India has a long and rich history of literacy. Even before the British era, there were many schools and libraries in India. The ancient Indian universities of Takshashila and Nalanda were world-renowned centers of learning. The British colonial government made some efforts to promote literacy in India, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful.
In today’s rapidly evolving digital age, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) has led to widespread discussions about the obsolescence of physical books. Many argue that with the vast availability of e-books, audiobooks, and other digital formats, the traditional printed book is losing its relevance. However, the sustenance of physical books remains a topic of profound importance, rooted in the rich history of literacy and the unique advantages they offer.
Literacy and books, especially physical ones like newspapers, magazines, textbooks, and novels, have an inseparable connection. Books have been essential tools in the development of literacy for centuries. They are not just carriers of knowledge but also catalysts for learning. For many, the tactile experience of holding a book, flipping through its pages, and inhaling the scent of printed paper is an integral part of the reading process. This physical interaction enhances the overall reading experience and aids in comprehension and retention.
Prof. (Dr.) YSR Murthy, Vice Chancellor, RV University, Bengaluru had this to say, when asked about the same. “Despite the rapid growth of digitalization which has affected all walks of life, physical books still hold the fort and are relevant for several reasons. Experience of reading a book from a Kindle or a computer screen can never match reading from a physical book. The mere touch of a book or its smell and feel can electrify a reader. Online books require the availability of the internet and bandwidth. Long hours of looking at a screen can affect the eyes. The physical book can also give a sense of ownership and emotional connection, unlike a digital copy.
When it comes to newspapers, though the young generation is consuming news through media and other online platforms, hard copies are still relevant. In the past decade, we have seen how newspapers can hold their fort despite the massive onslaught of digitalization. Digital media is important from the standpoint of conservation of the environment, reduction in cutting down of trees for the production of newsprint, and saving on the physical space for holding books and newspapers. Despite these relative advantages, hard copies of books and newspapers hold their sway on any day.”
Moreover, numerous biological and scientific advantages are associated with reading physical books. Studies have shown that reading from a physical book, as opposed to a digital screen, can lead to improved focus and reduced eye strain. The absence of glaring screens and notifications minimizes distractions, allowing readers to immerse themselves fully in the content. Additionally, the act of physically turning pages has been linked to better memory recall.
The importance of promoting and preserving the art of literature cannot be overstated. In recent times, AI has been employed to generate books, and some individuals have used their names as authors, threatening the authenticity of creative works. This raises concerns about the erosion of artistic integrity and originality. Physical books, created through the sweat and inspiration of human authors, serve as a testament to the power of human creativity. They are tangible artifacts of culture and history, reflecting the unique perspectives, ideas, and stories of their creators. “In the digital era, physical books and newspapers retain enduring value. Beyond their tangible charm, they provide a refuge from screen saturation. The tactile experience of turning pages and the weight of a book in hand evoke a deeper connection with content that screens cannot replicate. Physical books and newspapers hold historical significance, chronicling our past. Marginal notes and dog-eared pages carry personal history. Print ensures lasting existence, impervious to technology shifts.
Despite the proliferation of e-learning platforms and digital resources, many students and educators still prefer physical textbooks. They find that flipping through pages, highlighting text, and making notes in the margins enhances their learning experience. Moreover, physical textbooks do not require access to the internet or electronic devices, making them reliable and accessible resources, especially in areas with limited connectivity. These formats bridge generations, preserving culture and knowledge. In a world of fleeting digital content, physical books and newspapers stand as timeless, trusted sources of information and storytelling.”– said Prof. Divya Gupta, Head of Marketing & Communications and Professor of Practice at IFIM Institutions.
Dr. Yajulu Medury, Vice-Chancellor of Mahindra University said, “Literacy empowers minds, transforms lives, and builds nations; it is the key to unlocking boundless possibilities. We are committed to nurturing a generation of lifelong learners, for we believe that literacy not only opens doors to knowledge but also paves the way for a brighter and more equitable future. It is imperative that we reassess the future of the teaching profession and acknowledge the profound impact it has on our society. The unwavering commitment and dedication of teachers serve as a testament to the profound transformative power of education. In India, their contribution to the education sector is immeasurable.”
This takes us back to the COVID-19 pandemic, as during that time, people were confined to their homes and digital relationships became the norm, many turned to reading as a source of solace and hope. Physical books provided a tangible escape from the overwhelming digital realm. They offered comfort in their physicality, as readers could hold them close during uncertain times. The resurgence of interest in physical books during the pandemic highlighted their enduring appeal and the irreplaceable role they play in providing both knowledge and comfort.
While the rise of AI and digital formats has led to debates about the future of physical books, their sustenance remains paramount. Physical books are deeply intertwined with the development of literacy, offering unique advantages for readers’ focus, comprehension, and retention. They also hold significant value as vessels of human creativity and as symbols of culture and history. Physical books are tangible and durable objects that can survive for centuries, unlike digital books that are vulnerable to technological obsolescence or cyberattacks. Physical books also have a unique aesthetic and sentimental value that cannot be replicated by digital books.
According to a report by the International Publishers Association, the global book market is worth an estimated $150 billion, and it is expected to grow by 2.1% annually until 2025. This shows that there is still a strong demand for physical books, despite the competition from digital media. Physical books are not only valuable for individuals, but also for society as a whole. They are essential tools for education, literacy, and democracy. They foster critical thinking, creativity, and diversity of opinions. They also promote social inclusion and cohesion, as they can reach people who may not have access to digital devices or the internet. In fact, studies have shown that reading physical books can improve empathy and emotional intelligence.
After independence, the Indian government made a concerted effort to improve literacy rates. As a result, India’s literacy rate has increased from 12% in 1947 to 77.7% in 2022. India also has a large and growing book market, worth an estimated $6.76 billion in 2019. India is the second-largest English-language book publisher in the world, after the United States. India also produces books in many regional languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Urdu. Books are an important part of India’s culture and identity, and they play a vital role in promoting education, literacy, and democracy. Despite these gains, there are still many challenges to achieving universal literacy in India. One challenge is the diversity of languages spoken in India. There are over 1000 languages spoken in India, and many of these languages do not have a written form. Another challenge is poverty. Many families in India cannot afford to send their children to school. Despite these challenges, India is committed to achieving universal literacy. The government has launched a number of programs to promote literacy, including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY).
These programs have helped to improve literacy rates in India, but there is still more work to be done. We need to continue to invest in education and literacy programs, so that everyone in India can read and write.
There is a growing trend towards e-books and audiobooks. However, many people argue that physical books are more immersive and engaging than e-books. Studies have shown that people who read physical books retain more information than those who read e-books. Physical books also have a tactile quality that e-books cannot replicate. In addition, physical books can be shared and passed down from generation to generation. This creates a sense of community and connection that is not possible with e-books. Emphasising on the same, Sandhya Gatti, Head of PD and School Projects, Chaman Bhartiya School said, “In our digital age, the significance of physical books and newspapers has surged. Holding a book brings a soothing sense of calmness, fostering love, commitment, and passion. It ignites our imagination, facilitating a silent dialogue with the author and profound contemplation. Newspapers are a cherished ritual in numerous households, evoking cherished memories of elders with a newspaper in hand and a cup of coffee nearby. Even as physical books become less common, let’s appreciate the experience, enjoying the sound of pages turning and the distinct scent of both well-worn and fresh books while they’re still around. It is inevitable that digital books will replace physical ones very soon. In a school set-up, specifically, this will greatly help school children carry one tab, with easy access to multi-medium with a world of information at the tip of their fingers, instead of a load of heavy books. Regardless, it’s important that children read.”
To conclude, physical books are still important in the digital age. They offer several advantages over e-books, including their tactile quality, their ability to be shared, and their connection to the past. One of the main arguments for the sustenance of print is that physical books are important for preserving the cultural and historical heritage of humanity. We must not let the rise of AI and digital tools make us forget the importance of physical books. Together, we can work to create a more literate and informed society.
It is important to sustain physical books for future generations, so that they can continue to benefit from all that they have to offer. Physical books are not only a source of information and entertainment, but also a source of identity and belonging. They are a part of our collective memory and our cultural legacy. They are not obsolete, but rather irreplaceable.