I continue to find Jason Merkoski’s Burning the Page quite thought provoking. One of his chapters is titled “Reading 2.0” after the software convention of naming new versions. Merkoski explores some of the ways reading might change with the digitization of texts, particular with the search capacity of Google. He proposes that in fact all books are part of One Book and that digitization more possible to realize this reality.
There is an aspect of this that I thoroughly appreciate. As I commented in “My Books Are Talking To Each Other“, books do converse with each other and are artifacts of a great human conversation that spans the ages. Understanding how an earlier writer influences the writer whose work I’m reading makes my reading of that work deeper. The Great Books series even included a Syntopicon to catalog 102 Great Ideas and references to them in the Great Books. With the search capabilities of Google and the ability to link content via hypertext, Merkoski contends that it is instantly possible to trace this “conversation” from one book to the next and to approach the reality of “one book”.
While aspects of this seem attractive, this also seems a prescription for what I might call “Reading ADHD”, an addiction to reading “rabbit trails” where one never follows just one work to its conclusion. In limited form, such a capability could enhance our understanding of key ideas in a text. Annotated works serve a similar function. Run rampant, and it would seem to be the ultimate reading distraction–a distraction to attentive reading. I wonder if in fact it could function to re-wire the brain in ways that increase the prevalence of true ADHD?
I was staying with a friend in Chicago last night who works as a reference librarian for one of the major universities in Chicago and we got to talking about this. He spoke of “losing the experience of drinking deeply and slowly from one book” that may be a result of such reading. The wonder of a really good book is to immerse oneself in this particular author’s vision of the world, not to have that vision diffused by all the others who have what seem “related” thoughts.
As we develop these capacities, I wonder if we need to be mindful of what makes for “good reading”. I wonder if at the very least whether it means that we can turn on or off these functions as appropriate. How do you think digital media will change reading? Do you think there are downsides to this technology that should be avoided or addressed? How do you think reading could be enhanced with this technology? It seems to many that this is a change that is inevitably coming. What I wonder is whether the particular shape of that change is inevitable. Or do we have choices, some better, and some worse? What do you think?