I can certainly relate to your nostalgia regarding the magical respite provided in our youths and beyond by books. There was and is something personal yet accessible for us to escape into a faraway or mythical place for relaxation or enjoyment. This is not to say that the same information is not available electronically, but there is some less personal, more public aspect of that experience.
For instance, if you retreat to a private place with a book, even if that very volume has been read and handled by hundreds of others, for that time you are reading that book, it is your own. Electronically you may share that experience simultaneously with hundreds at a time. The personal feeling may be diminished by reading on the screen and not handling worn pages.
I would concur that publishing would appear now to be of the ilk of vanity presses in that all can put out their thoughts, irrespective of the merit of the content. Certainly some authors through the years have had difficulty getting a publisher's attention and approval, but eventually quality will out (or at least I'd like to believe so). If our children can view all that is on the web without editing or polish of any kind, is it then for them to seperate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak? That is an awesome responsibility for anyone.
We are fast becoming or perhaps have already become a world of self-gratifying individuals who seek mainly that which we desire--who do indeed wish to fast forward through the scary or disinteresting parts of life. Not just our coffee has become instant.
I too lament that we cannot go home again, back to the retreat provided by reading books, by strolling uptown without fear, by taking the subway without looking around for danger. The web provides us with so much instant information, that one cannot help but be fascinated with it; however, we must try to seize that which is good about it and at the same time retain some of the magnificence provided us by the old ways, some old things--like books, read manually without the ability to fast forward through the scary parts.
Comments will be posted to their own pages, with links from this page. Feel free to add your thoughts!