There was a time when people used to love reading books and they used to read books only for their own pleasure. The traditional pleasures of reading are more complex than just enjoyment. They involve patience, solitude, contemplation. And therefore the books that are most at risk from our attention are these that require a bit of effort. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumour and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
In one sense, this is just the latest twist in a story that has been growing for nearly a century. It seems that each new media invention —movies, radio, television, VCRs and DVD players, and the Internet-inevitably affects the way people read and reduces the time they devote to it. These days, after spending hours reading e-mails and fielding phone calls in the office, tracking stories across countless websites, I find it difficult to quiet down. Besides, most people read to be informed and instructed -where to take a vacation, how to cook, how to invest their money. Less frequently, the reasons may be escapist or to be entertained, to forgo the boredom or anxiety of their daily lives.
A mode of thinking is being lost,” laments Neil Postman, whose book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” is a warning about the consequences of a falloff in reading. American politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business. Ironically, but not coincidentally, reading has begun fading from our culture at the very moment that its importance to that culture is finally being established. Its decline, many theorists believe, is as profound as, say, the fall of communism, and some have taken to prophesying that the downturn in reading could result in the modern world's cultural and political decline. Optimists, however, suggest that the widespread notion that reading is in decline is an oversimplification, citing statistics showing books, the oldest form of print, seem to be doing reasonably well and publishers, in fact, are churning out more and more books.
Ah，but are those books actually being read? Not, in many cases, from cover to cover. In a society where professional success now requires acquaintance with masses of esoteric information, books are often purchased to be consulted, not read. About 15% of the new titles in "Books in Print" are scientific or technical books. Fiction and general-interest nonfiction works would seem to be designed to be read, but lately these books also serve other functions. Their authors often employ them as routes to movie contracts or to tenure or to the intellectual renown. Their publishers increasingly see these books not as collections of ideas and information but as products that must be publicized and marketed so the profits of the large conglomerates they now work for may rise. Reading still plays and, for the foreseeable future, will continue to play, a crucial role in our society. Nevertheless, there is no getting around the fact that reading's role has diminished and likely will continue to shrink.