If everyone stops reading, what will happen to all of the books? Two suggestions come to mind, one from “The Time Machine,” by H. G. Wells (1895), the other from Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” (1953).
In the Palace of Green Porcelain, the Time Traveller wanders “… out of that gallery and into another and still larger one, which at the first glance reminded me of a military chapel hung with tattered flags. The brown and charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough” (chap. 8, p. 103).
The first “Time Machine” movie (1960) contains two scenes worth mentioning that are not in the book. The talking rings scene was suggested by record albums, but, in a current reading, the rings are predictive of CD’s; the other scene is the crumbling book in the Time Traveller’s hands, and his sweeping of the books on a shelf into dust as his Eloi companion, Weena, looks on, with no comprehension. The Time Traveller returns home, tells his story, then returns to the future – in the movie, with three books (which books, we don’t know), but in the book, he’s seen preparing to leave, “a small camera under one arm and a knapsack under the other” (chap. 12, p. 137), but what’s in the knapsack, we don’t know.
Ray Bradbury, in “Fahrenheit 451,” imagined a different, but similarly bleak, future for books, one in which books are illegal, and if found, are burned by special firemen – for everything else in this future society is fireproof. But at the end of the book, the fireman Montag, now a fugitive on the run, having betrayed with books and deserted the force, discovers a band of outlaws living outside the city: “We’re book burners, too. We read the books and burnt them, afraid they’d be found. Microfilming didn’t pay off; we were always traveling, we didn’t want to bury the film and come back later. Always the chance of discovery. Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it.”
McLuhan, “The Medium is the Massage:” “’Authorship’ – in the sense we know it today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity – was practically unknown before the advent of print technology… the invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of the same text created a public – a reading public… the idea of copywrite…was born…As new technologies come into play, people are less and less convinced of the importance of self-expression” (pp. 122-123).