27 February 2012
The Death of Print and the Drowning of Quality Writing
Daniel Okrent has been in the publishing industry his whole career. He is a published author and has served as an editor for Time, Life, and the New York Times. In a 1999 lecture to students attending Columbia University’s School of Journalism, Okrent predicts, “I believe they (news papers, magazines, and books), and all forms of print are dead” (Okrent 578). A little harsh, wouldn’t you agree? But fear not, he then goes on to describe how even though the death of print is inevitable, it really doesn’t make a difference because it is the words, sentences, and paragraphs in those forms of print that are important. Now, the majority of the reading I take in comes from online sources. I probably manage to read an average of about one book every two years. This amount is hardly anything to brag about. However, I do find myself viewing specialized topics online that I would probably have had to read a book to gain knowledge on if the online sources weren’t so easily accessible. I also subscribe to a few print magazines that I have interest in. Looking at the literature landscape today, Okrent’s predictions on the future of the print industry seem to be eerily accurate. However, a bit of wishful thinking seems to come through in his claims that “ . . . the words and pictures and ideas and images and notions and substance that we produce is what matters – and not the vessel they arrive in” (Okrent 580). Do the vessels matter? Can quality writing and accurate information find its way through the unfiltered sewage of unchecked claims, shock bloggers, and desperately aggressive advertising? Okrent goes on to explain his claims on the inevitable death of in two parts: Part one, in a phrase, is that we have, I believe, finally learned not to underestimate the march of technological progress. A little over thirty years ago, I saw my first electronic calculator. It was about the shape of a laptop computer, maybe three inches deep, it weighed eight or nine pounds, and it cost my father’s law firm $500 in 1967 dollars. Today you can buy calculators the size and heft of a credit card in a convenience store for two dollars. (Okrent 579) We shouldn’t underestimate technology and how quickly it can become accessible to anyone. As of today, iPads, Kindles, and other tablets are already very popular. A fifty-some-odd year old co-worker of mine, who often asks questions regarding simple functions in Word, has a Kindle that she reads on her break every day. Take into account the rate that they are improved and made more efficient and imagine the technology that will be available 50 years from now. Imagine my generation, who grew up in the technological era, and the literacy we’ll have with the tablets of the future. Now, imagine the generations ahead of us that will only know the digital vessels of literature. Another factor that must be taken into consideration is how much our technology is becoming disposable. Every other year a new and improv… Scratch that. A new and more appealing model comes out. Yes, a new tablet may add a few more features to your fingertips, but it is worth buying a whole new tablet for. If this topic is debatable in today’s world, imagine when the tablet of 2012 is the calculator of 1967 fifty years from now. Try comparing that to books. You can’t have a new and improved book. While this may come across as a digression, the feeling is that this ties back into the quality of our future counterparts to books, newspapers, and magazines. In the second part of Okrent’s claim, he argues it will be cheaper to offer online subscriptions over paper subscriptions because the added cost of paper and postage will no longer be there with the digital versions. In 1998, “Time Inc. spent $1 billion dollars on paper and postage” (Okrent 580). The savings alone will show the demise of print being the major outlet for...
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