“Reading in the future might simply be a fetish. Think, for example, of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek) reading Shakespeare in his quarters when he has a holodeck at his disposal to experience any of the plays in their full glory.” Mike Ridley, Beyond Literacy, Chapter 2: About Reading
Will reading “simply be a fetish” in a post-literate future? Like most other questions posited by the Beyond Literacy project, this seemingly simple question does not have a seemingly simple answer. Is it possible that reading will become a fetish in the post-literate world? Yes. Will reading solely be a fetish? Maybe.
If we consider the fact that the act of fetishizing most often involves applying a sort of excessive or irrational attachment to an object or activity, than the act of reading in a world that does not require it for any practical purposes could be described as irrational. In other words, if one does not have to read than the act of reading may suggest a sort of fetish, fascination, or obsession with a bygone era of human communication. Although reading may become a “fetish,” it seems more appropriate to suggest that in the post-literate world reading will be approached with an air of nostalgia, not irrationality.
The process of reading transitioning from a societal necessity for communication in the literate world to more of a hobby or fetish in the post-literate world may manifest itself in numerous ways. A post-literate reading fetish may be reflected in a desire to actively collect physical reading objects of the past (a desire for tactility) or, more formally, via the creation of fetishized rituals surrounding the act of reading.
Arguably, reading is already fetishized by some. Or, perhaps it is more correct to say that reading objects are fetishized, or overly romanticized, by some. The ability to interact with reading objects in a tactile way is what often leads to this idealization of the book and the act of reading. For instance, it seems fair to suggest that those deeply involved in the rare book world engage in a sort of fetishization of the book. So long as reading objects exist in a post-literate world, reading has the ability to be fetishized. As Ridley says in his chapter on the artefact, “we tend to fetishize the container over the content.”
While it seems quite probable that objects of literacy – physical and digital books, pens, paper, etc.–will no longer be necessary for the transmission of information in a post-literate world, it seems less probable that these technologies of literacy will completely disappear. The invention of the typewriter did not mean the death of pencils, just as the invention of the personal computer did not mean the disappearance of all typewriters. The invention of the personal computer did, however, mean that the market and consumption of the typewriter became smaller, more niche, and somewhat romanticized. Now, most people do not choose to use a typewriter out of technological necessity, but rather use this technology for other, probably more personal or nostalgic, reasons.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard legitimately enjoys reading and thus reads not because he has to, but because he wants to. Luckily for him, the pseudo post-literate world he lives in allows him to freely exercise this desire and thus reading becomes a sort of fetish.