Digital Generation Gap for books?

I’ve collected books my entire life.  I treasured my Hardy Boys collection above all things (yes, more than the dog), back when I was four feet tall (my treasured books today are considerably older, better written, and more significant, but I digress).  And I’m also the parent of two teenagers.  I strongly doubt there’s such a thing as an “average” teenager, but mine at least seem reasonably normal.

After growing up as a bookworm, the older stopped reading just upon hitting the teen years.  There’s a steady diet of cable news, Youtube, and various online sites, as well as the daily paper and magazines that roll into the house.  School assignments get dutifully read, and can be discussed coherently.  But no books.  No need for trips to the library, no begging for something from the bookstore.  I’ve always read for entertainment, education, and inspiration.  Child #1 is finding these things elsewhere.  Talking with his friend’s parents, who after several years are also my friends, it seems that is a common theme with his set of friends and acquaintances.

The younger just hit the teens, and is still a bookworm.  A recent family trip featured a 9 AM Saturday stop at a bookstore to pick up the latest installment in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.  I hadn’t realized the Twilight Saga was quite such a publishing event, but the waiting list at this modest bookstore out in the provinces was 23 long for an initial order of 40 copies.  We left with a single copy, along with promises in the back seat to share  the title between my child and a friend.  Both devoured the book in a day or two, and couldn’t wait for more.

So I was left wondering:  which, if either, represents the future of book buying in the US?  All the kids with us were literate, and quite entertained wandering around a bookstore.  But the younger set had strong inclinations to purchase things.  And the older set viewed it more like a museum:  interesting stuff, but you don’t take it home with you.

Entertainment has changed.  Today, it’s much more ominpresent.  Two hundred years ago, a library of one hundred books was a striking thing for all but the very wealthy.  The unveiling of a major painting was an event, and an art show opening might be talked about for weeks.  Sheet music sold briskly, and most families included one or more performers.  Today, youtube is stealing cable’s thunder, while both duke it out with game consoles.  Music is always there when wanted, in a nearly infinite selection.  No more shelves of albums, just click on what you want to hear.  Or shuffle it, and skip tracks until something “good” for that place and time and crowd comes up.

How will books adapt to this?  A tale well told seems a timeless thing.  Homer’s tales will be starting their fourth millenium soon, and they are still being successfully adapted.  I caught a friend’s pre-teen reading Manga the other day, and talked with her about it a bit.  She’s the daughter of a librarian, and a bit of a bookish sort.  Knowledge of, and interest in, comic books is very scarce among the youngsters I know, but graphic novels and manga are as comfortable and normal to them as new sneakers.

It’s no surprise that use of the written word is adjusting during a time of rapid technological advancement.  I’m watching to see what kind of books interest the young folks I know.  They seem less appreciative of the same story told over and over (ie, Hardy Boys), but many of them are avid consumers of books.  The Book is dead!  Long live the Book!

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