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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SIFF Sighting: OUT OF PRINT (documentary; USA)

What type of format do you read?

This is a question that comes up in the new documentary, narrated by Meryl Streep, which examines the slow death of the printed word. And it's a question that wouldn't have made a lot of sense, even ten years ago.

Bigwigs in the publishing industry weigh in on how the trend of reading has rapidly changed. The way the advent of mp3s encouraged an a la carte listening pattern for music; social media and eReaders have produced a smaller attention span for books. Instead of sitting down in a traditional way and devouring chapters of a lengthy novel, we as a collective society are now reading shorter stanzas of text and bouncing around between multiple items when we do read.

Libraries have also significantly changed—young kids appearing in the film admit they'd rather "just Google" whatever information they're seeking; independent bookstores are closing at alarming rates.

There are also concerns of data rot. DVDs, CDs and hard drives have a finite shelf life (no pun intended); yet paper books can last forever.

All of the points raised here are valid and somewhat numbing when one contemplates what lies ahead for the future of publishing (and literacy), but there is still hope that the pendulum will swing back at some point and bookcases will erupt with title after title of intelligent, thoughtful works.

People who are so/so on books in general may not find this documentary as riveting as I did, but I also have the perspective of someone who has made a living as a writer for over 15 years. It's scary to think the construction of paragraphs and information is losing its value with the dawn of each new day.

What seems to be agreed upon by all the talking heads in this film is that education is the key to the future of reading. If children are taught to develop critical thinking, words and text arranged in meaningful ways will always have a place in our world. And that's a great comfort.

OUT OF PRINT will screen at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival on May 20 & 21. For tickets, click here.

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