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April 25, 2009

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Snarkmarket Reading Survey

Something Walter Benjamin said has interested me for a while now:

If centuries ago [writing] began gradually to lie down, passing from the upright inscription to the manuscript resting on sloping desks before finally taking itself to bed in the printed book, it now begins just as slowly to rise again from the ground. The newspaper is read more in the vertical than in the horizontal plane, while film and advertisements force the printed word entirely into the dictatorial perpendicular.

—- One Way Street (1928)

If Benjamin’s right, then this is a reading revolution that’s still underway — expanding from film, advertisements, and newspapers to television, computer, and telephone screens. Even though we’re using all these different devices, they just might be participating in this dyad of vertical vs. historical reading.

I’ve become something of an amateur anthropologist of how people read — watching people read books or papers or from their phones or laptops in public places — but I’m curious: how do you read?

* What kind of device(s)? * Where is your body? * Where is your reading material? * How do you prefer to read? * How do you read most often? * Where/how is it hardest for you to read? * What are your reading surfaces — desks, tables, a bed, your own body? * Do you use any prosthetic aids — glasses, something to raise your laptop upwards? * How did you read as a child? Ten years ago? What’s changed?

Send pictures or movies even! Images of reading!

Posted April 25, 2009 at 5:25 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Collaborations, Object Culture


While I've been reading work documents on the screen for awhile, I like books: the paper, the smell, flipping the page, sticking other bits of paper in to mark nice phrases or thoughts to ponder. I prefer magazines too, if they're well-made and well-written (and not bulging with tumerous ads), to their online versions,

The hardest thing to read is fiction on the screen - that tends towards laying in bed or sprawled on a chair. The news I read online in fast scans of rss/feeds in NetNewsWire while making coffee and breakfast and finding my shoes. Everything online tends to be skimmed unless I set it aside for a moment and re-approach - “Readability” is good for that. It changes the css dynamically to present just the content ( ).

If I'm reading a text any longer than the size of a typical magazine article, my first choice reading venue is bed. At any given time, I have four potential reading options by my bed: my phone, my Kindle, my Eee, and my magazine stack. The first thing I do in the morning is yank on my phone cord to pull my phone over, and read a few stories from the New York Times and Google Reader. Typically, when I'm ready for bed, I turn off the lights one by one - front door, hallway, bedroom - until the only glow that's left in the house is the book light on my Kindle, which stays on until my eyes start to shut.

I'm typing this from my bed on my Eee right now.

When I worked at the Star Tribune, every day I would wander out into the skyways of downtown Minneapolis for lunch, with a book and my BookGem in a little black messenger bag on my side. I favored lunch spots with good natural light. I'd often prop up my book at a table, prepare the pages right where I left off, get my food and return to begin reading and eating at the same time.

When I was little, if I was reading a book that was exciting enough, I sometimes used to crawl into my closet and read it there in the dim light, so my parents wouldn't see the light on and make me go to sleep.

I don't like reading at work. A screen on a desk is my least favorite reading environment. But I often find myself reading my Eee sideways in bed, and I don't mind that at all, even for long stretches.

The saddest thing about reading in bed on the iPhone: that precise angle, when, as you slump down and really get into the meat of the book, the gyroscope tells the iPhone it's time to shift the screen aspect.

Posted by: grover on April 26, 2009 at 10:49 PM
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