Reading has become more social

Remember when you would borrow a book you saw laying around in the house of your friend/aunt/cousin? Reading in those days was simply a matter of seeing something you thought you might like and borrowing or buying it where it stood.

I remember my first Stephen King buy: It. (I think I may have talked about it before). I had never heard of him before that day, and I came across his book by walking into a hotel gift store. This is what the cover looked like for me:

Scary, no? To be honest, I can’t be sure whether my dislike for clowns came before or after this particular novel, in any case, I now associate clowns with King’s very unclownlike villain in this piece.

I didn’t want this to be about the book It, but rather about how we buy or borrow books. In those days, it was all about the cover and what you could read on the back cover that drew you in. For some, it was about what you could read into the book properly while standing in whatever store or house you were currently in without attracting the unwelcome attention of the book or store owner and being forced to make a decision.

Even as you read through the novels you got, there was little opportunity to share your impressions unless asked to by someone else who wanted to read the same piece. Writing reviews was something the big name critics in places like New York and London did; and by the virtue of their already well-known reviewing skills, they would get published on the book as part of the cover pitch.

Nowadays, everybody who reads the book can be a reviewer. With the advent of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, people like you and I can write what we thought of books and post them for everybody to see and read. With electronic reading, and in particular the Kindle ecosystem, anything you find of particular interest in your eBook, you can highlight and make public for others to see as well. You can even add comments to that highlighted portion if you so desire:

Reading is now widely and very publicly social! A triumph of the technology age. There are entire websites that have sprung up around the concept of reading socially – our own Free-eBooks.net and Foboko.com are just two such examples.

There doesn’t seem to be any downside to this; except of course if you’re reading material you might not want anyone to know about. Until you read articles such as this one that I came across in the Wall Street Journal just recently. With all that social reading, those large corporate entities behind these ecosystems can now read you! Your habits, your likes and dislikes, what piques your interest and what doesn’t. Essentially, what you read is no longer a private matter.

I am not sure how I feel about this concept just yet. Frankly, anything I read and highlight in books is stuff I might conceivably tell you about anyway. And I have never been ashamed of what I read. There are a few novels I might not want my mother knowing about, mostly because she might be disappointed but I wouldn’t be in trouble because of it. And when I read controversial material, I do it with the mind of an intellectual, not a fanatic. I want to know about the subject so I can comment intelligently, not because I am looking for a conversion.

I have no delusions that Amazon even cares about the person I am and what I do everyday, and I know my data is only a tiny portion of a large pool. As far as they are concerned, I am one number in thousands and not a person per se. Nevertheless, the notion of being spied on through my reading library, if that is what is happening, is just a little creepy. Wouldn’t you say?

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