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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
The Future of Reading
The Internet Review of Science Fiction has an excellent article about the future of reading:

The Cloud and the Networked Book: Science Fiction and the Future of Reading
by Robert Bee
What will the future of reading be like? Will reading long form narratives be imperiled by our fast-paced modern world? We are entering a future in which we are always connected, receiving feeds, emails, and phone calls. Cellphones are rapidly becoming portable, as are touchscreen computers. In ten years cell phones and small portable computers will have more memory and capabilities than the best desktops today. Everything—our pictures, music, work documents, financial info, books, videos, personal records—will be available everywhere, all the time. Does this sound like heaven, or a stress-filled nightmare? With WiFi, WiMax, or some other sort of high-speed Internet connection we can look forward to a future of ubiquitous always-on, always-connected computers. The difference between virtual and physical reality is rapidly becoming meaningless.

What do you think about the future of reading?

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16 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: January 8th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think long stories are in any danger of dying out.
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: January 8th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Me neither. But the delivery mechanism for long stories might change. TV shows come in episodes a week, so it's not like people in the modern age aren't accustomed to waiting for bits of story.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 8th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)


You make a good point about TV series. I think the Internet is likely to revive serials in a major way, a type of fiction that's been unjustly ignored for decades.
jenstclair From: jenstclair Date: January 8th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree!
laneth From: laneth Date: January 8th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with rhfay in that the shorter fiction tends to suit the digital mediums - smaller file sizes, quicker downloads and also quicker reads.

I don't see a major threat to the printed, or otherwise, longer reads. Perhaps publishers may become even more picky about what novel or series gets put to 'print', but I can't see the reading market majority being those who are so on the go they prefer to read shorter works.
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: January 8th, 2009 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's funny... the link looks interesting, so I clicked on it to see if I could skim it between chores, and I immediately thought: "Way too long" and closed it.

This made me realize that people might be looking at digital media and what it offers readers wrong-headedly. Instead of saying, "Wow, people might no longer read books!" they should say, "Wow, more people will be able to read!" How many people, like me, are beset by dozens of obligations a day and have only a few minutes to themselves every hour or so? Of course those people don't sit down and read a book, by the time they re-orient themselves in the narrative they have to put it down again and go take care of the family/work, etc.

And short story magazines? Have to be found, bought, brought home... tidied, thrown out, etc.

But short fiction written and intended to be consumed quickly, within a few minutes, and readily available daily, without hassle or mess? I can easily see people with "no time to read" sitting down to read a one-page short story if it tickles their fancy... having a worthwhile art experience... and then being able to pick up and resume their duties uninterrupted.

Oh no. I think people being concerned about losing readers have it all wrong. We have access to a whole new audience now.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 8th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)


I think you're right about the opportunity provided by new venues. People just need to figure out formats that will work, and a way to make the writing profitable.
gothikfaerie From: gothikfaerie Date: January 8th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)


Cellphones are rapidly becoming portable..
er, maybe i missed something, but isn't that pretty much the DEFINITION of cellphones - ? i know, not the point; it just struck me funny.

As to the rest..
i'm partly w/haikujaguar in the 'TL;DR' response. i RARELY click thru on links people post for just that reason (tho admittedly a faster machine-to-internet time would change that a little). i spend more time than i care to glued to this screen as it is; i want my info in digestible, one-screen chunks, with the option for more should i really be intrigued. i am somewhat more likely to read an article reproduced in full on my friends page - i read imomus' Click Opera pretty regularly, coz its all there while i'm scanning my f-list. Maybe not really "less work", but it FEELS that way.

As for long-form fiction (is that a martial art? lol) - i still devour books. One a week at bare minimum; 2-3 more likely. i read a chapter or three before bed every night, and have no problems re-connecting. @haikujaguar again - its not just 'modern age' folks used to bits of story: book-length fiction was regularly serialized in the past. Penny dreadfuls, anyone? Humans don't live so much in the Now of Wolf-thought as to make them unable to recall a previous episode.

Media delivery formats are changing, certainly. Consider the fate of the VCR, cassette tapes, daily newspaper. Attention spans MAY be getting shorter - its been more than ten years since i was taught that two second edits are 'long' (ever watch an old movie and notice the pacing seems to drag?) Otoh, most people still sit thru feature films and/or hours of TV a night, both of which bore me to pieces. So the issue may not be the time spent consuming information, so much as how that info is packaged.

Thought-provoking discussion, certainly..

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 8th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: quibbling!

You've got a point about packaging. Three-hour movie epics are a modern phenomenon.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: January 10th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: quibbling!

For me, it's not that my attention span is short... it's that I read books laying flat curled up in bed or on a cozy couch with a blanket. On my computer I am perched on a chair in front of a desk or table even with a laptop. So I have less patience for reading long things on the screen.
kadharonon From: kadharonon Date: January 9th, 2009 05:56 am (UTC) (Link)
That... pretty much sums up my entire last semester worth of classes/work.

As a librarian, or at least a librarian in training it's... an interesting question. And as someone who will eventually get a job in librarianship, it's a very relevant question as well, and not one with a solid or fixed answer.

More commentary and possibly a blog post when I've had a chance to sleep and think.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 9th, 2009 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad you found this useful. Let me know if you also decide to write about this, eh? Librarian opinions are always welcome!
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: January 10th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC) (Link)
When I was doing research for a library school application last year, I interviewed the director of my local library (which is huge) -- he said that reference and magazine usage was way way down, bc those were things people went to the internet for.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 10th, 2009 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Go for it!

I've been studying this for ... gosh, about 19 years now, in terms of fairly serious focus, and more casually for some years before that. I was talking about the potential of electronic publishing back when everybody around me thought it was silly or impossible. The more scholars who study a phenomenon, the more we learn about it. Keep us posted, eh?

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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 10th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Go for it!

>> My masters is in children's lit, and it'll be done by June (I hope, anyway). <<

Congratulations! I've only done a little writing in that field, but it can be fun.

>> But also, the more I poke around cyber-funded story writing, and other kinds of online literature, the more I think narrative is changing in ways it could not do without the net. <<

I agree. I've been studying electronic publication rather avidly since about 1995, and somewhat more casually before that. I know some other folks who are covering various branches, like the Kindle and its impact. While I still keep an eye on ebooks and blogging, right now a key focus of mine is cyberfunded creativity.

>> Maybe I could write a doctoral thesis on the likes of shadesong!! <<

I heartily encourage this! If you need help with that, let me know and I'll see if I can be of use. crowdfunding is a hub for cyberfunded creativity on LiveJournal; I also set up a community pointing to it on MyBlogLog. There are links to many current projects, and some discussion of other hubs elsewhere.

The more scholarly coverage we can get, the faster people will acknowledge cyberfunded creativity as a valid and profitable publishing paradigm. It took about 5 years for awareness of electronic publishing to spread, and another 5 for recognition to gain a foothold. By now, there are awards and publishing houses totally or primarily devoted to electronic publishing. I'd like to see a shorter curve on that for CFC.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: January 10th, 2009 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)
People probably thought TV was the ned of reading...certianly the end of radio. But they were wrong!
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