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Since the invention of the first European printing press by Gutenberg in the 1450s, which was a revolution in the until then very small world of readers and writers, many things have changed. But, surprisingly, reading habits have been evolving quite slowly and the behavior of readers has been quite steady for many long years. One must admit that, as the printing techniques were refined, and the people gradually became more literate, reading became more casual, books became available the virtually everybody and newspapers thrived. Still nothing changed much about the reading supports and habits, even as computers began to be affordable to everybody, until very recently.

Although the traditional novel is still reluctantly losing its physical shape as a paper book, the spread of the Internet has permitted the emergence of new trends in reading, writing and sharing literature and written material. As will be highlighted by the three articles which will be presented here, we might say that we could now be facing one of the biggest revolution in the readers’ sphere since Gutenberg. And new technologies, Internet, and more specifically social networks are not for nothing in that situation. If people still are deeply attached to usual means of “consuming” written language, those social digital medias open the way to many innovating studies in the sometime very classical literary world.

 

First, I would like to focus on a study [1] lead by researchers of the UCL, which was also proposed as a module for the students. This study, lead on master students of the department of information studies was aimed at determining how reading, both informative and immersive is integrated in the everyday life. The students who participated as volunteers, had to keep an extensive diary on all their readings activities. Then, gathering were organized to summarize their feelings. What these discussions emphasized, is that people kept surprisingly sentimentally attached to the paper, particularly people who are not very big consumers of technology, although a growing amount of users is rapidly getting used to the new technologies as phones, tablets and e-readers, and tend to use them very naturally. What I found striking is the conclusion to which the researchers came; they noticed that the behavior and the requirements of readers seemed particularly steady and hasn’t changed much this past few years.

That conclusion quite startled me. Indeed, although the classical readings habits are today still the same as the have been for years, I’m quite convinced that a new kind of reading type, different from the immersive or the informative reading, but maybe some mix between the two, has been overlooked, whether intentionally or not. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that even the students who took part to the study as volunteers discarded by themselves this kind of reading: social networking. One can’t deny that this activity is a hybrid between writing, reading, but also sort of “chatting”. Still it is an interesting trend because it produces a lot of content and information that are often far from the usual literature by the style and the form and, most important, enable literally anybody to become an author or critic.

This indeed leads us to the second study [2] which will be discussed here. In his work, Peter Broot used the Dutch site watleesjij.nu (whatareyoureading.now), which enable people to review and rate books, in order to understand the relation between one’s literary appreciation and type of language. The digital shape of this discussion forum enabled the implementation of rigorous analytical methods so as to understand the correlation in the data. The analysis consisted in correlating the frequencies of the appearance some words (linked to certain word groups) one person’s review with the ratings gave by the same person. Roughly, we can say that links are made between people’s most frequently used words and people’s literary preferences. Although a, from the author’s own words, “limited” experiment in some points like the size of the data or the panel of critics, this study highlighted others origins to the literary tastes than the well accepted “literary norms” and his yet another example of the usefulness of digital media.

DH2014_548_socialclustprefs

Social clusters book preferences. Clusters were made based on the use of some types of words. Cluster 1 is more family oriented, whereas cluster 2 gives more importance to cognitive words.

We’ve seen that website and social media has enabled to propel the research on people literary appreciation. But, not only do they enable wide studies on everybody’s feelings upon their readings, they also provide with other pieces of information such as geolocation, and time data.

That exactly paves the way to the last article [3] I would like to present in this post. The social pleasure of the text: applying digital humanities methods to reception studies tackles the issue of understanding how gathering and discussions of scholars enables them to extract the meaning of their readings and convey their “pleasure of the text”, by studying posts on social websites such as Twitter and LibraryThing. Three distinct types of analysis, that still can be coupled together, were undertaken. A thematic analysis based on words employed and pattern of speech. A temporal analysis, on the importance of some keywords and hashtags over time. Last but not least, a geospatial analysis which enables the understanding and the recognition of spatial patterns in the use of those keywords and hashtags.

 

Through this little piece of blog, we’ve seen how reading can be both a timeless and high-tech trendy hobby connected to all kind of social networks and website. Although I’m not myself deeply versed in the literary arts, I pretty much appreciated the analytical approaches that those three studies took to evaluate reading behaviours and attitudes, whether in a more literary sphere or in a more “common” world. These researches open the way to other studies like this, based on the many digital resources now available throughout the internet. I found very refreshing to study literary pieces of work and scholars’ interpretations from a more distant point of view, leaving for once the meaning and style to focus more on a more pragmatic statistical approach, which is possible with a digital humanist point of view. As a conclusion, it might not be that crazy to say that these types of researches might lead to the recognition and the study of written social networking production as a real literary genre… one day.

 

References

[1] Warwick Claire, Mathony Simon, Rayner Samantha, The INKE (team), The dog that didn’t bark, a longitudinal study of reading behavior in physical and digital environments, http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-315.xml

[2] Boot, Peter, Dimensions of literary appreciation. Word use and ratings on a book discussion site, http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-825.xml

[3] Lang, Anouk, The social pleasure of the text: applying digital humanities methods to reception studies, http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-527.xml

 

 

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