Do you ever have days when you wonder if the steep rise in the popularity of audio books will mean the eventual demise of the written word?
Oh. So you think I'm a bit out there, do you? Consider this: the oral telling of tales predates that oily little press Gutenberg came up with by thousands of years. Our brains are wired for oral tales--or are they?
Nowadays, everyone is listening more, but hearing less. More than one study, I think, has questioned the movement towards audio books. Scientists have determined that people tend to become
bored and/or distracted more easily when they are being read to--I would
suspect that might be the original reason for all the rude hand gestures and
mad dancing about the campfire.
Think of querelous old people who are never satisfied with what you're reading to them. I flash back on that scene in Little Women where Jo is reading an edifying book to her humorless aunt. The aunt typically fell asleep for an afternoon nap during Jo's reading of the latest mind-numbing Bulwer-Lytton. At that point, Jo would whip out something a little more racy, like the Vicar of Wakefield, to read for herself.
The aunt wakes up and catches her at it, insists on having the new book read to her, and is revitalized by a story that does more than drone ever onwards. Readers need ACTION. Readers need COLOR. Readers need CHARACTERS.
The original teller of tales (like any writer) must have been
miffed that no one was paying much attention to his tale and decided to juice
it up. Personally, if I was going to have a book read to me, then I would want at least one caveman leaping about, demonstrating the high points of the tale with his spear--and I'd be much happier if he was joined by the Rockettes. And speaking of the Rockettes, think of early radio. The clopping of horses' hooves, the scream of a train, thundering rain--all of the clever sound effects accompanied by a hurried and suspenseful pace to the dialogue helped to keep listeners enthralled. (Boy, is anyone doing this regularly with the new audio books yet? I might be tempted to try one myself.) But without such aids to keep a listener focused, the retention of audio tales is apparently terrible.
It's not the blind, but ordinary people who are responsible for the renewed interest and billion dollar boom in audio books. While they're working out, while they're walking to work, while they're on the computer (seems like overkill, doesn't it?)--one has to wonder why society is so eternally afraid of blessed silence. Audio books are newly popular with teenagers, too, which is more than a little scary. Things could get quite interesting down the road if the ones listening to audio books turn out to be the ones who can barely read and write as it is.
The paranoid would say that it's not enough to dumb down newspapers and books anymore--that the latest Machiavellian move by The Ones Who Are Really In Charge is to make people stupid with audio books.
Well, if so, I want mine with sound effects, please. But not just yet. You see, I've got this great book to read first . . . .