Last week I talked about books as objects of cultural consumption, where I considered the commodification, consumption and material culture of books. It was a general survey of how we treat books as consumer objects. Then Asti commented that what interested her the most was my discussion of reading as a social endeavour. She views reading as a personal activity, which I largely do too. Yet I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to explore the notion that reading is a social activity? Thus here we are, contemplating if indeed, reading is social.
The Rise of E-Readers
Digital books and electronic readers particularly facilitate reading as a social activity. So many of them have wifi capabilities, providing readers yet another avenue to get connected via the Internet.
Amazon Kindle & Kindle App
One function on the Kindle that stood out to me is the popular highlights feature. When it’s enabled on the device, readers are able to see which parts have been highlighted the most by others who have read the book one is reading. I took a look at Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and found that a popular highlight had been highlighted by 242 other Kindle readers.This revelation tells me at least two things:
- I am not the only one who is reading/has read Fangirl. (For the record, I actually have yet to read it.)
- 242 people highlighted that part. Duh.
I wonder what kind of impact that has on the cognitive reception of readers but at this point, I can only speculate. I wouldn’t be surprised though if subconsciously readers do get affected. I wouldn’t be surprised either if the number of highlights has varying impacts as well, say a dozen highlights versus a couple of hundreds. Either way, popular highlights encroach on personal reading time because they draw on the reading of other people.
Aside from the popular highlights, Kindle devices are also very much integrated with Goodreads. Reading updates can easily be made in real time. Finished reading 37% of a book? Let everyone know pronto. Have thoughts about a specific section? Tag on your thoughts as you update your reading progress.
Plus, it’s never been easier to share a quote from a book one is currently reading. No more typing—just selecting and sharing. Sharing is not limited to Goodreads either. Facebook and Twitter can easily be synced as well.
As long as one is connected to the Internet with a Kindle, one is tethered to other readers. Doesn’t matter if one is cooped up alone at home in a very comfortable bed. Social connections extend to the online world, as does reading.
Kobo E-Reader & Kobo App
Kobo also contributes to the increasing social reading experience. Even though the social aspects aren’t as intrusive as on a Kindle, the Kobo interface begs you to integrate your reading with social networks.
The main menu of the Kobo app includes the Friends section, goading readers to go ahead and add some friends. Clicking on that prompts users to sign into Facebook, in order to connect with friends who are also using Kobo to read. Connecting with Facebook allows friends to see what they each are currently reading, what their reading statistics are (that Kobo tracks) and their awards.
Those who are into award stickers will find lots of incentives to do particular tasks. These tasks however, are not all reading-related. In fact, one of these stickers requires users to sync Kobo with Facebook in order to earn that sticker. Beyond earning awards, users can also share the awards they have earned on either Facebook or Twitter.
Social media encourages people to share everything about themselves. Things they’re doing, thinking, reading, listening to, etc. There’s a social media platform for practically anything you can think of. Even inventing products has been made social, courtesy of Quirky. Of course books and reading have also been sucked into the social media bubble.
Goodreads users can connect with friends, follow other users, and be followed. Besides book reviews, status updates of books one is currently reading, reading progress, quotes, etc can be shared. Users can even compare books with other users to see which books they have in common and how their reading tastes line up. Venturing beyond one’s own profile also opens up the option of joining groups that host read-alongs, discuss books, etc, all according to one’s interests.
In a way, Goodreads is the online social hub for books and reading.
Bookish Social Networks
Besides Goodreads, there are other social networkings sites that are aimed at readers. They might not be as big as Goodreads but they still garner a host of communities where readers share their reading lives with one another.
Anyone who has ever bothered filling out all the sections of their Facebook profile will have come across the Books section. That section is basically there to allow users to share all the books they have read, want to read, and liked.
Status updates too allow Facebook users to share which books they are currently reading, along with any thoughts they might want to share. The day books added to a status update will be catalogued is bound to come.
Going Offline, Remaining Social Readers
Book clubs immediately come to my mind when I think of reading as a social activity. Members generally read the same books, so that they can readily discuss them when they come together. Or perhaps they might sit down together once a week somewhere and read concurrently at a cozy café. It’s mostly up to the individual book clubs. Whichever way they operate, reading is their common activity.
Reading is also important in classrooms. Literature classes necessitate that books and reading be involved. Book reports are all too common in language classes. Silent reading sessions are also part of the programme in many schools, forcing students to read; even if truly done silently and individually, there’s the social pressure to read.
I Rest my Case, Reading Is Social
Seeing how social media isn’t even necessary to foster reading as a social activity, even Luddites cannot escape the the social side of reading. Reading isn’t such a solitary activity after all. Talking about books, discussing books, recommending books, sharing notes and thoughts about books all make reading a social activity. Turns out the Internet didn’t make reading social, it just made it more social. As it stands, reading is social.