Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rethinking Reading

In this article from WIRED Magazine, Clive Thompson proposes a bold rethink of books as static entities. Books have always been a mostly one-sided conversation between the author and the reader. The eBook has the possibility of changing that dynamic, opening up the conversation so that it can flow both ways. This is already being done by allowing a form of digital marginalia. Of old, these were notes and comments jotted in the margins and between lines by those who were inclined to do so. (I used to do this, but these days I tend to use the Post-it). These notes could be added to or commented upon in-turn by the next reader I passed it along to and lie waiting for me on the page until I pick up the book to re-read. It thus became a conversation among friends in a time before Facebook and eBooks... In the digital version, the book would be divided into modules, a chapter or even a paragraph long and shared among readers online utilizing a modular commenting system. In essence, you could think of every section as a blog post with a comments section devoted to it. The other day I was commenting upon the need to recognize the shared-experience of the book as a cultural conversation. A recognition that is notably absent from the sort of Digital Rights Managment that we've been discussing, the sort that says I'm essentially leasing the books in my digital library and the provider can yank them at any time if I do something they don't like... such as loaning my copy of Basbane's divine work A Gentle Madness to a friend. Regardless of how I, my friend or Mr. Basbane might feel about it. This model of the novel as a modular entity, alive with conversation and interaction between readers and writers brings the idea of the novel out of the dusty stacks and off the page to dance among the electrons. An intriguing idea that could be either sublime or devolve into inarticulate chaos, rife with the same trolls and flamewars endemic to other interactive Internet phenomena, easily remedied by allowing us to limit comments we see to our friends list. It's a system that one imagines as allowing the communal aspect of the artform to not only survive but flourish. It still has a long way to go as a viable publishing model, but as Mr. Thompson says in the Wired article: "We need to stop thinking about the future of publishing and think instead about the future of reading." Read the article. It really is an interesting direction to explore...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).