Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No, NY Times, Reading Is Not a Social Event

I am pleased to report the group collectively known as Prospero over at The Economist agrees with my comments regarding the recent New York Times article about how carrying an e-book reader in public can suddenly transform a nerdy-reader-guy into a cool dude.  It all supposedly happens because the e-book reader makes our young hero appear more of a cutting edge kind of guy, someone with whom perfect strangers will be anxious to start a conversation.

My gripe is that the article is rather pointless because reading is not a social event.  It is, in fact, the exact opposite, an event during which the reader tunes out the rest of the world.

As Prospero puts it:
Rather, I'm intrigued by the notion that e-readers make reading less antisocial. Doesn't reading necessitate not socialising? Indeed, isn't that part of the appeal?

I was always under the impression that books served a dual purpose: not only do they offer a world to enter, but also they offer an affordable means of escape from the world we're in. What a nice cloak a book can be on the subway or the train, or while sitting at a bar, enjoying the buzz of humanity while absorbed in something else. I'm reminded of Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist", in which books are recommended as props for travellers who would rather avoid idle chatter with strangers.
Exactly.  Having strangers bug me about my e-book reader while I'm trying to read is the last thing I want to have happen to me.  I much prefer being thought of as a nerd.


  1. Besides that, nobody else can tell what you're reading on your ebook reader. At least with a regular book the other person can glance at the cover and be prompted to start a conversation about the book.

  2. True, Pete. I saw a suggestion that the new readers be built with a display on the outside that would display a cover of what they are reading...with a kill-switch so that, with the display turned off no one would approach. Having it on would indicate your openness to a conversation. Who knows what will come next?

  3. It annoys me when someone interrupts my reading. If I wanted to talk to strangers, I would not be reading a book now, would I. Leave me alone! I'm reading!

    That said, my friend Leigh met her husband when she picked him up in a coffeeshop after she commented on the book he was reading. Maybe his book was just a prop. Or maybe it was because Leigh is so darn cute that he didn't mind being interrupted. (He definitely married up.)

  4. All this talk about e-readers has me wanting one. I've been doing research on them, and still don't know what to get. (Sorry Sam, this is off topic a bit!)
    What do you suggest?
    I thought I'd never want one, but now I do.
    I am so ashamed! Ha

  5. Factotum, I have had a few interesting conversations on trains about books but I don't ride trains in this country...so I agree with you. I'm snatching a few free minutes to read, so leave me alone unless my shoes are on fire.

  6. Kayo, I've had a reader (two of them, actually) for a few years and I admit they do come in handy at certain times. I've only really experienced the Sony Readers but I don't think any of them are all that different from the others. Prices are really dropping, so you are in the market at a good time.

  7. The other thing is that when I am on a plane or a train or in a waiting room, I can read guilt free. If I am at home, there is always some chore that should be done. So when I am waiting for the dentist, I am reading a book I am dying to finish and I do not want to talk to anyone. I want the dentist to be late because as soon as I get home, I have to do laundry or clean the bathroom or start supper or feed the cats or cut the grass or whatever.

  8. Yeah, there's that, too. Most of us have so much to do when we finally get home that reading is much a guilty pleasure...so little breaks away from home are not to be squandered.