[-empyre-] post for convergence

katherine hayles nk_hayles at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 11 18:28:57 EST 2010

<I suspect, however, that the enemy here is not the internet, but
 rather the neo-liberal economic rationalism that results in
work hours, and diminishes the free time required for people to engage in
 sustained reading practices.>
The idea that the move toward hyper reading can be explained by increased work hours is not consistent with data collected on Internet reading and other leisure activities.  Granting Michael Dieter’s point about the blurring of work and leisure, nevertheless many surveys show that Americans watch on average at least two hours of television per day, with additional time spent on the Internet; these are leisure activities in addition to whatever Internet browsing is done at work.  Clearly, one could read a book during this time rather than browse the internet or watch TV, but that is not the choice that most people make.  The average number of hours that young people (ages 8 to 18) spend on leisure media is over six hours per day, 43 minutes of which is spent on print media (statistics from “Gen M” report by the Kaiser Foundation).  I too would like more immersive (or close) reading, but the answer to this cannot be, for example, to cut back the
 number of work hours.  However desirable that might be on other grounds, given present trends it would lead to more hyper reading, not less.  
I am here this week at the “Future of Reading” conference at Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester NY) and today heard an interesting presentation by Chris Anderson, chief editor of “Wired” magazine.  Some years ago “Wired” set up an online version of the magazine, and the data showed that it was a failure—hardly anyone read it.  This led to soul-searching about what a “magazine” essentially was.  According to Anderson, he believes that magazine reading is“immersive.”  Their studies showed that the average time readers spent with the print magazine is a little over an hour; at the website, 3 minutes.  They concluded that the attributes of a print magazine—its periodicity, its ability to have articles several pages long, its integration of verbal and visual material (as in a photo essay, as well as in the combination of ad graphics with verbal content) were all subverted in various ways on the Web.  The answer,
 according to Anderson, is a tablet such as the iPad, because it allows the essential qualities of “magazine” to be continued in a way that the website does not.  Their studies show that with their new app for the iPad, readers spend just under an hour—about the same amount of time with the print magazine.As a literary critic, I find it amusing to think about “immersive” reading as being characteristic of magazine perusal and lasting for about an hour  (I’m accustomed to thinking of chunks more like three or four hours and immersion as a condition in which one essentially shuts out the world and loses oneself in the text).  Nonetheless, I still find it interesting that “Wired” considers the tablet to catalyze a different kind of reading strategy than websites generally do.  Anderson made the point that the desktop screen encourages a “lean-forward” stance, while the tablet encourage a “lean-back” stance, operating in this
 regard more like a book.  It’s also portable like a book (and an iPhone), but has a book-size screen, unlike the iPhone.   It also differs from eReaders (Kindle, Nook, etc.) in having more computational power and faster internet connectivity.  One disadvantage that Anderson didn’t mention is that the iPad is absolutely a closed source device.  One must get the developer’s kit to develop applications (at a quite hefty price) and also develop the apps on a Mac (a PC won’t work with the developer’s kit).  "Wired" may easily afford the kit and have teams of first-class designers and programmers to develop their app, but I and my colleagues want to have our students to develop apps that encourage a wider range of reading strategies and artistic/scholarly content, and that's difficult to do with constrained budgets and the time available during a semester to make meaningful progress.  So there’s plenty to consider in terms of the
 capitalistic agenda of Apple, which makes me think that the iPad may make a transitory contribution toward more immersive reading but cannot be not a durable or robust solution.

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