I love books. I have hundreds in my library, have read hundreds more. I get a warm comfortable feeling when I go to a bookstore or public library. But I also know that the end is near for books. I’m not sad or nostalgic about any of it. Things change.
Tens of thousands of years ago, long before speech, man told each other stories through pantomime and play acting. They acted out their hunting adventures or mishaps, probably laughed when Grog hit his head on a rock. You can feel the truth in this, have this genetic memory as I do.
Thousands of years after that, our brains developed speech and the stories got more sophisticated, more detailed. They were passed around, embellished, exaggerated until they became myths and legends. Really exaggerated, like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders and Apollo pulling the sun across the sky.
Mankind lived on the earth for hundreds of thousands of years telling stories without books. Then some clever fellow in Mesopotamia scratched symbols in the dirt and invented writing. Someone else smeared these symbols onto parchment (no fun for the lamb by the way) and presto we have scrolls, and if they are long enough, are really just rolled up books.
Thousands of years after that, Gutenberg figured out a way to make multiple copies of the bible and by the 20th Century, we’re neck deep in books. Millions and millions of them. Even Hitler couldn’t burn enough to make a dent in the growing pile.
But if you look at the bigger picture, the history of humankind at approximately 500,000 years, books are still pretty new. Writing is barely 5,000 years old, printed books only about 600 and the novel as we know it, less than 300. And sad, though it may appear, books are going to disappear, are already disappearing, or more accurately, evolving.
Do you have children? If not, have you ever seen one? They love video. In my day it was TV, “Gilligan’s island, Lost in Space.” Horrible stuff. Now it’s six second vines. Amazing really, that you can tell a story in only six seconds. YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Vimeo, Facebook, video is king. We love them, devour them like chocolate on Easter. They’re stories.
Oh I know the argument, video and movies do the imagining for us. Books make us create the pictures in our own head. “The movie was pretty good, but the book was great.” But someone had to create those stories, imagine them and how to present them. Grog didn’t worry about that when he acted out a good hunt in front of the fire half a million years ago. Plays are high art and movies are not? Nonsense. It’s all just human beings telling stories to each other. And that’s what matters.
Not long from now, we’ll agonize over the displacement of video and movies too. We’ll watch and interact with Virtual Reality or maybe someday images will be beamed directly into our minds. We can’t live without stories. Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” I think it misses the point. We are not that different from Grog in front of the fire, maybe no different at all. I think we’re all just kids begging dad to tell us a goodnight story and don’t really care how it gets into our heads.
Threshold of the Mind by Jay Magidson a novel about mankind addicted to Virtual Reality in the near future.
Available on Amazon.com in print, kindle and audiobook. Buy it today!