Here we go again...
100 years ago, we were probably less and less dependent on horses for transportation, as more and more brave souls were trying these new-fangled, noisy contraptions called "automobiles". We were quite possibly still down on the farm, though more of us were beginning to feel the lure of the Big City, a siren song that would explode at the end of World War I. For those not yet lured, our buying power had improved immensely, as we could now order items from catalogs -- a trend Sears had started a decade earlier. For general entertainment, the travelling shows were still the mainstay for the farmers among us, though frequently they would feature something new: pictures that actually moved. For the city dwellers among us there would be actual parlors where we could go and see these "movies" any time we wanted to. This would have been little more than a novelty, though cinema was poised to challenge and soon replace the delights of the city's Vaudeville Houses, then approaching the height of their popularity. For music, the piano in the parlor would quite possibly be a player piano by now, and even that had competition: like as not, we would have little wax cylinders which could actually reproduce music -- even voices! Ah, the wonders of the new century... And we read books.
50 years ago we had mostly moved out of the city to something called the "suburbs". A few would still go to the city to visit the big department stores, of course, although for day to day needs there were things called "supermarkets" near every suburb. We would sometimes need to visit the city if we wanted to take in a particular movie. The movies were fighting a rival far more potent than radio by now, however -- television. It was small, it was just changing from black and white to color, and yet it dominated as our number one source of visual entertainment. In response, movies were now nearly all in color, and the screens had grown very, very wide. For music, radio was still big, primarily among the kids. A new sort of radio called "FM" had arrived, but that was still mostly for Classical enthusiasts and Stereo Hi Fi nuts. The kids were tuned in to "rock 'n' roll", which had in the past few years single-handedly saved a lot of radio stations from being rendered obsolete by television. And the kids were buying records -- mostly 45's, though a little band from England was about to change everything… And we read books.
Nowadays, we still visit supermarkets and department stores, but there are typically only one or two chains left in most areas -- chains that have in the past few years gobbled all the other ones up. Naturally, fewer chains means less of a selection, and we are thus witness to a continuing phenomenon whereby the remaining traditional retail stores seem to be deliberately doing themselves in by offering even less choices and less service, at a time when more than ever before is available online. Are stores going to disappear? Many, sadly, already have… For general entertainment, we now download complete television episodes and movies directly from the World Wide Web. CD's have begun to disappear, as music becomes more and more an entity of the clouds, no longer beholden to any vinyl or plastic cage. And we read books?
When I first wrote this column seven years ago, the Book seemed to be the one constant. Recent years have, however, shown us that the modern age has the potential even to digitize and destroy physical books, as it has so much else. And yet, though reading online is clearly here to stay, which I state as I type these words, watching them appear on the screen before me, yet something unforeseeable has happened. Electronic books have failed to wipe out printed books, which many had predicted, and their sales have slowed dramatically over the past year, as the novelty begins to wear off. Of greater significance is this, though: in a poll conducted a month or so ago, the coming generation was directly polled -- and a majority of kids between 16 and 24 voted in favor of traditional books, by a percentage of 65 to 35%! And this allows me to repeat my words from years ago, and tell you with no hesitation, that the good old book is with us still, and looks to remain so for many years to come. Yes, dear friends -- we read books.
Happy New Year!