Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reading Where You Are

A colleague, John Breslin, sent me a reference to a new book and website on the changing nature of reading. It struck a chord, so I thought I would share.

The book is I Read Where I Am ... http://www.valiz.nl/en/IReadWhereIAm and its contents are also available at http://www.ireadwhereiam.com/

The topic, as you might guess, is reading and the changing nature of reading in the 21st century.

Back in the late 90's I was presenting at conferences on what I called the post-literate age we were entering...when literacy as we've understood it throughout the 19th and 20th centuries would fade in importance as new forms of storytelling came online. I think 'reading' in the 21st century will heavily involve the visual arts, media, video and audio in the future. The ability to simultaneously merge text, txt, video, audio, and image into a single communique gives everyone a huge opportunity to modify and adapt 'language' as they see fit.

The discussions in the essays about whether texting is writing or reading texts is reading are completely missing the point. We have an excellent opportunity to watch our language (and many other languages) change and evolve right before our eyes almost in real time. Most adults today would be hard pressed to understand a general text from the mid 19th century and have little hope of comprehending one from the 18th or 17th centuries. The differences between what we consider modern literature today vs what our grand or great grand children will consider it are likely far beyond even the differences we see between 21st century modern and 18th century enlightenment era texts.

The comments about art and engineering being at odds I found funny. These days artists work closely with engineers to achieve special effects both in commercial and non-commercial art. Technology and a growing awareness of physics in the art community have led to some fantastic new media emerging. So, I think any discussion of art and engineering being at odds with each other is either ill informed or disingenuous.

Of course, as in all endeavors, Sturgeon's law applies (90% of everything is crap!) so we get a lot of junk from both professional and amateur artists.

There is actually probably an order of magnitude more 'reading' and 'writing' going on today than there was in the 1960's, for instance (There is an NEA report from 2009 indicating a rise in reading in the US since 1982. The link's below.). Worries such as "reading twitter feeds is not 'real' reading" is silly. Reading Dickens in his original published form (serialized in a magazine) was considered invalid reading in its time.

The whole concept of the novel was considered invalid reading in the 17th century when it was invented. So it is important to remember that 'reading', even 'literary reading' is a dynamic, fluid thing. In the future, anyone reading a 'text' which contains only print and no interactivity, annotation, video,and audio may very well be considered to not be 'reading' by, say, a late 21st century standard.

There must have been Sumerians who said, "That papyrus stuff is just a fad. It just doesn't feel like reading if you don't have a good clay tablet in your hand!"