Last week in London, the Literary Consultancy held its third Writing in a Digital Age conference. Participants heard the usual hand-wringing over the issues of digital rights management, the decline in bookstores, especially independents, and the attention-sucks of our various digital tools and devices. Panelists discussed the irony that the gadgets developed to expand reading are the very same ones that can reduce it, if what we use them for is interrupting our reading time to play a game, send an email, scan Facebook, tweet a half-formed thought, watch a YouTube cat video, and check the current weather in Paris. One speaker called them digital Trojan horses.
And while these de rigueur arguments are familiar, echoing past concerns that television would be the end of radio, and video would be the end of movies, one statement by panelist Steve Bohme, who manages the Books and Consumers survey for Nielsen, sent a chill from my toes to the roots of my hair: “When everyone you know has a Kindle, why would you buy them a book?” No more buying (and receiving) books as presents? Oh, no!