ABSTRACT: THE END OF BOOKS
London. Bibliophiles and scholars, inspired by a lecture at the Royal Institution, in which the eminent physicist Sir William Thompson discussed the life and death of the sun, convene after the lecture at a gentlemen's club and discuss what they think the future will hold.
James Wittmore considered the rise and fall of continental powers. Julius Pollok predicted the futures of foods and the eradication of hunger; a green Eden that humorist John Pool laughed at as contrary to the rule that one must devour or be devoured. Arthur Blackcross decried the miserable state of current painting and sculpture, but predicted that in the future it would become great, done by a small number of talents, with color photographs and photoengravings satisfying the masses.
But what of the future of books? The narrator argues that Gutenberg's invention will soon disappear. Reading causes lassitude and wearies us tremendously. Words through the speaking tube, however, give us a special vibrancy. The gramophone will destroy printed works. Our eyes are easily damaged, but our ears are strong.
But, his listeners object, gramophones are heavy and the cylinders easily damaged. This will be taken care of; new models will be built which will fit in the pocket; the precision of watchmaking will be applied to them. Devices will collect electricity from the movements of the individual, which will power the gramophones.
The author will become his own editor. In order to avoid imitations and counterfeits, he will deposit his voice at the Patent Office. Instead of famous men of letters, we will have famous narrators. The art of diction will become extremely important. The ladies will no longer say that they like an author's style, but that his voice is so charming, so serious, that he leaves you full of emotion after listening to his workit is an incomparable ravishment of the ear.
The libraries will be become phonographoteques. They will house famous works by artists in vogue, such as Coquelin's performance of Moliere, Irving's Shakespeare, Salvini's Dante, etc. Bibliophiles will become phonographophiles, and collect cylinders with the unique example of the voice of a Master of the theater, poetry or music, or those with new and unknown alternate versions of a famous work. Narrators will do comic pieces, sound effects, and dialects like Irishmen and American Westerners.
At the crossroads of all cities, there will be kiosks where the passerby can put in a penny and hear the works of Dickens, Dumas Sr. or Longfellow. The author can carry his works to buildings on the street, where multiple pipes will carry his words to all the windows for the people to listen. At four or five cents per hour, even the poor can afford this, and the wandering author will still make money because of the number of listeners at each house.
Our grandchildren will use phonographs everywhere; at every restaurant table, public transportation, steamship cabins, and hotel rooms; railroads will supply Pullman circulating libraries which will make travelers forget the distances they cover, while allowing them to look out the windows. Printing will be abandoned, except for a small possible use in trade and private communication.
The newspaper will go the same way, because no one will be satisfied with the printed word if they can hear what was actually said, the current songs, the voices of the divas. The post office will bring cylinders each morning to the subscribers; the servants will lay them out so the Master and the Mistress can hear the news, telegrams, stock exchange prices, whimsical articles. Journalism will be transformed, with the best places reserved for the solid young men with warm, strong voices, whose art will be in the pronunciation rather than in the style or form of the written sentences. While literary mandarinism will not disappear, it will be for a negligible number of listeners. The newspaper offices will have enormous "spoking halls" [sic] where the writers will record the news aloud; the telephonic dispatches will be transferred automatically. The resulting cylinders will be stereotyped in great number and put into the post office before 3:00 am., except that if it can be arranged with the telephone companies the newspaper will be carried directly by wire to the ears of the subscribers.
Blackcross objects to the loss of illustrations when books disappear. Ah! the Kinetograph of Thomas Edison, which the narrator saw the first tests of, when he visited New Jersey, will record the movements of the man as the gramophone records the voice. Within a few years this will illustrate everyday life. We will have these in our residences; the scenes of fiction and adventure novels will be performed by well-costumed actors. We will also have current events, to complement the phonographic newspaper.
Finally, just as eye-doctors multiplied when Journalism was invented, in the same way in the future ear specialists will prosper.
Books must disappear, or they will ruin us. In the whole world there are eighty to a hundred thousand books published each year, and at a thousand copies each this is more than one hundred million specimens, of which the majority contain only trash and errors.
How happy we will be not to have to read any more; to be able finally to close our eyes! Hamlet, of our beloved Will, could not have said it any better ... Words! Words! Words! ...words which will pass and which no one will read any more.
Copyright 1999 by Michael Ward
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