orthodontists give her artificial teeth, where her molars were gone. In too many allegedly advanced nations we give short shrift to dental hygeine and , then call dentistry and orthodontics a "cosmetic" not a medical treatment for people. American zoologists will spend hundreds of thousands to replace a canine in a tiger with gold, but humans may eat jelloed soup and mush. If we survive as a race-I hope we do not repeat the errors of neglecting our teeth, again. The future will be too strange to even begin to predict with a semblance of accuracy.

  66. What Alix Harrow's piece ignores is the power of language. People love stories, but they also love words. We are linguistic animals. Part of the delight of a told (or written) story comes from how it's told. This is not to mention poetry, in which the word's (much of) the thing, or the social cachet the good conversationalist accrues.

  67. @Tess , Perhaps you have read Murdoch's 'Word Child', where Hilary is the narrator.

  68. I re-read Dickens periodically and own copies of all of his works, but my favorite copy of “Bleak House” was one I came upon on our local (small) public library. Printed in the early 1900’s the pages had high linen content and were soft, yet substantial. The cover was thick cardboard covered in leather with gold embossed title on the spine. The scent of the book was not musty, just pleasantly old. I hated to return it and the fact that I can remember the tactile experience of reading it now, many years later, proves that there is more to a book than the words printed inside. Bound books will never die.

  69. @Darby Fleming I inherited my mom's edition of Great Expectations. It is one of my most treasured possessions. It is hard to accept the thought that the experience of reading such a book page by page will disappear in the not too distant future. Although there are countless great pieces of literature in this world, the way Dickens unfolds the story with such masterful description and rich characters who come to life, it stands at the very top of my list of must have books. If I was ever homeless that book would be in my knapsack...

  70. @Darby Fleming What a lovely description! Thank you.

  71. In an age in which electronic material can be deleted from digital libraries (publishers, etc) I want something much more permanent. I remember some years back when I had some digital music the publisher made some sort of change that ended my ownership through some sort of Digital Rights Management mechanism. Censorship will be so much more effective in a digital world as well. We already have governments trying to install trapdoor software into social media and how easy would it be to eliminate famous works if they were digital only and had codes to uniquely identify them to prying computers. Do you want unknown person or organisation remotely assembling a catalogue to your digital archives and reading habits. Books are also immensely practical for lounging around on holidays in remote areas lacking power.

  72. I'll be long gone. As will most of the world's literature.

  73. I personally prefer books. If I had to rely on a device during the last power outage which lasted 10 days, I wouldn't have been able to get as much reading done.

  74. It's likely that we were already rife with stories as we came out of Africa and headed West. Yes, we tell, we recount, we enthrall and regale, repeating the most outstanding tales until they are canon. classics. We are not writers, however, we are not the great artists honing their craft, until we set the words just so and then have the courage to say: "Just like that! That's my story. Just exactly like that." Anyone can tell a story; few can forge great literature. I have no defense of what I say except the works that remain dear and momentous, which tower over other codifications of language.

  75. NYT: I may be a dinosaur, but my passion for books goes beyond the ideas and stories they hold. I love holding books, sitting among my many thousands of friends that have been my fellow travelers throughout my life’s journey, and visiting with them again and again. I appreciate the spirit in which you tell of stories living on beyond 2039, but I am comforted by the knowledge that I am unlikely to see the world in which books have disappeared.

  76. @Theodore M. Shaw I cant stand the feel of paper on my fingers..... To me its gross. Oh, and I'm 39 and definitely remember HAVING to thumb thru ragged, raw paper. NOT FUN! Sure, its there when the power goes out, but that's all it has going for it.

  77. @Raymond Well, it takes all kinds.

  78. @Jerseytime, So says The Book of Ebenezer Le Page.

  79. No, I don't want virtual "experiences." I want to read the passage about the Sorting Hat and imagine for myself what it looks and feels like. That's also why I largely forego movie adaptations of my favorite books: I've already imagined the characters, their voices and appearance, and everything else. Anything else is *someone else's* interpretation.

  80. Harrow thinks it's "strange to mourn a format, particularly when the new format has made storytelling more accessible and widespread than ever before." However, if books were to disappear, it's not the format that we would mourn but the things this format has enabled. I don't see virtual reality exploring the nature of memory like Proust or the criminal mind like Dostoevsky or consciousness like Woolf or a whole region's socio-cultural beliefs like Faulkner and Garcia Marquez. Harrow premises her argument on the ways new technologies can replace storytelling. While stories are essential to human lives, they're not the only things that are recorded in books. What of poetry and philosophy, of the ephemeral and the lyrical, the abstract and the intellectual? Technology doesn't have as good place for these as does a book. Because of the book's unique strengths, therefore, I don't believe it will vanish, Harrow's jeremiad notwithstanding. I taught a 450 page novel by Wilkie Collins to my community college students this semester, most of them teens. Their enthusiasm was both surprising and heartening. And a sign that the book is not going anywhere soon, other than into a reader's hungry hands.

  81. @Jim Love Wilkie Collins. Much of his work was of print for a very long time and given its date seems modern (and was considered scandalous in its day) given its date. "The Law and the Lady" is both early feminist lit, a heroine who wants to use science to investigate crime, and turns on a Scottish legal peculiarity that you can be found neither guilty nor innocent.

  82. @Jim Ms. Harrow isn't making an argument, she is imaginining an op-ed written by someone else in the future—with the intention, I take it, of provoking us to defend books.

  83. Ah remember what they said in the 1950’s when television first appeared, “Radio is dead it will disappear “, hmmmm, of course that will happen, maybe sometime, not in to past 70 years. Radio is now transmitted from satellites. Think of paper disappearing, replaced by recycled plastic. Fun article!

  84. @B Wright and don't forget Video killed the Radio star

  85. As described this is a future that resembles the world BEFORE writing and printing. It is a world where anyone can create a shared experience. But this is what humans did millennia ago. The only difference being the size of the audience. Hunter-gatherers held an audience of perhaps a few dozen. Future "creators" will have an audience of thousands for the average bloke. It also describes a future where the common is elevated above the unique as the iceberg of culture stands on its head.

  86. As I recall, the demise of printed books was predicted in 2000. Yet, here we are in almost 2020 and we’re still buying them and reading them.

  87. Huh, 1439? Really? So by the time this piece is supposedly from we've discovered some reliable evidence about when Gutenberg first experimented with his press? Is it worse to imagine that we've moved on from paper books or worse to imagine that we're still relying on Wikipedia for information?

  88. This argument has been going on for a while & I suspect that people will be writing about it (in books) long after I am gone & forgotten. Other readers have already pointed out the shifting lights and pesky shadows of an instantly re-editable Virtual world, what worries me is the assumption in what is supposed to be a "science fiction futurist piece" that future technology will be pleasant extensions of the present. Who now remembers 'My Space"? America On Line? Floppy disks? Zip disks?The books that my father passed on to my care are just as "accessible" in 2019 as -in one case- they were in 1506. I have the Lord knows how many bytes of letters and papers on media that might as well be on the moon in terms of my ability to read it. Yeah, I actually found a Zip Disk reader, but Microsoft stopped writing drivers for it twenty years ago...

  89. Ms. Harrow succeeds in provoking those of us haunting bookstores in our ghostly fashion. While it's true that I prefer paper over the screen, I read both. As long as serious careful reading endures I care little for the debate over whether paper of pixels are superior. Maryanne Wolf's studies of the reading brain, as elaborated in her books 'Proust and the Squid' and 'Reader Come Home: the reading brain in a digital world', indicate that it's reading that matters.

  90. There is a lot less of certain kinds of books but in other areas like fiction there has never been more. Things change and I suspect that people will enjoy e-readers and books in the future.

  91. Words only take us so far. They challenge the imagination to make the phrase, the image, the story come alive in the mind, originally for each reader. Making the story 'real', making it into experience, we lose that challenge, the creativity of reading. We're controlled by the VR author, who may give us decisions to make, but our options are determined, leaving the imagination little work to do. If there's no stopping the popularity of VR, it will narrow, not expand, the experience of the human imagination.

  92. Why the all or nothing mentality. We can always have books, along with other, higher-tech communication. The beauty of a free society is to increase, not decrease, the number of available options (in everything.)

  93. @Michael - Could not have put it better myself. There's a reason the movie is always worse than the book, and it's because movies or experiences or whatever trendy thing you come up with is interposing the experience of the author's language with some personal interpretation by the performer. Movie actor, experiential performer, all the same, and they all stand between the author's words and what they mean to me. The author of this piece doesn't get that. I want to see and imagine for myself what worlds the author has for me. The written word is not dead to me.

  94. I love books and hope they will always be available. They must. Is there any substitute for sitting in front of a fireplace on a cold winter day reading a great novel? (Cue - cup of hot chocolate.) A good author can take your mind to a whole new world that is a collaberative experience - a kind of virtual reality created inside our own minds at no cost. Reading the printed word is a unique human experience that technology will not ever be able to duplicate. Children should read books in addition to any kind of virtual reality medium. I also agree with Michael in Toronto that reading strongly stimulates the human creative process and strengthens our intellectual capacity because it is not pre-fabricated.

  95. There is still something to be said about the power of beautiful language expressing complex ideas. Language is more precise than any visual could be. Nor does stimulation of the senses provide everything that people need, although some may think it enough. And I doubt anyone will want to learn empathy by "experiencing" a slog through the sewers of Paris, or by throwing themselves under a train. There will no doubt be lots of people wanting to experience "up." But experiencing "down" is where empathy comes from. So, you will all be less human for the loss of beautiful, meaningful language on a page or a screen. I say "you" because I happily will not be around to experience a bookless world.

  96. Interesting premise and an enjoyable read, but the heart of this saga is really the permanence of thought. Ancient philosophers and mathematicians were able to achieve a degree of immortality thanks not only to the content of their ideas: the written word gave them permanence, and perhaps without it their thoughts would be lost to us. The Pythagorean theorem would almost certainty have faded into obscurity if the standard for its survival had been mere storytelling poignancy. Where the criticality, permanence and integrity of information is the most critical, for example, in law or science, or in truly great literature, I do not think the written word is in any danger from more ethereal communication technologies.

  97. I think in 20 years a whole LOT of the things we loved and depended on will be gone; books, snail mail, fish from the sea, privacy, even feigned democracy, etc. Not a problem for me of course, because I won't be around either. I'm not happy with the comfort that "I'll be dead", but it does bring some feeling of relief.

  98. Every prediction, or even imaginative exploration, of "the death of the book" reveals an author whose aesthetic sense is compromised. No one, of course, who is lacking in finer taste understands the quality of the aesthetic experiences that inform those with better taste. But superior taste, like genuine love, isn't agitated by the need to defend itself. It knows what it knows, and knows it's hopeless to try to explain that knowledge to those who "don't get it."

  99. I've never owned an electronic reader. Not only do I like printed books, I'm very leery of the digital rights management sinkholes that have already caused some people to lose books they purchased--unfortunately, they didn't realize that in the digital world you don't "own" anything, you just purchase a license for its use. I'm old. Perhaps no one after me will appreciate my books, but they'll keep me company until the end. All things considered, they've probably been my best friends most of my life.

  100. My cousin and I were surprised last week to discover that some old family videos we wanted to copy could be transferred to a thumb drive but not to a DVD because no one plays DVDs any more. I am quite sure that in 5-10 years no one will be playing thumb drives either--and then what? A late friend--a former publishing professional turned archivist--once told me that if you want to preserve something, put it on paper. I may never be able to view those family videos again, but I intend to be sure I will always be able to read my beloved printed books.

  101. I read even more now that I have kindle, I only wish borrowing from the library was easier (read more convenient and immediate), and I cannot regret sparing a tree (though I doubt the trees are being spared). Kudos to author's apt satire in the naming of the platforms - esp awegment vs Amazon's Universal Experience (AUE -teehee) - this made me laugh out loud.

  102. Please. Ask any archivist. In the aughts the Library of Congress had a basement filled with early, dead technologies containing files rendered unreadable by changing formats. You always want to host a stable, accessible record, especially for niche/obscure/unpopular materials. That still means paper for most of us. This piece assumes that all materials will find a forever home online. The market doesn’t work that way. And given the current coarseness of the national conversation, what’s commonly, readily available will likely be equivalents of Tucker Carlson and Keto for Carb Lovers. Kind of like thinking that Netflix has every movie ever made. Not every work will make it. Librarian here.

  103. For decades now, so called "wise men" and soothsayers have been predicting the impending demise of the book. Hasn't happened yet and will NOT happen in the foreseeable future. As a retired longtime librarian, I can tell you that books are very much alive and well. And my grandchildren enjoy reading real books just as much as I did as a kid, and just as much as their grandchildren will--if global warming doesn't kill everyone off first.

  104. I was just in a bookstore, and it was packed with customers. Most of the people in it were much younger than I am. Even the kids' area was full of kids on the floor reading books. My grandchildren love to read actual books, too. From everything I've been seeing in the newspapers, independent bookstores are making a comeback. I too love the feeling of turning paper pages of a hardcover book. I tried to read on a Kindle and an iPad, and gave it up. I'm on computers all day, so holding an actual book is a joy and a relief. It's a totally different sensory experience.

  105. a circle is the simplest symmetry, and around and around we go! I really enjoyed Alix Harrow's op-ed, especially the humour and economy displayed on such a vast topic....of change/progress/future... hey wait a minute! When we have 7 or 8 billion monkeys pounding away on our smart phones, I don't think we'll come up with any new Shakespeare.

  106. Print is (was?) an essential mechanism of cultural progress. Absent the necessity of investment to produce printed copies, there is no need of editorship; so what cultivation, husbandry, or curation will ever arise to elevate any canon? When channels were dear -- there were once upon a time only 3 national TV networks -- a great sifting separated much chaff before it could be broadcast; but nowadays any kind of authoritative winnowing is obsolete. Unless we find equivalent replacement for the implicit wisdom imposed by the industry of publication, I fear cultural disintegration.

  107. Don't think so. Physical books help with the retention of information better than ebooks due to the spatial component of a books physicality (i.e. its pages). Secondly, there is an ever growing blue light problem with all devices such as macular issues, eyestrain, and brain wakefulness at bedtime, although there may come a time when tech manufacturers fix this. Thirdly, a book doesn't need to be recharged ever and just like we still have audio cassettes and vinyl for philes of the type who keep it alive, the book format will never fully die.

  108. Musicians/music/cds have been in the disappearing boat for a while now. Other than live performances, musicians have mostly lost their ability to earn money from their recordings. As stated in this article, we don't "own" anything anymore. We simply rent it, over and over again. The online purveyors reap the profits while we're trapped in the pay-until-you-die mode, whether it's books, music, software... I'm not sure what the solution is but technology has outsmarted us once again and our bank accounts are poorer for it.

  109. As was pointed out by another reader, words can handle far more complexity than images. That's why 99% of movies are not as good as the book. They're thrilling, and done with incredible skill, but they can only suggest the ideological depth and resonance of a well-written book. Those who love that depth will not find it in the "experience" described in this piece, as alluring and enjoyable as it may be. It's like the overblown intellectualism that some people heap on Superhero movies: you can dress it up as much as you want, but really just showing how much you wish you could have effortless consumption and spiritually satisfying art. Highly recommend Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" for the definitive and prescient take on the shift to image/entertainment culture that this article portends. Plus, I'm not sure widespread high-tech will still be a thing in 2039.

  110. Literacy is fairly recent phenomenon. Who is to say it isn't a phase? I hate to say this, as a teacher of young people and a book lover, but I really don't think most people are going to be reading in 100 years. My brightest students are directing all their energy into their phones, not books.

  111. @Constant Gardener you're a teacher and not leading by example?

  112. It's worth mentioning that Bi Sheng of China invented the first moveable type printing system in the 1040s during the Song Dynasty, some 400 years before Gutenberg.

  113. @Kyle Hudson Like so many inventions in the past, his invention went no where and had little impact (although his invention lasted long enough to be improved by others who switched to using bronze type). Gutenberg's invention transformed the world.

  114. Twenty years ago I remember hearing an interview on NPR with someone who said physical books would be dead in 20 years. The book entitled, "The end of Print," has been reprinted. It is always early to predict the end of something that has been around for 600 years. You won't be able to fire up your iPad in 20 years but your physical books will still be readable.

  115. Although I disagree with some of the predictions expressed by Harrow, I must admit: This is a very imaginative and beautifully crafted piece, especially the final two sentences. Harrow writes elegant prose in which any workmanship is rendered invisible to the reader's eye. I also enjoyed the shades of Bradbury.

  116. Odd title. A "book" is not the physical medium that caries the words, but the content, which can be on a laptop, cellphone, recording, or whispered into the ear by a loved one. A message conveyed by a quill on parchment is the same "book" as later set in hand type and printed one sheet at a time, to a century ago set by Linotype and printed on a high speed multi "web printer" that could produce a newspaper every second. Certainly, print on paper is no longer the most efficient means of disseminating entertainment or information. This laptop I'm using, available now to those with minimal wealth, provides a facility I couldn't imagine in my youth in the 1940s. In a second I can search a name, a ratified subject and locate the article, and then the particular word. No more traipsing to the library, waiting an hour to the book is delivered, and then searching the text. I'm constantly verifying my suppositions, and then sharing my own synthesis. Whether poetry, prose or data, the resources of the world are now at our fingertips, available to all. This was my field, and I remember touring the Times fifty years ago on 43rd st. The Linotype had been replaced by computers, but the operators had a strong union. Every day a few dozen of them were in a recreation room, enjoying themselves on the negotiated contract income.

  117. This isn't simply an argument over modes of story telling. What we choose to make manifest, what we choose to actually carry around with us, what we bring into our homes, what we permit to share our physical space, is an indication of what we hold most important and what we choose to become physically intimate with. Books are a form of physical intimacy. When they are reduced to the role of an appliance, a kind of efficient transport for Story, then we stop being readers and thinkers and become little more than the appliance's "end users." We've become bewitched by the lightness of efficiency. But there's equal value in what anchors us, clings to us, and keeps us bound.

  118. @S Jones When I open "Of Human Bondage" on my dedicated e-reader I experience the same pleasure as when first read Mr. Maugham in print, 50 years ago. An e-reader is not an "appliance" for everyone. Just a comment from a life-long reader.

  119. @Brown It’s wonderful that you still feel that way. You were fortunate to have bonded with the printed copy so many years ago, which I’m sure has deepened your connection with and added to your ability to relate to the e-version today.

  120. @Brown That's interesting. I get no pleasure at all from words on an e-reader.

  121. There is more to books than their words, although I love both words and books. Think of the beauty of illustrated stories and works of fiction for the youngest learners, for children and teens. I remember the illustrations within Dr Doolittle, The Water Babies, Little Women, The Jungle Book. Beautiful full-color book jackets and hardcover book covers. The creamy stock and gilt edges of expensive ("forever") books. Endpapers that are sometimes marbled. Really good typesetting, with "air" around the paragraphs and margins. Antique books like my 1929 edition of Voltaire's Candide, by Bennett Cerf's Random House, illustrated profusely in chapter headings and within paragraphs, by Rockwell Kent. Well made books are a feast, and I will always eat at this table!

  122. Today I’m going to the Guadalajara International Bookfair (Feria Internacional de Libros FIL) and I’m looking forward to huge crowds looking at huge numbers of books. Ebooks are nice too, especially when traveling.

  123. Give me a challenging hardcover book, my dipping pen or fountain pen and leather bound notebook to jot down ideas, a glass of wine and uninterrupted quiet, and I'm in a perfect place.

  124. What a great surprise. An Op-Ed written about a future problem I didn't even consider, that provides the answer to the problem so that I can file it away under "taken care of". Because I've had OCD all my life, there was a time when I couldn't read a book or even a pamphlet without triggering one thing or another so I just stopped reading altogether. When the drug companies developed Anti-Depressants that had the helpful side effect of altering the chemical imbalance that resulted in OCD, the first thing I did was hit the books. It was like coming up for air after being too long under water. Your funny and poignant fiction points to a future that is filled with possibilities, surely they'll be room for the feeling I got when I became reacquainted with the printed word.

  125. @Rick Gage Please write about this experience of yours.

  126. Very facile. Looking at the humble book--not plugged-in, private, tactile, quiet, personal--and saying it is doomed by the march of technology seems just so obvious to he or she would predict the future. My prediction is that this article is not one of the stories that will last over time.

  127. @onkelhans Perhaps not.... but it will last in my head/heart.... it's a brilliant telling of a near future, going in very different directions than I thought, given the title and the setting (600th anniversary of Gutenberg). And in the process, she affirms what most of us feel: our love of books.

  128. As a mostly blind person the printed word died years ago despite this post which is being read to me. So its back to the age of Homer when the spoken word passed on stories. But I have learned that all stories are created in our minds whether projected there by written, spoken or direct visual means. Reading is always an act of creation and for me that is the bottom line. Leaving the printed word behind has allowed me to do that creating more easily and directly without interpreting visual letters and symbols that are now hard for me to grasp. But here I am at a key board, ancient though it is, trying to make sense of a crazy world more challenging than ay fiction.

  129. I am thankful to be living in Seattle, the city with 23 branch libraries full of books and the city that reads more than any other in the country. We still have bookstores, used bookstores, book clubs, reading groups and little library neighborhood book exchanges all over the place. One can take a book to the beach or to the mountainside, no machine or electricity necessary. When the electrical grid goes down, when the infrastructure fails, when all the data is unavailable because of the planned obsolescence of the machinery, when global warming scrags civilization, books will remain.

  130. @Earthling And if you buy (through Amazon in my case) a second-hand book from the Seattle Goodwill, chances are that it will be even better than described (plus: they ship promptly). [We have a very good public library where I live, in Michigan, but sometimes it rains, or it is far too hot, or there is ice on the ground, or I feel my age .... so why not get the hardcover book from Amazon, second-hand for just a few dollars.]

  131. @Earthling The simplicity of a book is what will keep it relevant. Doesn't need power, doesn't care if it gets a signal, simple to operate, durable, doesn't break if dropped, can be used by one person or many people (either sequentially or in a read-aloud group). Books will be around a lot longer than I will

  132. Arguably it's more than the stories—plenty of people today, and not just a handful of eccentric hobbyists, will happily pay a premium price for a beautifully-designed, well constructed hardcover even though they can get all of the same words in an inexpensive mass-market paperback.

  133. If we consider all the ways that information has been saved in the last 100 years (since the end of the printed word?) none of them has lasted much more than a decade: cellulose, floppy discs, hard drives, CDs, 8-track, Polaroid, DVDs, and so much more are all obsolete or getting there. Only print survives because it is so sturdy and simple. The other media become technologically obsolete or just become unusable.

  134. @Elwood Print survives, yes, until the climate catastrophe and accompanying floods, fires, etc. hit.

  135. I am life long lover of and voracious reader of many kinds of books. It may be comforting too think that the value and beauty of old school books will prevail, but we have to get real here. In 20 years, it may be much more likely that water, air and food are so rare and precious that reading will not be a widely practiced pastime at all.

  136. I enjoy reading a printed book on paper I like far, far more than any digital reading device. That will never change for me. I also enjoy a hand written letter far, far more than any email. That will also never change for me. My books and letters are my most treasured possessions.

  137. The printed book may soon die, but I hope something better than the current E-reader will take its place. If the book has maps, charts, illustrations, or photos, E-books are a real pain to read if you want to flip back and forth. Many E-books are formatted without table of contents links, so you have to guess and scroll forever to find something. E books can't be bought and sold, and you can't browse a shop for something to catch your eye. The disappearance of print will be one of the most successful scams ever. If it works, that it.

  138. I am life long lover of and voracious reader of many kinds of books. It may be comforting too think that the value and beauty of old school books will prevail, but we have to get real here. In 20 years, it may be much more likely that water, air and food are so rare and precious that reading will not be a widely practiced pastime at all.

  139. @NLL "In 20 years, it may be much more likely that" most children have never learned to read or spell, and are therefore limited to emojis and "sound-alike" words to express themselves.

  140. Books will always be here if for no other reason than that I will always buy them over e-books.

  141. @Phillip e-books are great for novels, but for anything that contains graphs,maps or tables, they are a pain. Also, they make it hard to go back a few pages to some place you remember but have not marked.

  142. Right there with you. I plan on being around in 20 years and as long as I am, so will my books.

  143. @Fran You are so right. I bought the biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Isaacson for my glowlight ereader so I could read it in the dark (the way I read most novels), and I immediately knew I should have bought a hard cover. It was a great book, but I had to work to enlarge the pictures, and even then I was missing half the experience.

  144. I had pretty much abandoned my Great American Novel project back in 2031, and was working on an anthology of opening and closing paragraphs gleaned from the same aborted project, when the great silicon chip failure occurred. It was somewhat disconcerting to see society grind to a halt, and downright disturbing to watch aircraft plummet, Icarus-like. Fortunately I had printed out the many pages of my many drafts, and was using the paper for grocery lists and such, when I recognized the potential for re-purposing the paper (made from recycled materials) to chronicle the disaster. It will be available soon at your local book store. Ebook version not available.

  145. The idea that books might be replaced by virtual reality, and the underlying technology pirated and distributed virally, thus killing the publishing industry, is, on reflection, not just plausible but likely! The comments, mostly from lovers of hard cover books, which are largely critiques of now-fading e-books, suggest that few people even understand what Harrow is driving at here. I would have thought "book lovers" would have scored a bit higher on reading comprehension. In any case, a fascinating fantasy, and one I hope I don't live to see.

  146. Comparisons of books to movies and television always seem to ignore the fact that reading is an ACTIVE experience, requiring mental transformation of words on a page to view screens in readers' minds, whereas watching movies or television is a PASSIVE experience, in which the content is spoon-fed to quiescent viewers, requiring only that they be awake. When it comes to fiction, movies and television have one glaring shortcoming: Other than with intrusive voice-over narration, they cannot reveal characters' interior dialog, the written word's strong suit.

  147. @YourAverageVoter Fine actors bridge the gap. Lit and performance are different but equally important arts

  148. Virtual reality will end books? Why assume books and not live theater performance? Saving $500 on Hamilton tickets makes sense. But I'm still happy to pay for paper books. VR to replace books...strange suggestion.

  149. It's not about the books themselves, but the willingness and the ability of the public to read a substantial work. There's a guy in the White House who might be capable of reading at the high school level, but has no interest in anything much longer than 280 characters unless it is a paean to his brilliance. He probably skips over the 50-cent words in those, too. Not a great role model for reading.... As I have traveled around this country, there are many book deserts - cities or neighborhoods where it is extremely difficult to find physical books, much like the food deserts in cities (often the same ones) where it is difficult to find fresh fruits and veggies or a real, sit-down, non-chain restaurant. Those people have little use for books today, and that won't change in 20 years. But the locations with a high percentage of college graduates and/or colleges and universities still have bookstores, mostly independent ones, selling both new and used books, even though their prices are typically higher than Amazon's. Powell's in Portland and the Strand in NYC attract lots of people of all ages who wander the aisles for hours. Physical books may become a niche market like vinyl records or film photography, but they are unlikely to disappear until our leaders follow the rulers in Fahrenheit 451 and decide that books and their content are dangerous.

  150. I read books as a means of getting away from the computer screen. That will never die; books will live on.

  151. @Ambrose God, I hope so.

  152. @Ambrose I read books, many, many books. I can't go to bed without a book on my night table. I don't care about 2039. I'll be gone by then...

  153. A light novel on a Kindle is convenient for traveling, but if I'm reading a great book, particularly non-fiction—David Blight's Frederick Douglass biography or Jane Mayer's Dark Money are recent examples—I like to flip back to earlier passages, take margin notes, and even dog-ear paper pages. It's a tactile as well as intellectual exercise that I believe strengthens content retention and synthesis. Digital reviews/e-commerce help me choose and order/quickly receive what I'm going to read next. Long live the printed word, including the NYT, which I read while also turning to the digital edition for developing news/stories throughout the 24-hr. news cycle.

  154. @Susan It's even easier to bookmark, annotate or find an earlier passage in an e-book IMHO.

  155. This is a little like saying that movies should have killed books. Clearly that didn't happen. Books currently live alongside movies, the internet, and other forms of media today. Perhaps the companies selling them will fail to adapt and thus fade away, but that's not the same thing as books themselves dying.

  156. @David Excellent point. As I posted earlier, I daily enjoy the reading experiences of my childhood--from a dedicated e-reader. (BTW, how many are reading and posting electronically in this comment section?!)

  157. Alix, the written word didn't begin with Gutenberg. In the sense of literature, it began somewhere between 1900-1700 B.C.E., with the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is in no danger of disappearing, cheap neural threads notwithstanding. And while you're right to say that stories have always been with us and always will be with us, stories are not spontaneous creations but art, i.e., they have to be crafted. Yes, they can be told with images only (c.f. any painting by Breughel the Elder), but story-telling paintings (as opposed to, say, still life) are not self-interpreting. Their images have to have some basis in language if people are to understand what they mean. Imagine trying to grapple with Breughel's work without any knowledge of both the Bible and the initial Dutch revolt against Spain.

  158. ". . . but I fail to see how telling stories with smell and touch, with petrichor and heat and the shadows of leaves on pavement, is inherently inferior to telling them with words." That, at least, comes close to insight. Print works in a way no other medium can match. Done right, print media allow ideas and images from an author to arise as if unbidden in the mind of a reader—as if the author had no role. It is a process with power to set aside for at least a useful interval the habitual skepticism with which each of us defends against persuasion by others. Instead, in that magical space which only reading creates, we encounter ideas as if we ourselves had invented them—which allows us to experience them unreservedly, until we choose to do otherwise. If that capacity is driven from the culture, it will be a sad and degrading loss.

  159. I love books, everything about them. Movies, VR, etc, will never be as good as the imagination. Books don’t limit you the way these other modalities do.

  160. My two young boys love books. Spend their allowances on them willingly. Book fairs at school are wildly popular. I don’t think this is an accurate article at all. I can’t imagine that much changes in 20 years. But who knows.

  161. The folks running The Center for the Book at the University of Iowa would be distressed to hear this news. They and we are convinced that reading on paper is absorbed differently from reading a computer screen. Books last for many centuries, while digital media is so easily erased.

  162. @Mike C. I primarily read on a Kindle E-Reader. I walk around with hundreds of books tucked under my arm, including childhood favorites such as Huckleberry Finn. I don't worry that my books are going away; I don't feel deprived of the "paper book experience" as I download them from the public library. I don't have to drive in to pick up hardbacks; don't have to drive back in to return them. I no longer interrupt my reading to go drag out a dictionary for an unknown word as one is included on my reading device. I don't have to wonder "what page was that on?" when I can easily do a keyword search and find what I'm looking for. In short, there are lots of good reasons to enjoy the reading experience of my childhood with the convenience of a dedicated e-reader.

  163. @Brown YES! I also use the library to check out my kindle and the Kindle weighs a lot less than a book to hold and you can adjust the size type and screen light to read at night in the dark

  164. @Wayne Exactly! There is a misunderstanding and a prejudice that e-books are not "real" books. One of the reasons that I own a dedicated e-reader is because I want no internet, news, or social media interfering with my reading experience.

  165. "But it has also given us the same things we’ve always found in stories: ways to make sense of an increasingly senseless world, and ways to escape it." Another effortless extension of Bread and Circus designed to create effortless pleasure and subdue the proletariat. It's the HARD pleasures like deep thinking and rigorous training that will always seperate the weak minded from the strong and all that entails.

  166. I love that books are just words. I'm not interested in someone giving me the experience of every sense. I want to read the words and figure it out for myself.

  167. "But what was it you loved, really? Surely it wasn’t the bleached-wood-pulp and acid-free ink..." Actually - yes. The bulk, the heft, the aroma, the physical weight of the contents. Surely yes, it is the bleached-wood-pulp and acid free ink that can be passed along from one generation to the next. My son will have great attachment and substantial memories of his father by way of my early 1900's edition of "The Federalist Papers" – a book he used for several of his high school papers. I cannot imagine any emotional attachment had I provided him a link to Amazon or a downloaded copy of this same historical document from (No offense, I like Audible) No, I don't expect to read the print edition of the NYTimes, or The Atlantic or the Economist etc. forever. But I feel that somehow books will survive. So far they have a pretty great track record.

  168. When the Amazon Kindle was released, I thought that begin the end for books. Books, I thought, would one day be like fine art. Only the wealthy and educated would have them. I am so happy to have been wrong! Sales of actual books have gone up in recent years. And books, e-books, and audio books all seem quite capable of co-existing. In fact, I use all 3, and have several books that I own in multiple platforms. Long live books!

  169. I cannot live without books. - Thomas Jefferson. And neither can I !

  170. When I was a child somewhere along the line I received an Etch-a-Sketch. I spent hours and hours trying to form letters and write stories on that thing! I think of it as my first Kindle. I love reading books and magazines, however, I no longer buy hard copies of anything (with the exception of the latest Joy of Cooking)- everything I read is from an on-line version of a magazine or a Kindle book, an Audible book or a download from my public library. I don't miss the clutter and I don't miss dragging boxes of read books to a donation center. Times change and I am loving it-the accessibility of the written word is fantastic. And when I go anywhere, my entire library comes with me, all in carry-on. And when I die, just like the words on that Etch-a-Sketch-one push of a button and all content will be gone. The landfill gets nothing (except the Kindle itself).

  171. @MaryAnn Ha, I was given an Etch-a-sketch when I was a child because someone noticed I “liked to draw.” After about ten minutes of utter frustration manipulating those little dials I shoved the horrid thing under my bed for good and went back to pencils and paints and paper. To each their own.

  172. Books are clearly less interesting to younger people. Typical teens are reading far less in book form than their predecessors of twenty or thirty years ago. The diminution is reflected in the quality of their writing and levels of analysis. But will books go away? Probably not, but they may find a narrower and much audience, kind of like most symphony orchestras.

  173. @Snowball Which "younger people" are you thinking of? My grandkids, ages 11 and 9, have a lot of books, and are always happy to be taken to the bookstore (which we still have here) or the library to get more.

  174. Drivel. Nothing will replace the printed book. Same goes for the pencil. The loss of book reading equals the loss of literate society; books are long-distance learning exemplified. When the power goes out, as it has repeatedly this year in California, a lantern and a book ate lasting refuge.

  175. RE: I fail to see how telling stories with smell and touch, with petrichor and heat and the shadows of leaves on pavement, is inherently inferior to telling them with words. You have totally eliminated the use of imagination and likely messed with the processes though which a reader filters the written descriptions through their own life experiences. Also, reading isn't just about experiencing things --books contain descriptions of events and such, but also include lots of analysis and ideas. I tend to have written conversations with the authors I read in the margins of the page. Can I do that with your virtual reality experiences? I do hope your predictions are way off base!

  176. Of course, for all practical purposes, books should have endured. They ran well without batteries and when you spilled a glass of water on them they didn’t cost $200 to replace. But they also turned out to be very difficult to monitor, neither the Government nor Mark Zuckerberg could tell what you were reading at any given time, or what comments you wrote in the margins, or who you shared them with. So, in the end, of course, they had to be burned.

  177. The question is not so much books vs electronics, but written text vs video.

  178. “bookstores are now antique shops haunted by aging millennials and the kinds of effortlessly hip retro teenagers who might have collected vinyl records in previous decades.” The Barnes and Noble near me is full of books and seems to be doing just fine. Our local libraries the same.

  179. @W.H. Agreed. Guess Harrow doesn't go to many bookstores.

  180. No doubt your favorite book is “Pollyanna”?

  181. @W.H. And our (very popular) Barnes and Noble has a whole section full of -- vinyl records. So much better sound !

  182. The future is not set. There's no immutable law that says books will become obsolete. If this comes to pass it's entirely due to choices we make as a society. The end of books would coincide with the end of ownership. We've already seen this with the rise of streaming versus owning DVD's or VHS before that. Video games are being played through similar services. Employment is also following this trend, as precarious gig economies replace real jobs. The constant state of anxiety, living on a permanent edge with no margin for error has effects on the brain and our ability to pay attention. Why sit to read a book when your gig economy boss can command you to a small shift at any time they choose. The world being chosen is one that has no place for books, sees no value in them. This can be avoided but we must change our way of thinking, we must dare to dream of an alternative. We must have a future again.

  183. Books provide something that VR cannot - room for the individual's imagination. Does anyone really know what the narrator of the Inferno looks like? Or Bilbo Baggins? Or Alice in Wonderland? Or what Narnia looks like? Reading allows the reader to imagine those things, and many more, to place themselves inside the narrative, to add details, nuance and images as fanciful or mundane as comes to mind. That opportunity for imagination makes all the difference. Books will endure!

  184. What a fantastic piece,Philip K Dick would be proud.Write On!!!!

  185. Unable to finish the article. Goin' to youtube. Later...(maybe never)

  186. This is the haughtiest thing I ever read in the NYT.

  187. Deeply stupid. Literature is not only about stories or experiences. (Which doesn't mean that a new technology offering stories and experiences wouldn't succeed, but it wouldn't be offering the same thing as literature.)

  188. These "op-eds from the future" are infuriating. One clicks on an outrageous headline, only to find that one is reading a wholly constructed narrative. NYTimes, if you wish to publish fiction, that's fine. But please don't deceive readers by placing it in the op-ed section. Label it clearly, and put it somewhere else.

  189. Excuse me, I hear my bookmark calling me. The kind you place in a book.

  190. New York Times, STOP this publishing of delusions as if our civilization goes on and on, Tra-la. We are spiraling toward agony for our grandchildren, followed by extinction. Suicidal extinction, from our destruction of conditions for human life on Earth. Try to turn your focus, and ours, toward reality.

  191. In the future Harrow envisions, will people twit (or will twits tweet?) about the "Mils", or will they revert to saying "Millennia" instead of the ever present "Millenniums".....

  192. Didn’t think much of this “oh wow!” column. He gives no ink to the pleasure of reading for the artistry of language. He gives way too much to the debatable benefit of total immersion. They’re different realities and won’t necessarily murder the other.

  193. I don't understand. Harrow is an author.

  194. And TV killed radio. I will never give up my books