Monday, January 26, 2009

Reading and Writing in the Brave New e-World

Someone on my Twitter list posted this article on changing reading habits, which I found very interesting and very personally pertinent.

In the last month, the only traditional paper book I've read all the way through is Suzanne Brockmann's Dark of Night, and that was an author's galley (8 1/2" by 11"; thank you, Suz!), not a "real" hardcover book like I'll be buying tomorrow when it's finally released. Everything else I've read has been on my computer (ebooks, articles from my Google Reader, Twitter list, LiveJournal friends list, email), or on my shiny new Sony Reader, or the newspaper.

When I first started writing a blog (LiveJournal and no, I'm not linking! :), I found myself narrativizing my life into LJ posts. How would I introduce my day? How would I make my post interesting/funny/poignant/readable? Is this happening worth posting about? How long will the post be--that is, is it too much trouble to write out? How much do I NEED to write this post, whether for myself or to solicit feedback?

Now I organize my day into Twitter posts. 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation, doesn't give you much room for anything. So I've noticed that I don't double space after terminal punctuation anymore (periods, exclamation marks, question marks, and the colon and its cousin, the semi-colon). I'm losing my articles (a, an, the) and many prepositions. I abbreviate more. I've lost the beauty of words and flowing phrases for the ability to convey my point in about 20-25 words.

When I read a book, I now wonder how I might review it, or what interesting thing I have to say about it in an academic article. I lost the ability just to read, to submerge myself in a book, many moons ago in graduate school. My inner literary critic won't go away. But now my inner reviewer adds herself to the chorus. Does the chorus of inner-mes contribute to my predilection for skimming, as the article above discusses? Does my inability to quiet the chorus explain why I find it so difficult to read a book without interrupting myself to check email or my Twitter friends list, or is that a function of the fact that so many of the books I now read are on my computer, and therefore clicking over to the next tab has just created a habit of mind that I can't break? Or is my compulsive belief that I just don't have any time to read mean that I can't sink into it?

Is this all a good thing? Bad? Or just a thing, just another consequence of advancing technology and no more good or bad than the introduction of all the other book technology that we take for granted nowadays that produced its own chorus of "OMG, the downfall of civilization as we know it!" when it was first introduced, before a generation or two of readers started to require them (like, you know, pages, and printing presses, and penny dreadfuls, and novels--I think you get the idea).

But how is this going to change The Book? I'd love to read a Twitter novel posted in 140 character increments that actually uses the form of Twitter to make literary points along the way. Silly me, that's already been done. But does the Twitter novel need to transform into "The Book" in order to be "successful." Well, certainly if "success"=money.

Plato can be found lamenting how the coming generation is rude and uneducated and doesn't respect its elders. I'm not trying to do that. I feel privileged to be part of the generation that is changing the world so stupendously. I'm just curious how it's going to affect my reading habits over the next fifty years. (And, to be honest, my job.)


  1. I haven't joined twitter or the ebook world, so I don't know that I have anything useful to say there - but I wonder if ebooks will bring new conventions with them. We don't buy books by the chapter anymore, but will we go back to that?

    One not terribly useful response from me - but this has given me a lot to think about in how my own reading has changed. Thanks for bringing it up!

  2. Hi, Sarah! Love your posts!

    I wonder, too, if our environment makes us read differently (regardless of the medium). For instance, would we be as inclined to get "lost" in a book -- whether e-book or paper book -- if we were curled up in a cozy chair? Do we instantly feel more impatient and distracted if we're sitting in front of the computer at a "work desk"? I know, for me, location is everything! Not so much the thing I'm reading on, but how cozy I feel (or how much time I perceive I have, I guess).

    Great post! Interesting to think about. ...

  3. This is an interesting thing to think about-- and I think some of the people who best know what it's like to read something like an ebook are actually fanfiction readers. There's no other way to read those than on the computer, unless you're willing to print off every single one you read. Granted, it's not like curling up in a chair with a Jane Austen novel, but there is the advantage of being forced to think about something for a little longer because you've got no choice but to wait for the author of whatever you're reading to post a new chapter, and you might as well dig a little deeper into the ones that are already available to you.