Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Words Will Never Die: Audio Books As The Future

     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.
      I have a relative with a rare disorder affecting his eyes. It will not be too much longer, in fact, before he is blind. This is how I always thought of audio books: as a necessity for the blind, but as an unneeded luxury for the rest of us. As I looked into them, concerned for this relative who will soon lose his ability to read books in the ordinary way, I was surprised.
     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 . . . .


Anonymous said...

It's odd that teenagers are 'reading' audiobooks. I have to wonder if literary standards have dropped so low that some kids can no longer lose themselves in a book.

Marilyn Storie said...

My own teenager seems to think it's California-girl-types (not to insult California girls--I mean the stereotypical ones) who listen to them while they're jogging or putting on their makeup or whatever. They're all so busy making $$$ with their YouTube accounts(they take considerable editing)that they don't have time to read in the ordinary way.