Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Technology
Guest post, Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
Contemporary fiction is the focus of this event, but thought it might also be interesting to think about the contemporary technology that’s changed the way everyone enjoys the reading experience, just in general.
Here are some of the top five technological changes that have forever altered the way we read books – and, in some ways, have even slightly redefined just what a book actually is:
Kindle and other e-readers
There are still the occasional holdouts, people who refuse to use an e-reader because they say it’s nearly a sacrilege to read a book in a digital format, when there are traditional print copies available. And there are people who love e-readers, but still appreciate the nostalgic feeling that a new book brings them, the feel of the pages and the very slight scent of ink.
But the rise of the e-reader, predicted in the past but now a reality, has, in many ways, altered the experience of reading.
The link between the words and the reader, that’s still there. But now the actual words can be personalized to suit the person reading them - they can make the text larger or smaller, arrange the text along the screen horizontally or vertically.
So, digital reads have changed the way people can personalize their experience – maybe instead of using a cheerful new bookmark, or making notes in the margin, or turning down the corners on a favorite page, people can electronically bookmark specific quotes they love, or make the font larger for tired eyes, or make a playlist of their favorite titles.
But e-readers have also changed the small and nuanced delights attached to the very experience of being a reader.
What are the small things that delight you most about printed books? Maybe one or two of the simple pleasures below:
The anticipation of waiting for a book to arrive has changed - for every person who still gets a charge of energy when a parcel arrives at their door, containing a book they’ve been waiting to read, there’s another type of personality, who gets a thrill out of being able to read the book they crave right now, just by downloading it.
For every person who loves being surrounded by books, with shelves on every wall, heavy with their most adored reads, there’s another person who loves the fact that they can carry their library in their pocket. Dozens of hundreds of wonderful stories – and they’re all contained in a handy tablet that’s usually around the size of most trade paperback books, or even smaller.
There are lots of other ways e-readers have changed the basic experience of reading, but trying to keep this to a brief overview, not a dissertation – although, of course, you’re definitely welcome to leave your views about e-readers in the comments, if you like.
If you love print books, but also love your e-reader, what are the things you love about both formats - and what will you miss, if you had to permanently give up one format or the other?
Actually, here’s an interesting discussion on the topic of e-readers that was part of a Bookie Brunch, you’re welcome to drop by to see what people had to say: Browse this discussion
Do you know what people online - whether they’re at home or out and about - are searching for, these days? Videos. We see you there, on YouTube, pretending to be hard at work on something, but tempted by the opportunity to see just one more ‘awwww, look at this cute animal!’ clip. ‘Fess up, it’s you, isn’t it!
No, really, videos are one of the things people look for the most, these days. Video-sharing site YouTube isn’t even a decade old, it was launched in 2005 and acquired by search engine behemoth Google, just a year later.
There are plenty of studies and infographics out there, which can give you all the data you need on which video-sharing sites are the most popular, and what billions of people are searching for yearly, monthly, weekly and even right this very minute.
Data really isn’t necessary here, because it’d just back up something that everyone already knows – videos are fun, they’re cool, and there’s something for everyone, at any hour of the day or night, from mundane, to entertaining, to useful, to just bizarre.
Now, movie trailers have been around since movies first made their way onto the screens. Someone watching a film in New York City, or Paris, or Buenos Aires, could be seeing the same preview trailer as someone sitting in a theater in London.
So, movie trailers have always shared the word about some upcoming feature. One of the natural progressions, then, would be teasers and trailers for other things – for restaurants, dance shows, theater events, travel destinations – and books.
Do you enjoy movie trailers? Sometimes they’re fun to watch, and give you a little intriguing view of what the film experience might be like. It helps give you a preview of that particular film, so you can decide if it’s something that might interest you. It’s just the same with book trailers – and now they’re becoming a lot more common.
Actually, this might be a good spot for a book trailer, and just so happens that we happen to have one handy…
Shown above: Book trailer, Random Magic
Before easy access to online video sites like YouTube, which went from being a little start-up idea in 2005, to a worldwide standard by 2009 and onwards, a book tour was actually a book tour – an author would physically be on the road, and go from point to point, to different destinations.
Why? To interact with readers, talk about the book, answer questions, have discussions, read from their books. To connect with people, in different places.
With the advent of live streaming events, though, an author can be in one city, but connect with people all around the world, in real time.
The quality of video and audio, with high definition (HD) footage rapidly becoming a standard for video footage, creates a viewing experience so detailed that it’s like being in the same room with someone. Whether or not the particular event is streamed live, people can still enjoy amazing video and audio quality in the playback.
So, video has changed the way people experience books; or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s expanded the way people experience books.
What you imagine in the pages, can now be seen, visualized for you, in a book trailer. If you’d like to interact with your favorite author, but they’re in Australia and you live in Wisconsin - it doesn’t matter anymore.
Live streaming brings the immediate experience, and video footage brings an archived experience, and video trailers give you a sampling of what you might experience in reading the book, but no one has to trek anywhere or wait on line anymore.
Even just a few years ago, if someone wanted to meet an author they really liked, maybe they might have to go all the way to another city, and what a bother.
Or, if someone was giving a reading, they might broadcast only to people in a room in a specific book shop, but with live streaming, that one reading is now accessible to people all around the world, like a virtual audience, and nobody gets left out because the shop ran out of chairs.
And, instead of reading reviews or features about some particular book, waiting for a paper or magazine to come out, or trekking to a book shop to page through a few likely-looking titles, you can easily browse book trailers from anywhere – and you have a fabulous world of book vloggers, or booktubers, who steadily and generously read all kinds of books, and then let you know about them.
Here, for example, is a review of Random Magic - in video form. So, you can sit at home, with a cup of coffee, and check out what this vlogger thought about this book, and even comment back with thoughts or questions.
It’s a comfortable and interactive way to browse a book – not just reading the cover blurb, but hearing someone’s thoughts about their experience. And you can sit at home quite comfortably to tune in, and not even have to get out of your pajamas, if it’s a nice weekend morning and you’re feeling a little lazy.
Or, maybe you stumble home from a club at 5 a.m. and are just in the mood to tune in to something a little more quietly entertaining, like a book review. This doesn’t seem like it’s likely to be someone’s first choice after falling through the doorway, but, if this is you, feel free to leave a comment to say hello, if just for the novelty value of meeting someone who’s that unusual…
Shown above: Vlogger LexieVamp666 discusses her experience with reading Random Magic.
You can visit her video channel, here. (http://tinyurl.com/4xoa525)
Some vloggers mix their love of books with other things they enjoy – music, makeup or food, for example – and come up with interesting takes on bookish topics.
Have you ever thought you’d like to hear someone reviewing a book, in the form of a song? Well, now you can, if that sounds like fun. The Bushwick Book Club (Seattle) does exactly that! Here’s their review of Random Magic - as a song.
Shown above: The Bushwick Book Club (Seattle) reviews Random Magic, in their own quirky way.
You can visit them here, if you like, to find out which other books they might be singing about: The Bushwick Book Club (Seattle) (http://tinyurl.com/cu2u5vx)
Twitter Ah, Twitter.
It’s a bit like a water cooler, a cocktail party, the neighborhood gossip and a news bureau, all rolled into one.
Twitter’s currency is information. All kinds of information. Some of it is useful, some of it is appalling, some of it is hilarious, and some of it is just rather puzzling.
But, as noted, it’s a bit of everything. What’s interesting about Twitter, at least, when thinking about it and its relevance to contemporary fiction, is that it’s also another way for writers and readers to connect.
Let’s say, 50-100 years ago, you enjoyed some particular book and really wanted to just let the author know. You might send a letter, which might be sent ahead, which might or might not get to the destination, and you might or might not get a reply back, and it was all very complicated.
This traditional but quite slow sort of situation went on for, let’s say, up until 10-20 years ago, when the Internet slowly but surely went from being a communications infrastructure used mainly by researchers and techies, to become a common tool that most people started using, more and more, in everyday life.
Maybe 10-15 years ago, if you happened to know the publisher of some particular book, you might be able to find a basic page or so about the author on their web site.
If the author happened to maintain a site, there might be a contact form or comments section or even an email, and you could save a stamp and just send a digital note. But it was all still a bit remote.
Five years ago, or even earlier, if an author maintained a blog, you’d have a little window into their daily world, through posts and personal commentaries, and news.
Today, there’s Twitter. Now, if that author has a Twitter feed, it’s perfectly possible to just hang out with them online.
No stamps, no publishers, no sites, blogs, email or comments required. Have a question? Wondering what that writer is thinking? Want to say hello or that you enjoyed their work? There they are, tweeting away.
You don’t even have to send and wait for an email back, you can talk to them, essentially, in real time, just as if you’re having a conversation somewhere in a café or book shop together.
Of course, this is true to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the person - not everyone with a Twitter account does actually use it, instead letting other people tweet for them, and, if they do have one, and do personally send tweets out, they might not use it very often.
But, the point is, it’s just another way to connect, and a far more immediate way that anything involving a stamp, a post office, a plane, or the Pony Express.
This is basically 2010-2013’s communication tech’s hotspot, at least in terms of social media, where tech is used, not to store and analyze data, or to run programs, but to share information. Love it or hate it, it’s here, and it’s got pictures.
What does that have to do with expanding the reading experience? Maybe if we think about a particular book as a particular sports figure; baseball trading cards, for example – they have the player image, bio and stats, they’re cute, compact, and tradeable.
Now, as it applies to Pinterest, let’s say you like a book. In fact, you like that book very much, and want to find people who like that book. Or tell people about that book. Or collect info and quotes from that book, or post a link for people who’d like to buy that book.
Someone, somewhere, has had that same thought. Maybe a lot of someones - and just by doing a simple search, you’ll pull up dozens of people from around the world, who also love that book. Or that writer. Or something connected to that book or writer.
People can share image and text very quickly, add quotes they like, include Amazon links, and make basically the electronic equivalent of trading cards about their favorite reads. Want to meet a few other people who like the same books you like? If they’re not on YouTube and they’re not on Twitter, you’ll find them on Pinterest.
Twitter is text-based, so you can scan your page and get a variety of info, but in text. YouTube appeals to people who prefer their information visually, but they can only watch one video at a time.
Pinterest is a sort of blend of both – it appeals to people who engage best with visual information, and it most of the information is available at the same time. Of course, this doesn’t only apply to books and writers, but nearly any subject you can possibly come up with – there’s a page for it. Often there are pages and pages of it, and all there for your enjoyment.
Pinterest, like both YouTube and Twitter, is open all night, and there’s always something new to look at. Don’t like what’s on TV? There are plenty of other options!
So, then. There we have four ways that contemporary technology modifies the way contemporary fiction is read, experienced, talked about, and shared.
We did mention at the top of the feature that we’d be talking about five ways this is true, of course, and that’s only four, so far. What could the last one be? The fifth one is something you're experiencing right now.
|Credit: CC Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/Flickr|
Book bloggers and vloggers
Book bloggers (and vloggers, or booktubers) have made it easy to have a lunchtime chat with friends in a local book shop, but this time, their friends are people they haven’t met, the local book shop is anyplace you can find an internet connection, and the reach is all around the world.
So, book lovers can be in 10 different countries, and participate in the same conversation, via comments, book tours, special events and weekly memes.
Book blogging (and the companion format, in video form, vlogging) is the fifth way that contemporary technology has changed the reading experience, and often, enhanced it.
Yes, of course, blogging has been around for some time, but the difference in book blogging is the addition of community features. Book bloggers don’t just broadcast information, they engage, through commenting, guest-posting, participating in memes, features and reading challenges, and other special events.
All of which are specifically created by and for other book bloggers. They also make use of some of the other contemporary technology already mentioned – Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, to share info about their events or give shout-outs to fellow bloggers and vloggers.
There’s also a lot of cross-over, when authors and book bloggers team up on specific projects, which would be unusual in any other traditional form of media, like newspapers, magazines, or television. The focus is less on promoting a book, and more on coming up with something fun and sharing the same cool experience.
The same is true for book vloggers, or booktubers, who’ve taken the opportunity to create a video dialogue with people worldwide, and decided to use it to talk about something they love - books.
There are, of course, lots of other ways contemporary technology has changed the experience of reading - audiobooks, anyone? - but those are some of the ones that seem to have made the greatest impact.
Agree? Disagree? Do feel free to leave your take on the discussion below – which contemporary technologies have changed the way you find out about, read, share, or experience contemporary reads?
And what’s next, in your opinion? Holograms! Who can say…
Contemporary technology is just that, contemporary; technology changes and evolves with each generation, whether that generation is a 100 years or a 100 days.
So, yes, who’s to say what’s up ahead, holograms or experience immersion technology, pick your favorite story, and you’re in it. And perhaps readers from the 22nd century examining a Kindle Fire, in a museum and thinking, ‘Oh, how quaint.’
In the meantime, readers have digital books they can format, for ease of reading, video experiences to share, authors to talk to about their work, in real time, and ways to swap cards on their favorite anythings. Is it fun? Oh, it very well could be. Wouldn’t you say?
About Random Magic:
When absent-minded Professor Random misplaces the main character from Alice in Wonderland, young Henry Witherspoon must book-jump to fetch Alice before chaos theory kicks in and the world vanishes.
Along the way he meets Winnie Flapjack, a wit-cracking doodle witch with nothing to her name but a magic feather and a plan. Such as it is.
Henry and Winnie brave the Dark Queen, whatwolves, pirates, Strüths, and fluttersmoths, Priscilla and Charybdis, obnoxiously cheerful vampires, Baron Samedi, a nine-dimensional cat, and one perpetually inebriated Muse to rescue Alice and save the world by tea time.
R.S.V.P. – You’re invited!
Shown above: Video Week: Random Magic
About: From July 21-30, 2012, a week of reviews, features and fun, as vloggers from around the world chime in with their takes on Random Magic.
If you enjoy books and videos, and think it’d be fun to check out a video tour, filled with reviews, discussions and mystery features, you’re welcome to join us for a cool video tour in July 2102, featuring some great book vloggers, or booktubers, from around the world. See you there!
Browse the line-up: Check out event schedule (http://tinyurl.com/6u8kabp)
Or drop by to say hello: Leave a comment (http://tinyurl.com/7cuq9bf)