I think that the reading ecology is changing, and it’s important to recognize that. Reading may be fundamental, but the way we use reading materials in teaching and libraries will necessarily change too. I suppose I should define what I mean by reading ecology. The traditional ecology was characterized by the following:
1. The education system was dedicated to universal reading skills. Recall that this is a fairly recent phenomenon. It has probably only been less than a century since the majority of adults in Western society could read.
2. Reading was primarily done with materials that were text on paper formats, and the content was fixed and nonmalleable.
3. There was an infrastructure of reading choices where there were gating factors about what your options and choices were for reading. These choices were gated by publishers, retailers, librarians, teachers, and academics. It has only been in recent decades that everyone had access to the means of production and distribution.
4. There was a defined recommendation structure of reviewers and selectors, which was usually biased toward the works published by mainstream organizations.
5. Beyond text, the key physical display properties of the things we read—books, periodicals, reports, and articles—were enhancements of layout, size, color, graphics, and pictures. Virtually everything about the reading experience was fixed and predictable.
This ecology is undergoing an almost universally acknowledged renaissance. This is the period we’re in the midst of now. Many people have not fully acknowledged the transition to a different reading ecology and the hybrid, multidimensional nature of the new, emerging ecology. We can see where this has happened to other sectors in the past. The easiest analogy might be to entertainment and cultural expression. Live performances dominated for centuries. As the ability to record took root, we saw the emergence of an archive of permanently saved performances of music and the spoken word. With film we were able to record visual performances such as concerts and plays. With the emergence of broadcast capabilities, performance art broke the bounds of physical presence, time, and synchronicity. With the introduction of internet-based streaming capabilities and the massive cost reductions in recording and distribution technologies, we see a major renaissance again in the availability, diversity, and creativity of cultural and entertainment objects.
The thread holding all of this together is that there has been a massive increase in the sharing and development of the products of the creative mind. One insight is that this occurred over many years and has sped up recently as well. Rarely has the result been that the previous formats and methods went fully extinct. Live performances continue to survive on street corners and in theaters and concert venues. Radio, cinema, television, music, and other cultural experiences continue to thrive and coexist successfully. Ultimately there is more entertainment, and there are more options. Rarely has any other format annihilated a previous one. Indeed, the silent film The Artist won a Golden Globe in 2012.
So, are we seeing the reading ecosystem mutate and develop into a new kind of beast? I say yes ...
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