How we read

When I taught myself how to read at the age of four, I spent hours in front of my parent’s bookshelf, taking out books with interesting covers, opening them and trying to make sense of the words. I would run to my father with a book in my hands, asking him to explain how to pronounce this word or what that word means.I was not interested in children’s books, I wanted to be able to read the books that the adults were reading. It was probably one of the most exciting times of my life! Today, I think children are surrounded by things they can ‘read’ much more and there are many different media in which the text can be presented.

 

Most of the reading we do in our everyday lives is skimming short chunks of texts for important information. Ads on billboards and the internet, messages on social media, posts, news and emails. This reading is not for pleasure, it is for information or entertainment. I would like to add that I perceive a difference between reading for pleasure and reading for entertainment. Reading for pleasure means I engage with the text in that I let it influence my thoughts and stimulate my fantasy. I let the text take me into its world and I agree to leave everything else behind for a moment. Reading for entertainment means I read to be entertained, not necessarily to be intellectually stimulated. I read because I want to escape reality for a while, but I am not willing to commit to the text and dive into it completely. Reading posts on social media, tweets and messages is reading for entertainment. Reading an interesting book/ article/ blog is reading for pleasure. Reading and email or an online newspaper is reading for information. From my experience I would say that reading for information and entertainment takes around 80% of my reading time. This is also because it can be done on the go, in between appointments, while on break at work. Reading for pleasure takes commitment and time. I need at least 30 minutes to be able to sit down and read my book and enjoy it.

 

A lot changed in terms of what we read and how we read it. Twitter probably revolutionized our way of writing and reading by setting a character limit.This means I can scroll through my twitter feed quickly without getting stuck in one post, unless I click on a link provided in the tweet. It also changed the language used to express ourselves which has an impact on the quality of the reading. Furthermore, reading is much more accessible as we can now read any book we wish anywhere. But with this also comes a lot more distraction through incoming messages, emails, notifications. When I sit down to read my book, I have to put my phone on silent, otherwise I will interrupt my reading to check if I got an important message.

 

Although some people predict that physical books are dying out and that they will be marginalized by their digital versions, I don’t think this will be the case. There are many book-lovers out there and the one thing they stress is that reading a book in its physical version is a very different experience from reading its digital version. Of course, kindle and co are very handy when you go on holidays with limited luggage capacity, but holding a book in your hands, turning the pages, maybe writing comments on the margins – no kindle will be able to replace that.

For academic reading, I like reading online to save paper and be able to access the texts anywhere, but for reading for pleasure, I only read physical copies of books – I also like to see them on my bookshelf and be reminded of how much I enjoyed reading them.

 

What we need to consider in new, digital, online environments is why people read and how they read. We should be mindful of how much/ how little information we want to give and how much time it will take to read what we wrote. Temporality is different online, the time people spend on a website is way less than what people would be willing to spend on a book, newspaper of magazine, so the amount of information has to be adjusted accordingly. Another aspect of the new temporality is how long the text will be available online. If it is a post on social media, it will soon disappear in the endlessness of the newsfeed. It it is a website, the google search results might change over time. We also need to consider the usage of images with text. As it is much easier to provide images to support a text online, we need to find the right balance so that the images are not overpowering. Furthermore, we need to be conscious that there might be misinformation, fake-news, ideologically influenced and subjective content. We need to read online text carefully and assess them critically. Finally, I think it is important to make conscious decisions about what reading we want to invest time in. With an unlimited stream of texts available online, it is easy to get lost and waste time that could be spent on more productive/ stimulating/ interesting/ relevant reading. Do I really want to spend an hour scrolling through my Twitter feed, or do I prefer putting my phone in flight mode and sitting down with a good book and a cup of tea?


Hayles, N.K. 2010. How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine. ADE Bulletin, pp.62–79.

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