Open Thread Wednesday: Social Reading

6592260939_880f4a046c_mEarlier this month, Anne Trubek published a piece in The American Prospect that asked readers an important question: “When It Comes to Kindles, Do You ‘Like’ or Unlink?” Her essay argues that the “Popular Highlight” feature of e-readers reconnects us to an “age old” tradition of reading that stretches back to Homeric times. However, she also admits that this tradition, while rekindling a practice that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years, might also be at odds with the contemporary reader who craves escape and isolation.

The term “social reading” can mean different things depending on its context. Social reading can be the kind of work that happens in a literature class where a group of participants all read the same novel (or short story or poem or play) at roughly the same pace and work together to arrive at an appreciation of the work and its significance in a larger theoretical context. It could also mean the kind of reading that happens for book groups, whether these are formal gatherings hosted by a library or book store or more casual get-togethers at one of the participant’s homes to talk about a common reading sometimes over wine and cheese or coffee and dessert.

As Trubek points out, however, “social reading” has recently also taken on a technological turn as more and more people embrace e-reading technologies: Kindles, Nooks, iPads and iPhones, for example. Here at ProfHacker, we’ve featured several posts on such technologies: see for example, “Kindling the Classroom?,” “Using Your Kindle to Proofread Your Work,” and “Kindle,Amazon.Com: Social Kindling.” That last link, “Social Kindling,” details Amazon’s practice of sharing your highlighted passages and/or annotations with other users. As I mention there, users must choose to share their reading experience; it is not automatic, and there are several potential benefits to participating in this e-book driven networking.

However, even if you do not decide to share your favorite highlighted passages or insightful notes on your e-books, reading on a Kindle is inevitably a social experience because the default setting on most of the devices is to have “Popular Highlights” enabled. This feature is not unlike buying a used book that has been highlighted by a previous reader–the difference is that instead of a single reader, your e-book will have highlights from hundreds maybe thousands of other readers.

Do you participate in social reading? Have you found it to be enlightening? Intrusive? Is it a feature that is appealing to you either as an academic or a reader more generally? Please share in the comments section below.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user robertmichalove.]

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