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Social Reading: Ebooks of the Future?

After a series of debates with myself, regarding the accessibility of English books while living abroad versus the perceived merit of tangibility (paper, pages, fresh book scent), the accessibility side eventually won out and I found myself the new owner of a Kindle. I should mention that thrown into those debates were considerations about supporting a company that seems to be ruthlessly aiming for a monopoly on the electronic publishing industry, but then again, as long as I’m living overseas, my only good option for getting ahold of new books is – you guessed it – ordering them from Amazon. So there.

I recently finished my first book, Kindle-style, and I have to say, it really wasn’t bad. Those devices are pretty slick, and their portability is definitely appealing. It’s light and comfortable to hold, and with e-ink technology the screen is easy on the eyes.

However, I do love the feel of a book in my hand. I like having a tactile awareness of how far along I am, and  the Kindle’s little progress bar doesn’t quite deliver the same satisfaction. To me, carrying a book makes me feel better, like my day has the possibility of being just a little more interesting. Just looking at a shelf full of books makes me excited to sit down and read.

While the whole sensory experience of reading is lacking (or at least different), I realized that, once I became engrossed in the story, I mostly forgot about those outer sensibilities; I barely remembered I was reading on an electronic device; it was the story that mattered, not the feel of the pages. And ultimately, when hard-copy books aren’t easy to obtain, I’d rather have the story than nothing at all.

But I digress. This post isn’t about that – at least not entirely.

I recently read a CBC news article that suggested “social reading” is the way of the future. The way books will come to be read. A new mode of reading from which people “won’t want to go back”. An app called Socialbook is already in the works to facilitate this great upheaval. Imagine this enticing possibility: instead of just reading and becoming involved in a story, you can let all of your friends within your digital network in on the experience! With notifications and comments and your friends’ underlines and notes popping up all over the place, your reading experience can be interrupted expanded to even allow you to “manipulate the information in weird and wonderful and highly informative ways” (Sean Prpick, CBC news).

Really? Do I really want one of my favourite solitary hobbies to become “socialized”?

As much as I, like almost everyone else, get sucked into the spiraling web of social networking sites, I can’t say I particularly enjoy them. If I had to list my hobbies, or ways I *like* to spend my time, social media would not be on my list. It is an incredibly useful tool, yes, but not a particularly pleasurable pursuit in and of itself, in my opinion. I honestly have no desire to incorporate that into my reading experience. And I think I can safely say that, for a large number of readers out there, reading is enjoyed precisely because it is solitary, an escape from the world, and a form of entertainment one can be quickly drawn into while the hours slip by unnoticed.

In some ways, I see the intrigue of generating ongoing discussions about books, and possibly even of viewing my friends’ margin notes. But it doesn’t interest me enough to let it distract me from what I actually want to do, which is just sit and read, uninterrupted. Because, as I’m sure anyone could imagine, adding social networking to the experience would most likely become a distraction in the midst of that very pursuit, should Socialbook be incorporated directly into the device on which one reads.

There is a reason why I opted for a simple, basic Kindle rather than a tablet or something with 4G capability – it’s because I don’t want something like this. I just want to read.

No doubt the way we enjoy books will continue to change, but I don’t foresee “reading alone” becoming a “thing of the past” just yet.

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One comment on “Social Reading: Ebooks of the Future?

  1. “Social reading” is like an oxymoron. I already hate it when my Kindle shows me how many people have highlighted a line – it always takes me out of the story. Bahh humbug.

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