Monday, June 15, 2009

Common Sense about the Experience of Reading

Venus's looking glass (Triodanis)

There is an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education's June 12 issue, "Reading Dickens Four Ways" where a dean at the City University of New York read a Charles Dickens novel using various formats -- paperback, audio book, iPhone, and Kindle -- and then reported her observations.

I found myself agreeing with many of her thoughts. Here are some of the highlights:

"The days of prearranged and rigid formats are over. Sadly, so is the editorial intervention that authenticated and improved content. The future of all publishing is an open question."

"I'm not gloomy, though. We will still find our way to quality. We will find new ways to seduce the next generation of readers. Creative people are beginning to exploit interactive and multi-media capability into digital books. Tomorrow's readers will immerse themselves in their favorite books, not self-consciously as I did for this experiment, but based on deeper needs. It will be just the sort of seamless decision we make every day when we decide whether we will place a phone call, send an e-mail message or text message or photo or video, handwrite a note, or make a personal visit."

I couldn't have said this better myself, so I'm not going to try. But I do want to point out that this is representative of the myriad choices we face today when simply trying to get from point A to point B. To some people this is a pleasant matter of asserting a preference, but for others it may be overwhelming to the point of exasperating. (I'm thinking of certain people faced with the menu options at Starbucks.)

I think it's the price we pay, for the customizable options we expect.

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