Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Decline of Print Media

The use of technology is a staple in modern affairs. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the widespread use of the Internet. First devised by the military in the 70's as a network of computers interlinked to prevent central control by a single agency the net is everywhere, transforming our world and and changing the way people conduct every aspect of their lives. Foerstel 1998 p.50).

People spend more time than ever online. The change is so widespread that many question the future of traditional media.
 Print media in the form of books and periodicals is the form most often predicted to disappear from the widespread use of new technology.

The argument for retention of print media as a form is made by those who for lack of a better term are described as traditionalists. There are many compelling reasons for maintaining print media the, the least of which is tradition. Print media has been with us since Gutenberg invented the changeable print a remarkable
technological leap in over the tedium of hand written scrolls. This change allowed standardization and and reproducibility on a scale that had not been imagined. Printed books became until recently the repository of all information.

Professor Tom Wilson in this criticism of new media makes a compelling argument for the survival of the book as a form despite the impending change of technology. He makes four sound arguments for the the survival of the book in its present printed form: Printed books are portable, random access, multimedia objects, conveniently accessible, and their energy demands are minimal.(Wilson, 1997 p.1)

Interestingly he uses technical sounding terminology to describe an old form of media, perhaps intentionally to underscore his point. It is important to take him on his word and decipher his terms.

What he clearly means by portable is that books are by their nature complete and are transported in any manner, the only limitation being their size. By implication he suggests that this is not as easy with unwieldy computers. He says
books are random access in the sense that they can be read back to front, opened and read at any time, and handled with ease. By multimedia Professor Wilson is simply saying images can be rendered with the print. The convenience and the limited energy demands are, more or less, self explanatory.  Books are carried around in any setting and only require the individual to read the fixed text in a lighted setting to achieve the desired aim. All these arguments are made with the sense that technology is yet to achieve these standards, and perhaps because the nature of technology implies a higher degree of complication, that complication is naturally associated with a structural weakness compared to the simple form of the book.

On the surface these arguments appear defensible but they do not account for the future efficiency of the technology and more importantly how technology will change popular perceptions and expectations of media .

The relationship between media and perception was first made by Marshal Mcluhan, a Canadian Intellectual who wrote the seminal work on the relationship between the media and public perception. Mcluhan died in 1980 but his ideas are considered so timely that he is considered a seer among modern technology advocates. Wired Magazine includes him on their magazine masthead.(Antecol, 1997 p.1)
Mcluhan  saw technology interacting with human populations, changing their perceptions and the way in which they approached the world. in his time he saw radio as the first  medium that allowed widespread communication. Film then followed, and and at the time of the height of his professional acclaim TV  made inroads. Mcluhan  foresaw the changes that television would bring. He coined the now famous medium is the message to describe how the media was not passively observed but something which  interacted with and changed the individual.(Antecol, 1997 p.1)

Mcluhan never lived to see the world wide Web but he did argue that new technology would remove the barriers of communication and coined the phrase Global Village . The ideas of this next wave of media is being seen in the advent of E-books which are a natural extension of the Web. Electronic Books or E-books are an emerging idea but the changes in this media form and will challenge traditional books for all of the reasons that Wilson used to support the advantages of print books, as well as other reasons for which Mcluhan laid down the prologue.

E-books are developing into a form that incorporates all of the advantages of traditional books along with features that mark the new media of the web. The portability that Wilson suggest distinguishes the print book from technology is being reduced to a fallacy by the improvements that are being made in the design of e-books. As Palmer argues, in technology, stability is not a feature of the technolo
gical world but rather change is the norm. (Palmer, 2001, p. 49)

  Technological innovation  advances at a  high rate pushed by market competition. It will not be long before E-books are are as light and versatile as books. E-books are random access much like books but allow instant search of text, of book marking areas and of following links. 

Hypertext links are the most significant marker of future trends. E-books are multimedia in a way that way that computer technology has allowed and it is this development which has most marked the paradigm change from the static media of print books. This paradigm shift is precisely what Mcluhan foresaw as the future direction of next new media.

Hypertext allows connection to huge data bases and this has changed the way we take in information as Bolter suggests. (Bolter, 2000, p. 4) Following links expands access to information. With hypertext information is presented in the context of a data base  that allows every manner of perspective.  The application of semiotics, to day to day information processing becomes the norm with this way of taking in information.

The multimedia potential of E-books is multimedia unlike the nominal designation assigned to print books. With both the hypertext language of links and the expansion of bandwidth, audio and video links can be seamlessly connected to the language of the text opening up vistas of information. The convenience and limited input of energy ascribed to the traditional print media is challenged by the future potential of E-books.

The decrease in size, weight and increase in
resolution with the concurrent decrease in expense of E-books is a matter of inevitability given the high pace of change in the computer hardware and software industry.

 The memory capacity of an E-book allows storage of dozens of books  in a single device. Many businesses h
ave reduced their print costs by switching much of their operation to web base electronic media. In light of this resource cost the minimal energy cost argument does some of its merit.

Professor Wilson makes many good arguments given the current state of affairs. At this point the production of books in predominantly print media form is still the more efficient method but the trends will change. Traditionalists make good arguments for the survival of print books but they do not consider the inevitable factor of change that occurs in the short generational time of technology change. But more important than this is the whole sale change that is occurring in the perceptions of media.

The internet and the hypertext format that it supports with cross reference to a huge data base is fast becoming a behavioral expectation. It was what Marshal Mchluhan predicted would happen. He foresaw the following changes: McLuhan argued that those changes would lead to implosion, not explosion. The world, he said, would fall in on itself.

The globe would become joined through the blood system of electric wires that would shrink the planet into a single community with an all-inclusive nowness. And a smaller world obviates time - its relevance no longer important to a worldwide society where nothing or no one ever stops. Time and space become timelessness and spacelessness. The result is a Global Village based on a single consciousness in the preliterate oral tradition (Antecol, 1997. p.1)

With respect to professor Wilson it is inevitable that the web will lead to the decline of the print media but it will not completely supplant the formt. Film and Television did not eliminate radio and the same is true here. Print books will remain but they will not occupy their same high position in public consciousness because the expectations will have been raised by the new technology and the behavior in turn. This will be a point of no return but it will fascinating and exciting to head into this future.


Antecol, M. (1997). Understanding McLuhan: Television and the Creation of the Global Village. ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, 54(4), 454+. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Bolter, J. D. (1998). 1 Hypertext and the Question of Visual Literacy. In Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in a Post-Typographic World, Reinking, D., McKenna, M. C., Labbo, L. D., & Kieffer, R. D. (Eds.) (pp. 3-11). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Bolter, J. D. (2000). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Foerstel, H. N. (1998). Banned in the Media A Reference Guide to Censorship in the Press, Motion Pictures, Broadcasting, and the Internet. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Freeman, M. (2000, October). Midmorning in the E-Book Age. Reading Today, 18, 40. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Grant, J. M. (2004). Are Electronic Books Effective in Teaching Young Children Reading and Comprehension?. International Journal of Instructional Media, 31(3), 303+. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Ohler, J. (2001, January). Taming the Technological Beast: The Case of the E-Book. The Futurist, 35, 16. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Palmer, P. (2001, April). The E-Book Revolution. Black Enterprise, 31, 49. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Reinking, D., McKenna, M. C., Labbo, L. D., & Kieffer, R. D. (Eds.). (1998). Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in a Post-Typographic World. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Williams, P. E. (2003). Will a Digital Textbook Replace Me?. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 30(10), 25+. Retrieved May 14, 2006, from Questia database:
Wilson, Tom( 1997) Electronic Publishing and the future of the book Information Research, Vol. 3 No. 2, September 1997

No comments: