Social reading

Lorcan 2 min read

It seems to me I have heard the phrase ‘social reading’ more often recently. That said, it also seems to me that its use has been a little vague, largely, I expect, because it has no precise referent: the activities to which it refers are not sufficiently coalesced.
That said, it does seem that as we move into a digital environment a social dimension become stronger, while private reading of course continues.
See Bob Stein’s comment introducing his ‘taxonomy of social reading’.

When I grew up in the 50s, reading and writing were activities conducted alone and in silence. Twenty years from now, as my grandchildren come of age, I expect these formerly solitary behaviors will be perceived as highly social — something we do, more often than not, with others. This insight comes in large part from a series of experiments conducted over the past five years with my colleagues at The Institute for the Future of the Book. They strongly suggest that when we move texts from the printed page to a networked screen, the social aspect of reading and writing moves to the foreground. [A taxonomy of social reading]

The fate of reading itself is a much-discussed issue. A major part of Nick Carr’s The Shallows was a regretful discussion of the decline of deep contemplative reading. And Steven Berlin Johnson’s critique of The Shallows last year was called ‘Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social‘.
Here are a few notes in three successively more networked stages:

  • groups: scaling social reading,
  • sites: from cataloging to scrobbling,
  • texts: social micro reading.

These have no virtue other than as scaffolding for this blog entry.
We are familiar with group reading activity in the book club or reading group. It is not surprising to see network services emerge to support this activity in various ways (e.g. Reading group Choices or from the Read: the Reading Agency). Libraries of course also provide support (see Hennepin County or Suffolk Libraries, for example). Network support has allowed these activities to scale across bigger groups, altering the experience. See for example the support for groups in Goodreads. A state of writing is a social network around reading and writing in Queensland (although it is not clear how active it is).
There are several sites on the web which allow people to catalogue and share their book collections: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Anobii, and others. In this context, books are social objects. It has been argued that successful social networks are those which form around such social objects, through which people connect and share themselves (music, photos, video, links, holidays, or other shared interests). We are becoming used to selective disclosure and selective socialization through affinity groups within such social networks. These books sites variously connect readers, books, authors and publishers.
WeReads owned by FlipKart. Shelfari by Amazon. Anobii by HMV.

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