Maybe they're waiting for the movie version of "Differential Geometry of Elliptic Curves"

Intel has an electronic employee newsletter. We get company news, announcements, human interest stories, convention reports, etc.  One other regular feature is a poll of employees on a wide range of topics. Things like how often we eat meat to our favorite movie genre to what kind of mobile device we use the most are typical topics. Participants select their answer to the question and then the current percentage of votes cast in each response are displayed. This is updated every time you visit the newsletter page until a new question is posed. It's a fun way to get a "slice of life" snapshot of the worldwide Intel employees.

The most recent poll results made me cringe. The question wanted to know why respondents chose the last book they purchased/downloaded. Some of the potential answers were things like "I liked the cover," "I liked the author's previous work," and "It had good reviews." As with many multiple choice questions, this one came with a "none of the above" reponse stated as "I don't buy or download books." The last time I saw the results, over 8000 people had responded to the question and 36% of those had chosen this last category.

To me, this is shocking. While I may not be a fan of the e-books and readers, I still think reading is a fundamental requirement for a strong and healthy human culture and to become a well-informed and well-rounded person. I only hope that this result doesn't translate into meaning 36% of people don't read books of any kind. There are still libraries (for now) with books that can be borrowed, so there would be no need to purchase them. I hope that this is what that 36% are doing.

In a technical job, I find books indispensable. If I need to know the parameter order for pthread_create, or if I want to know the differences between automatic and manual events, or if I can't figure out why my use of some Threading Building Blocks algorithm isn't working like I expected, I consult a book. Sure, I could probably look up the answers to these questions in some online source, but that takes time to search, to select a likely URL, and to scour the chosen site for the specific answer I need. If it's not there, I have to repeat the search with other possible sources. With a book that I'm familiar with (and may have learned the answer from originally), I can use the index and find the relevant topic and page very quickly.

Beyond needing reference material, I find reading to be a good exercise for the mind. I joined a book club to force me to read at least one book per month (my wife is involved with two reading groups). Right now, as I write this, I'm in the middle of three books: one about quantum computation, one about algorithm analysis, and one about a witch and vampire duo fighting crime in Ohio (not to mention the 20+ comic book series I regularly read). When I'm on the treadmill at the gym, I have a book open and get in 30-45 minutes of reading three times a week. My sister complained that almost all of the photos of their last family trip--at least those that included her eldest daughter--my niece had a book out. (That's a bit too much reading; take advantage of seeing the sights of the world.)

Is reading becoming obsolete? We already live more cloistered lives than we did 10 years ago with all of the FaceSpace and the TwitBook and the FlixWeb and other technologies that brings visual media to us while we sit in the dark in our robe and slippers. Maybe it's a change in human culture that is going on and I'm unaware of it or too old and stuck in my ways to adapt to it. I've probably got enough reading material to last me the rest of my life, I just hope that others will still be willing to exercise their minds and expand their horizons with a book.

(For everyone that is still reading, let me recommend the eponymous story from Paolo Bacigalupi's book Pump Six and Other Stories. To me it was an all-too-plausible result of where we are headed without reading and better education.)

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