20. september 2016

Embracing Distraction

Second screening has become a part of our everyday language, acknowledging the fact that the modern human being has a tendency to getting distracted while doing something. That something usually being TV, streaming or other formats of the moving pictures. But what if we started implementing, willingly, the urge to second screen into other formats such as books?

I know, for one, very well the feeling of that ‘just need to check this’ while actually trying to concentrate on a book. Not to mention the hole I tend to fall in, whenever I’m looking up a reference online: It starts very harmless with the dictionary, Wikipedia or an encyclopaedia but more often than not ends up with me browsing through irrelevant but endless posts in social media, the latest news or yet another video of a floating otter (you're welcome!).

While this has been something I’ve tried to eliminate from my life, especially in periods where it’s crucial that I find that undisturbed concentration, it also got me thinking: What if we constructed books in a way that embraced this ‘distractional’ way of reading, inviting these detours into the reading as a way of acknowledging the well-known fact that most people can only concentrate for 12 minutes at a time? (Which reminds me: Researchers found that due to smartphones people now have a shorter attention span than goldfish!)

Especially, whenever I’ve read non-fiction I find my distractions to be – sometimes! – beneficial and sometimes even leading the way to that one great idea. An old professor of mine used to tell us to love our procrastination exactly of that reason.

At the moment I’ve only noticed attempts to fight distractions: apps that will turn off our internet, cutting access to social media, or even making us kill trees whenever we get distracted. But I believe this is the wrong path to take. Fighting the influence of social media, the internet etc. is not a fight apps such as these will ever win. They may be beneficial for a while (believe me, without them I probably wouldn't have finished my master thesis), but in a longer perspective, books need to outsmart our primitive urges to see if we’ve missed out on anything for the past 3 minutes.

Given the many possibilities with digitalisation, constructing books that implemented small exercises, derivations or something third that stimulated this modern attention span (or lack thereof) seems, to me, to be one of the ways to reinvent reading, making books an inspiring new medium that not only was a mediator of knowledge but also a cultivator of new ideas and inspiration.

8. september 2016

The Future of Reading, or: A Book Isn’t a Book Isn’t a Book Isn’t a Book

Back when Gertrude Stein wrote her famous poem on a rose in 1913, a book was the only way of communicating a literary message besides the news papers' feuilletons. A book was a book, in short.

Within the literary field many things have happened in the past 100 years: New formats have come to life and writers have found new ways of getting their words out there. Yet, a book is still (just) a book.

Many publishers, bookshops and enthusiastic lovers of paper are celebrating when new studies show that the printed book has gained terrain and we're claiming that reading just isn't the same when it's not on real paper. We're behaving as if the digital development is a life-threatening disease to be fought with all means. And it might very well be just that, in time. Or! We could welcome the endless possibilities that arise with the digital world and rethink what a book is today – and more importantly: What we want from a book today.

I too am one of those lovers of paper. It's the one thing that I find myself spending (too) much money on each month, be it magazines, newspapers, books, you name it. But at the same time, I'm not a fan of the very conservative, reactionary way we seem to be dealing with publishing. We are so eager to maintain the status quo from back when Gertrude Stein was writing that we're forgetting to see the new world of opportunities that has opened up with the digital revolution.

E-books have gained some territory, especially outside of Denmark where the main part of my literary upbringing has taken place. But they will not give (me) the same satisfaction as books of paper; not because e-books aren't printed, but because they're simply nothing more than a PDF file. But why haven't we taken the chance to add value to the digital book? Why haven't we used some of the many great ways ofcreating inspiring storytelling that by the very nature of physical objects are not possible in printed books?

If we started thinking of the e-book, or digital book as I prefer, as a co-operator instead of a competitor, we could and would challenge the entire way of reading – making reading an interesting, inspiring and thrilling way of gaining information or finding entertainment. We need to start thinking about relations between texts, authors and subjects and finding means of creating interaction between "book" and reader.

I have many ideas on how to challenge the future of reading and in the coming weeks and months I will write about some of them here. Please, do share your thoughts on this very necessary topic – even if you are one of them who just wants a book to be a book. As it always was.

Sig hej