Recognizing the Values of Books in the Digital Age

Instructor: Mary Matthiesen-Jones

Mary has worked around the world for over 30 years in international business, advertising, and market research. She has a Master's degree in International Management and has taught University undergraduate and graduate level courses .

The digital age has changed the way we consume information and media. In this lesson, we discuss what the digital age has meant for books and their value in society.

The Changing Face of Books

What is a book? A few decades ago people would say that it is written information that is bound together in paper pages; you can pick it up and start reading. Today, books take many forms. The ability to read is even no longer required; all that is needed is a listening device. Books can also be digital, designed for a computer or mobile device. These digital books require not just the ability to read but also some level of technology skills to manipulate its content.

Books in the 21st century
The 21st century world of books

However, with more and more forms of entertainment and information competing for our attention, many people are simply not reading books. Nearly one fourth of all Americans state that they have not read a book in the last year. But books still have value in the 21st century, regardless of what form they take.

The Value of Information

Books provide us with information. Whether fiction or non-fiction, they teach us about people, places, and cultures. They are a source of information for both personal and professional development. From the day we start school, we read books as a means of gaining knowledge. They collect information in a systematic way and are designed to help the reader make sense of a subject. Unlike magazines, books are more comprehensive.

The Value of Physical Effects

Books have positive physical benefits that contribute to our overall health and well-being. For example, reading books helps to stimulate our memory. Even when reading just for pleasure, we still have to keep track of the plot, characters, and flow of the story. Books also stimulate our brain in more abstract ways. Studies have shown that when we read text we create mental images of what is happening.

Reading books also helps to reduce stress more than activities like walking or listening to music. It improves focus and concentration over extended periods of time, which is a key skill to maintain mental alertness. Finally, reading books builds self-discipline, as it requires an extended commitment to complete the task.

The Value of Thinking

Throughout history, books have been recognized as a means to stimulate creative and critical thinking. Reading books encourages imagination and helps develop the ability to think and process information in different ways. The third president, Thomas Jefferson, was renowned for the scope of his knowledge. His library contained thousands of books from ancient and modern history to philosophy, science, and popular fiction. It was no surprise that it was to Jefferson that his peers turned to draft The Declaration of Independence.

Some of the most successful American business people of the 21st century have identified specific books as key in changing their views and teaching them important lessons about life. Their books, like Jefferson's, contributed to their ability to reflect on themselves and their society. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, for example, names Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Remains of the Day as a favorite, while Elon Musk cites Douglas Adams' science fantasy book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Mark Zuckerberg lists The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander as important in diversifying his worldview.

The Age of Aliteracy

If books have such great value, then why is aliteracy, or the choice not to read, on the rise? While illiteracy, the inability to read, is more common in the third world, in the US and other developed nations aliteracy is seen as a growing challenge. Most cite the popularity of other fast-paced entertainment such as video games, streaming media, and television. Reading books, on the other hand, is slow and linear, moving from one page to the next. The focus and concentration required to read books is often seen as too much work, even if it is simply reading a book for pleasure.

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