WRITING ON THE ETHER: Is Social Reading the End of an Intimacy?

29 August 2013 iStock_000026333294Large photog lainea texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. I Want To Be Alone
  2. The “Annotated” Solitude
  3. Social Reading: The OFF Button

I Want To Be Alone

Recently, I waded into the question of how we talk about the relative isolation (or not) in which authors work. In response to Are You Lonesome Tonight? The Dreaded Solitude of Writing, the Writer Unboxed community got into an articulate comments-discussion of the topic, lots of angles and points of view coming into the mix.

Today, I’d like to ask your thoughts about that person who sits on “the other side of the book.” If an author works largely alone on creating the work itself, how do we see the reader:  also alone?

Start with that tweet from Virginia Quarterly Review’s Jane Friedman, tireless host of the Ether. 

Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer

It takes you to a New York Times opinion piece, How Not To Be Alone by author Jonathan Safran Foer. No Luddite breast-beating here. Foer seems thoroughly and consciously invested in the grid, like so many of us, writing:

My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits…We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.

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Emily St. John Mandel

Hang on to that and look now at a new essay with suggested reading (news you can use, baby) from author Emily St. John Mandel at The Millions.  On The Pleasures and Solitudes of Quiet Books is led by Mandel’s quotation from author Rebecca Solnit’s memoir, The Faraway Nearby, emphasis mine:

This is the strange life of books that you enter alone as a writer, mapping an unknown territory that arises as you travel. If you succeed in the voyage, others enter after, one at a time, also alone, but in communion with your imagination, traversing your route. Books are solitudes in which we meet.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comMandel, writing about the challenge of finding seclusion in urban life, turns to the related concept of the quiet book.

This is the kind of term we don’t handle well in publishing, like literary and (helmets on:) amateur.  The mere mention of a quiet book can make weird defenses go up quickly, somehow, as if someone has just said that “louder,” brassier efforts aren’t valuable.  For the record, Mandel clarifies, “I have an immense love for loud books.”

But special intellectual seclusion can be found in quiet books, something worth considering Mandel:

Any definition of what constitutes a quiet book will naturally be subjective, but I think the important point here is that quiet isn’t the same thing as inert. I’m not talking about the tediously self-conscious novels written by authors who use “literary fiction” as a sort of alibi, as in “my book doesn’t have a plot, because it’s literary fiction.” I rarely get more than fifty pages into these books before they join the books-that-need-to-get-out-of-my-apartment-immediately pile by the front door. Nor is quiet necessarily the same thing as minimalist. Raymond Chandler’s prose is minimalistic, but his stories aren’t quiet.

The books I think of as being quiet, the ones I’ve been enjoying lately, have a distilled quality about them, an unshowy thoughtfulness and a sense of grace, of having been boiled down to the bare essentials.

Mandel offers six books of that quiet variety  and a quick comment on each.

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Rebecca Solnit

Author and activist Solnit, meanwhile, is on Facebook in a diary entry with an extended commentary on the fragmentation of attention. Her larger point involves her views of the management and monitoring of our time and privacy by commercial and political entities. Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comHer descriptions of what seems to be happening to the most intimate element of our time strike home easily:

My time does not come in large, focused blocks, but in fragments and shards. The fault is my own, arguably, but it’s yours too – it’s the fault of everyone I know who rarely finds herself or himself with uninterrupted hours. We’re shattered. We’re breaking up…Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void, and filled up with sounds and distractions.

And this is where I become concerned. How much of the author-reader intimacy are we talking about trading away in social reading? And is it worth it? Back to Table of Contents

   

The “Annotated” Solitude

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Brian O’Leary

Here is our friend and colleague Brian O’Leary—co-editor with Hugh McGuire of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto—writing in A Snapshot in Time: For the book, new tools and new forms about interactive reading of periodicals and what its implications could be for books.

Earlier this month Atlantic Media announced that Quartz, an online publication it launched in 2012, would start accepting comments at the level of a paragraph. The first iteration of the service is sponsored (!) by CitiGroup…Quartz senior editor Zach Seward describes the comments as “annotations.” …Now, we have a revenue-producing version of the idea, applied to online comments. Among blogs that receive a decent volume of comments…user-generated content dwarfs the original text. Imagine a book that could claim the same.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comWhat O’Leary wonders, rightly, is how the very idea of such social reading affects what’s written in the first place; do we still get the same literature?

This new approach bakes social into the creation of a text, and it makes me wonder if anyone who had developed a text in such an environment would ever render it mute. In a world of social reading, print becomes a snapshot in time.

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Damien Walter

That article by O’Leary followed by a few days an article from Damien Walter in the the Guardian, Who owns the networked future of reading? Walter writes as an enthusiast of shared marginalia, and he’s an articulate spokesman.

Readmill aims to fulfil the potential of networked reading. Readers can underline and comment on a text to their heart’s content, then open up those comments for discussion among a growing community of passionate readers.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comI wish the folks at Readmill well. Here’s their nice-looking site. They’re a respected startup in our community and I like their talk of reading “peacefully” in a clean-text environment.

This bit of video shows you a new review and highlights functionality introduced into Readmill’s iOS app:
 

 
Nothing our colleague Henrik Berggren and his team are doing at the Berlin-based Readmill, in fact, makes me unhappy except the fact that Readmill doesn’t seem to be offered for Android, which I prefer. And if you’re an author, check this page at Readmill’s site on which you can look into becoming “a Readmill author” with the app’s functionality made available to your work. The Readmill copy: 

Readmill for authors allows you to interact with your readers in a whole new way — right in the margins of your book. See what they are highlighting and sharing, start discussions, and get valuable feedback.

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Authors considering going to Frankfurt Book Fair: See Hannah Johnson’s straight-shooting Authors Guide at Publishing Perspectives.

Walter in the Guardian lays out what this approach may enable for writers. He’s referring here, by the way, to  a time he found a copy of Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs left on a train with high-caliber margin notes in it, a feminist critique of the work. He writes:

Readmill allows authors to claim ownership of their books, and interact with readers in the margins of the text. So not only could I and my anonymous commentator debate the feminist critique of The Silence of the Lambs but, should he feel so inspired, Thomas Harris himself could respond, in a conversation directly related to the text itself.

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Baldur Bjarnason

Baldur Bjarnason has a comparative look, Readmill versus Kindle—Readmill is worth the hassle, in case you’re interested in comparing the iOS apps of the two. Per O’Leary’s good article, a couple more social reading outfits for you to look at if you’re interested. To our purposes of the social features here, he writes:

Everything regarding highlights, notes, online sharing (twitter, facebook, wordpress), and discussions is top-notch.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comOne is SocialBook / Open Utopia, developed by electronic publishing pioneer Bob Stein and his Institute for the Future of the Book. You can read a note from Stein, SocialBook in Action, from earlier this month on how progress is coming with the beta program and get a look at what they’re working on.

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Bob Stein

An interesting line from Stein’s evolving understanding (over two years) of what they’re doing:

SocialBook it seems is a terrific example of an emerging class of applications that might be called “[collaborative] thinking processors” as opposed to reading environments or word processors. SocialBook’s structure enables multiple perspectives to be brought to bear on a problem. It’s an exciting real-world proof of Alan Kay’s dictum that “point of view is worth 80 IQ points”

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comAnother key startup in the field O’Leary has mentioned is ReadSocial, and you’ll find there’s some delightful tango music behind the video on that page to explain what ReadSocial calls “virtual reading groups.”  In the video animation, folks read the same material on different devices and then interact in a networked group to enjoy such amenities as:

Instant conversations on any paragraph…social features & groups you don’t need to build…additional comments imported from other systems…flexible design (use our layout or yours)…

Travis Alber’s ideas and the slick presentation make this paid service (free trial, of course) pretty tempting. In fact, look at all the fun I’m having. Didn’t I start this thing sounding pretty worried about what social reading might do to us?

I’m not criticizing the work of these startup efforts in social reading. I’m as intrigued as the next person. I’m probably less inclined than some to welcome everybody’s marginalia in my reading. But in the aggregate, I love what digital capabilities are bringing to our potential of networked books, which is the focus each year of the Books in Browsers conference Peter Brantley produces in San Francisco.

 

I just wonder what full-on social integration may do to reading. And I’m good enough at cognitive dissonance—and betting you are, too—to believe it’s worth our asking what it might do to our reading while being excited by the possibilities it may bring us.

Back to Table of Contents

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From VQR: More on poet Cherryl T. Cooley

Social Reading: The OFF Button

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of…

Wait a minute, I’m sorry. I was distracted by a comment from somebody on that line there. Dickens said it was an epoch of what?

You have, I’m sure, heard that we’re now deeply into the marketing mavens’ land of many screens. This means that we watch television with other screens on us and around us. That’s so we can tweet along with our friends while seeing a show. Post wisecracks about the costumes on Facebook for our adoring fans (they love our wittiness, don’t they?). Stab, I mean pin, things onto our boards that we find diverting, maybe screengrabs from the very shows we’re watching, and boy, am I glad this column is not about the rights issues that might involve. Have you tried multi-screen TV watching?

What I’ve found is that you don’t get nearly as much from something you’re “watching” when you’re also trying to “be social” about it. Sociologists now tell us that multitasking is largely a myth. We’re actually switching from one task to another, not performing two or more things simultaneously. And, per a study I covered at CNN from University of Michigan researcher David Meyer, Ph.D., we may lose 20 seconds or more each time we change from one very simple task to the next. Here’s Walter from his Guardian article again:

To understand what a fully realised network reading experience might mean, imagine reading a book published in 2013 in the year 2063. In the 50 years between now and then, dozens of critical texts, hundreds of articles, thousands of reviews and hundreds of thousands of comments will have been made on the text. In a fully networked reading experience, all of those will be available to the reader of the book from within the text.

Wow. What a mess. No, that’s not right. I mean, what a gold mine. Right? Well, we have to hope right, yes.

I’m imagining pop-up notes nudging me with other readers’ bright ideas; reviews rolling all over the place; and marginalia marching around the glowy screen of my preferred tablet reading device. More from Walter:

Authors are able to shape the discussion on their books, moderating comments in a system similar to a blogpost. They can maintain a relationship with all the readers who have enjoyed their books, be that a few dozen or a few hundred million.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comShape the discussion? For a look at how pleasant a task handling all that relationship work might be, see last week’s Writing on the Ether: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites, the Attacks section. I mean the Comments section. (Check how many times the word “attack” appears in the comments. ) Look, will I scare you to death if I write the phrase “non-sexual intimacy” here? Smelling salts will be provided at the door. We don’t have a lot of this stuff left. Not smelling salts, non-sexual intimacy.

  Now that we’re watching TV with three and four screens at once (and missing everything but the commercials); now that music is a mere soundtrack for everything else we’re doing; now that even in a cinema everybody’s tweeting their brains out to each other during the film (no one who reads the Ether would do this, of course). When do we still get together, mind-to-mind and share the dark, “quiet book” secrets of one (author’s) consciousness delivering its wonders directly into another (the reader’s)? When we read. Alone.  


In all fairness, let’s narrow this issue mainly to fiction, because in much nonfiction, there may be many reasons that social-reading tool sets make good sense.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com

John le Carré

What about “immersive” fiction?  (Merriam-Webster swears “immersive” isn’t really a word, just to declare my transgression there.)

This week, I’ve been reading John le Carré’s A Delicate Truth (on the recommendation of our colleague Don Linn, by the way).

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.comLe Carré is at the height of his powers, the book is one of the most assured demonstrations of its genre, and in a very good season for that line of fiction, too.

I want le Carré’s masterful voice boring its vision into my construct unimpeded, without anything to distract me. I read him in hour-long stretches, no interruptions allowed.

Do I want to get social with that book?

A part of A Delicate Truth is set on Gibraltar, as that unfortunately indelicate cover suggests. So I’m supposed to be trying to grok le Carré’s text and some jackass’ margin notes about his vacation to the Mediterranean go bouncing by as I swipe from one page to the next?

 

The solitude of the reader is something we sully at our peril.

And our busy developers gussying up social reading platforms need provide us with an escape. An OFF button. I will use it. Indeed, if I can’t turn off these fine features when I want to, I’ll be as anti-social in reading as I am (some tell me) in life.

 

The lone reader is social. Solnit and Mandel already told us this:

Books are solitudes in which we meet.

As a reader, I want to meet my author in those solitudes. Just us.

And the masses? Don’t call me, I’ll call you.

And I’m calling you now: Tell me what you think. Do you ever wonder why we’re trying to make so much of life social? Do you wonder if reading needs to be social? Or is this just a “because we can” trend? Chime right in, just give a rest to the word “attack” this week, if you don’t mind. 🙂

Back to Table of Contents

 


Main image: iStockphoto – lainea

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , , , , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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44 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Is Social Reading the End of an Intimacy?"

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Andi Cumbo-Floyd

As much as I appreciate and use social media – even things like Goodreads to swap reviews and interact, I do find myself wanting to just read and soak up a book, not have to tweet or talk about it every time. I’m ready for a break from the social most days. . . more time to be quiet or maybe actually talk about books with people face to face.

That said, if social reading helps some more people read, maybe that’s a good thing?

Porter Anderson
@andreacumbo:disqus Hi, Andrea, Thanks so much for reading the Ether and commenting! I know exactly what you’re saying. If anything, my reading hour each day is a special escape from social media and other “forces of info,” lol, which I’m sure is one of the reasons I feel so torn about social reading. I love the networking of books as a concept. But, as you say, that chance to soak up the fundamental actiivty we’re engaged in, reading, is something I don’t want to see compromised. And you’re absolutely right that if social reading brings people TO books, we can… Read more »
Darrelyn Saloom

Social reading sounds like a nightmare to me. Even if it transformed nonreaders into readers, I’m afraid it would be the end of original thought.

Porter Anderson
@darrelynsaloom:disqus Hey, Darrelyn, Thanks for jumping in. Obviously, I have deep concerns about this, too, not least because I AM so connected, myself, already and am seeing the places this has shallowed out various elements of my life. In some cases, the trade-off is well worth it. In others, not so much. And in terms of the ability to truly focus on on an author’s work, that’s one I really don’t want going skinny on me. While we might not lose original thought, we could very well have a lot less original reaction. A book isn’t defined by its writer… Read more »
Darrelyn Saloom

Hey, Porter. While reading your reply it occured to me that it doesn’t matter what I think about social reading in the long run. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to participate. If the majority like it, social reading will thrive. I don’t have to be on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, but I enjoy all three. If you had told me ten years ago that I would love social media, I would have disagreed. So, for now, I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Porter Anderson
Right, very good point, Darrelyn — as I was saying to Brian O’Leary, watch me turn out to be the poster child for social reading once we see these functionalities mature. We’re only as good as where we stand at the moment, and, again, as I said in a reply to him, I’m comfortable at this point wating and seeing .. I’m just interested in saying every now and then that I expect an “off” button, and will use it when I need to. Quite close to what you’re saying about having the freedom to engage with it or not,… Read more »
Shauntelle H.
So, I’ll admit my very first thought on reading this was: “Why do we act like social reading is such a new thing? Although I’m not Jewish, as I understand it, this exactly describes the Torah.” And my mind went off on a divergent vision of reading a digital Torah with easy access to all the thoughts of hundreds of Rabbi over the centuries… Fascinating opportunity when I’m thinking about philosophy, religion, quantum physics or pretty much any of the liberal arts. Not so much when I’m thinking about my guilty pleasure reading… but I was raised that reading was… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@shauntelleh:disqus Thanks, Shauntelle, These are rich angles on the issue, good of you to drop them in. Maybe because I’m a minister’s son 🙂 I would classify the Torah and its study in the same realm as nonfiction work. I must be very careful here because I’m eager not to get into the age-old debates about the “authenticity” of any faith’s scriptural writings and the question of whether we can consider their “truth” to lie in the realm of historical accuracy. My basic point here being that I agree with you completely, the commentary and wisdom of centuries of study… Read more »
Anne R. Allen
Thanks for this wonderfully refreshing post. I’ve never thought of it before, but “social” reading and watching are entirely different experiences from what I’d term “the real thing.”. When I watch a good film with friends in a living room, I usually have to watch it again at home to actually see it. (Movie theaters provide more solitude) When I’m reading, I’m never alone. My mother loves to tell the story of when I demanded to be taught to read at the age of three. When she asked why, I said. “If I can read, I’ll never be lonely again.”… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@annerallen:disqus Hey, Anne, And yes — of course Brian (O’Leary) has rightly chimed in (comment below) with some important reminders that “all these worlds” (I’m on Arthur C. Clarke’s turf now) are not created equal and that there are important differences in the intended functionality of proposals I’m pretty much lumping together at the moment. I don’t think we’re in trouble on “social reading,” really, anymore than print books are in trouble — they’ll be with us. Ironically, I now much prefer my Kindle Fire and don’t need our Kobo buddies’ helpful switch to block the net when time to… Read more »
Grigory Ryzhakov

Now, I thought the previous post was great, I like this one even better. If we are to enjoy a book, a film or a painting – I’m against multitasking, I just love to immerse my mind in it fully.

Porter Anderson

Grisha, I may hire you as the Ether-eal Bodyguard, give the post some consideration, won’t you? Endless gassy columns await and it appears that on some days I can use the protection. 🙂

While I still have enough mind to immerse in a good read, I thank you.

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Grigory Ryzhakov

Porter, I think your next one could be about ‘writing longhand vs typing it out’ ;-p. What happened to the art of handwriting? Just throwing some logs into the fire. Even bodyguards need to lighten up 🙂
Have fun reading immersively.

KimBoo York (:::kbs)
I am always, always disappointed in articles like this — and you really dropped the ball, Porter — by not looking at social reading environments that are phenomenally successful, instead preferring to speculate about the theory of intimacy and only looking at “start ups” with very slight track records. By excluding fiction-reading environments such as LiveJournal, AO3, and WattPad, you’re A) crippling your arguments and B) continuing to ghetto-ize a huge spectrum of readers who just happen to be female. Not saying you did this on purpose, but the end result is the same. But the fact is that fans… Read more »
Grigory Ryzhakov

Oh LJ, it’s still so big in Russia, been on it for over 10 years, hardly post there anymore, but still read it every day. This is different kind of reading, which I enjoy as much as my solitary reading 🙂

Porter Anderson
Hello. I hope it might help if I note that we probably have a difference of intent or interest, certainly of terminology. When I use the phrase “social reading” in this column, my interest is, expressly, in the development of apps and platforms for social reading that are, in most cases, engaged via e-readers, tablets, smartphones, computers, and so on. Those tech-based efforts I’m mentioning are housed almost exclusively in the work of various startups. This is not meant to anger you or anyone else. While I might not have written the column you’d like to read, I did not… Read more »
KimBoo York (:::kbs)
I’m not angry, just tired of discussions of “social reading environments” that discount what are, for lack of a better term, “hard core users” of such environments because of…why? How are people who read in a social environment not actually germane to the development of apps and platforms for reading in a social environment? You just implied that platforms like AO3 and LJ and tumblr are *not* social reading environments engaged on ereaders, tablets, or computers, when that is their natural habitat. Failing to investigate AO3 as a social reading platform, and dismissing it, is a huge oversight in this… Read more »
Richard Lyonn
Social reading is actually *social writing.* Of course some readers like their books solitary and unchangeable, just like the author intended. But here’s the challenge – online culture comes with a built-in pull away from passive consumption, towards participation. In the past, authors and publishing chains pushed their books at audiences who were supposed to consume them diligently and reverently, grateful that gatekeepers and creators – who are *always* more interesting than consumers, we suppose – exist to be feted and appreciated. Now, online audiences are becoming less passive, and are having the temerity to challenge this top-down top heavy… Read more »
Victoria_Noe
I think a lot of people are struggling with just how much to involve others in what they do online. Your post last week here is an interesting companion to today’s. The issue for me is that people feel that because something is posted online, it (and its author) are fair game. Call it what it is: bullying. Remember “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Well, there are people who not only don’t believe that, but feel it is their right to be hateful to the extreme to anyone, including online. They feel compelled to… Read more »
KimBoo York (:::kbs)

I think of blogs as personal spaces, even if they are public. Kind of like inviting people into your home, and if they get vitriolic/violent/rude, it’s well within our rights to banhammer them. I’m so sorry to hear that anyone would be that way on your blog, though, and personally I feel you made the right choice. Places like Goodreads I think tend to have a hands-off approach due to the fear of liability issues, but I think they would be stronger enclaves for readers and writers if abusive behavior had consequences. I hope they figure that out.

Porter Anderson
Viki, I hope I’d have made exactly the decisions you did in your situation. “Grief trolling” is despicable. Particularly when placed within a context of race relations, it’s unthinkable, really. You’re right in describing your experience of such hostilities as a form of bullying. And the old wisdom is still right: don’t engage. The other old wisdom worked better for me in Dorothy Parker’s version. “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, come and sit by me.” 🙂 The blog is yours, the site is yours, and your management of it to the standards of conversation you feel are… Read more »
Victoria_Noe
Well, see, that’s the point, Porter: “whether the person on the other end seems to want to be part of a real discussion.” I’d guess – in a purely unscientific way – that 99% of the time, the answer is a resounding “no”. They just want to make a point/bully/intimidate/whatever. I have no regrets about what I did, none whatsoever. I do worry about sites (such as Goodreads) hiding behind an interpretation of free speech that they believe absolves them of responsibility. Are these the kinds of conversations they want associated with their site?? We all have responsibility for anything… Read more »
James Stoddah
John Green stated in an interview, shortly after the release of The Fault in our Stars that there is an invisible contract between a reader and writer. The writers puts their heart and soul into creating the best work possible. In return the reader ‘respects’ that by reading it with the attention that it deserves. Therefore it could be argued that the readers are contractually bound to give the book the respect of having few distractions. This would suggest an element of solitude. Even if you happen to be alone with your thoughts on a busy train. Your mind is… Read more »
Porter Anderson

James, thanks for this.

I like the idea of a contract between the writer and reader, a covenant of sorts. I’d love to know how many readers — who have nothing to do with publishing, “real” readers as we might charmingly call them, lol — might think this way, too, about their role in the “partnership” between author and reader.

It’s a great concept, thanks for reading the Ether and bringing this to us, much appreciated.

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

brianoleary
Porter … I think the reluctance you have with a service like Readmill reflects its place in the content food chain. Readmill lets you annotate a published work. SocialBook, by comparison, can be a tool to annotate and develop a work in progress. The question I asked in my post, which emphasizes “new forms from new tools”, focuses on whether an author whose work is born of annotated dialogue would choose to stop that conversation upon “publication”. There is value in solitary reading, much as there is value in an annotated work. I don’t think the future forms eliminate the… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Brian, thanks for the input and your careful delineation of the distinctions between some of the services mentioned and your own writings about them. You’re quite right about my feelings on Readmill’s service, nicely cinched in your description of it. I’m watching a potential bevy of “outer” comment and hurrah attach itself to published work. I think I land in a comfortable wait-and-see position on this. As regards works produced en-annotation, if you will, I agree, they will likely will “want” to remain annotate-able. They will be, as it were, creatures of such. I can even foresee such works *requiring*… Read more »
brianoleary

We’ll campaign together for an “off switch” option 🙂

Porter Anderson

Deal With that safety net, I’m game for all of it. 🙂

Tom Bentley

Porter, my recipe for a classic consciousness-expanding cupcake: a book, time, and me. The less between me and the cupcake, the better. Though when I want to seek outside annotation, exegesis, amplification or jeremiads on the cupcake, I’m happy they are there. In the meantime, chew and savor.

Porter Anderson

The edible metaphor, Tom, thanks for that, quite right.
-p.

KatMeis

Porter, great discussion of a complex topic. I do believe there is a place for social annotation of books in certain nonfiction works. With fiction…not so much. I wrote an article on this topic for Digital Book World about 18 months ago. I believe its premise still holds true. Readers have a special social relationship with the book itself. It’s a relationship, I believe, most don’t care to mess with. http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/the-power-of-the-quiet-social-book/

Porter Anderson
Hey, Kathy, And thanks for the good reminder of this great piece you did for Digital Book World last year, I’d forgotten it. I like this: “The temptation to start “enhancing” the relationships readers have with their books is strong. It seems logical to help Mary and Martha focus their conversations on our critical goal of selling more books during tight economic times. They love books. They won’t mind.” The slippery slope. Nice piece and you were right on-target. You’re also right that the fiction-nonfiction distinction is important in this debate and, as with “chunking” (or other systems of excerpting,… Read more »
KatMeis

Like you, I will keep a close eye on how this evolves, as the “how” will be as important as the “if.” So far, I believe fiction readers have shown a farily strong preference for the “deep-seclusion game preserve” of solitary reading. Even my highly social, hyper-connected teens (all three are huge readers), enjoy the haven of a good, old-fashioned book. Thanks again for a great article and discussion, Porter.

Porter Anderson

@16aa956f206e41acad753bad0f1df088:disqus

Glad to hear this about your teens in particular, Kathy. Their generation, more than any before it, will need ways to get out of “the sprawl” of the media grid and into their own heads and hearts from time to time.

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Cyd Madsen
Books are the quiet refuge I turn to after a boisterous day, all by myself, with social media. I value my time alone with a book and that mind meld between author’s voice and my imagination, and I don’t think I could add social reading to an already screaming yet solitary day. That’s me. I can’t handle that much stimulation. If others can and do and enjoy it, great, but do keep that “off” button ever present. What I find most interesting about this is the bob and weave of storytelling mediums. As these social reading networks are popping up,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@cydmadsen:disqus Hey, Cyd, Thanks so much for this good commentary — sorry not to get to it sooner, a heavy schedule here. I agree, it’s an interesting time as we watch various media try to handle that “alone together” factor — love your points about the cinema. There, of course, there’s a pretty strident bid going on to try to preserve and encourage the idea of going out to see a film. Customers sick of noise and rude people (the “together” part) now have so many ways to see new films in the privacy of their homes (“alone”) that the… Read more »
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[…] Journalist and publishing blogger Porter Anderson asks: is social reading the end of an intimacy? […]

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[…] In Writing on the Ether at JaneFreidman.com, Porter Anderson asks "How much of the author-reader intimacy are we trading away?" for social reading?  […]

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[…] Is social reading the end of an intimacy? by @Porter_Anderson via @JaneFriedman – Porter Anderson’s posts are always so rich and full, but this one was particularly interesting to me because it includes an in-depth discussion about “quiet” books. […]

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[…] Writ­ing on the Ether: Is Social Read­ing the End of an Intimacy? […]

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[…] Anderson weighed in on this issue in his “Writing on the Ether” column at JaneFriedman.com: “Is Social Reading the End of an Intimacy?” His column covers most of the pros and cons of social reading, and in the midst of his discussion, […]

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[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER: Is Social Reading the End of an Intimacy? […]

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[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER | Social Read­ing | JANEFRIEDMAN.COM […]

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[…] Porter Anderson: Is Social Reading the End of an Intimacy? […]

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