Right off, I was struck immediately by the title of McLuhan’s first article, “The Galaxy Reconfigured, or the Plight of Mass Man in an Individualist Society.”
Historically, all products, even art, had to be made to fit both with the rising technology of the time as well as consumer demand. McLuhan talked about the history of how writing and art changed and why in his article, primarily due to the rise of new media that made changing ideas necessary.
The printing press was a major innovation hundreds of years ago. It allowed for the mass printing of books; monks and scribes no longer had to painstakingly transcribe works. It increased the literacy rate, how many people had access to books, and the way people had to write.
So, what does it mean?
Innovations such as this persisted throughout time; the entirety of our society is shaped by technological advances and, as our society is largely a market society, we play to these advances.
Smartphones…tablets…e-readers…our whole world has shifted into a primarily digital one. Many of the technologies we have today we didn’t have just five years ago. Many people now, myself included, own an iPhone or a tablet or an e-reader of some sort. I often swore that I would never have an e-reader, but societal demand as well as having far too many books to know what to do with, pushed me to get a Windows tablet/e-reader with my Christmas money this year.
According to The Washington Post and Nicholas Carr, e-book sales spiked to 252% in 2010, around the time when the tablet and e-reader craze began happening (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/08/e-book-sales-are-leveling-off-heres-why/).
Many people thought that the e-book would replace traditional print; after all, when new media emerges, old media tends to take a backseat. Gutenberg, anyone?
E-books are easier to keep up with and you can have more books in a space the size of, well, an incredibly flat paperback. Prices are also cheaper than those of print copies; I often will buy the electronic version of a book over the actual hardback or paperback version because I can save a few bucks.
The hardcover version of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, for example, is priced at $17.84 while the Nook version is priced at $12.99.
But in 2013, sales in the first quarter were only up 5%. This perpetuating fear that, admittedly, that I (and many others) felt about the so-called death of books was and is unfounded. Traditional print books still have a loyal niche (myself included; I still buy print books because, I admit it – I have a bit of a problem), even though e-books are pretty popular.
Will we perhaps see e-books eventually start to rise again? Only time will tell; perhaps now that summer is over, sales will spike from college students not wanting to lug around a thousand pound textbook, or drop the cash for it. (Our school also introduced a few electronic forms of textbooks this year that were available for purchase.)
Or could a new technology somehow make even the e-book obsolete?