The Culture of Reading in a Digital Age – A Conversation

World Book Day has promoted the enjoyment of books and reading in Ireland for the last 22 years. In a recent survey conducted by Dubray Books on Irish reading habits, 41% of respondents said social media is the big rival for their reading time even though they agreed that reading boosts their mood, makes them feel relaxed and gives them a better understanding of a given topic.

When speaking to Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Quality Education, UNESCOwisely noted that, “Paving the way to the achievement of Education 2030 will only be possible to the extent that an enabling culture of reading and writing is nurtured.” (UNESCO, 2017). Reading is an integral part of creativity and contributes to a learning environment, one that we value highly here at M.CO, “The reading process is such a hugely creative one, activating our imaginations, and stimulating our learning like nothing else.” (Reading Agency UK, 2013).

However, “We have witnessed the proliferation of digital alternatives. These technological innovations have engendered new ways of promoting reading and changed the experience of reading itself.” (Fuller, 2013).

So, how does a culture of reading fare in a digital age?

Today, in a conversation with Eva, our Director of Visual Communication, we consider this question.

Eva has enjoyed fiction from a young age, and although she takes time to read about new design concepts, she finds most joy in sharing novels with friends, family and reading to her son at bedtime.

At M.CO, we are a multi-disciplinary team of strategic project managers, service designers, researchers, strategists, sociologists, architects, environmentalists, engineers, designers, writers and creators, and this is how we read: “Real books win out every time” – M.CO Team

What is your take on reading in a digital age?

I think there is a resurgence in the popularity of reading and a focus on reading physical books. There are now a lot more buy and swaps around compared with renting books from libraries.

What is your opinion on the pros and cons of reading apps and technologies?

Pros: Convenience – instant, cheap and light. If it’s on an app you always have your phone with you.

Cons: Blue light which is hard on your eyes and I find that I scan read and have a lighter reading experience because of the chance of interruption by phone notifications and other distractions.

How do you view the availability of information through digital platforms?

The ease of accessibility is great, and you can always choose what you read and where you source it.

You can always stay informed and up-to-date which means you have to make a point of taking time out from the ‘on world’. I find it interesting that it is acceptable to be scrolling, but not reading in the company of others.

The acceptability of technology-driven information as opposed to physical books is stark. Etiquette around the use of phones and devices hasn’t yet been worked through, but we can see impact already, which is a general sense of distraction.

How would you compare your experience of reading a physical book vs digital?

It’s the difference between giving yourself time versus scanning and real progression vs pushing through. As far as digital reading goes, there is less value in the actual experience of reading a story through that medium. There is a real sense of weight and progression through an actual book. Finding your place in a story is more natural compared to the abstract sense of place on a device.

What draws you to a physical copy of a book, over a digital version?

Having an actual book on your shelf or desk is a talking piece. The app can be isolating. Physical books enable a community of sharing and conversations. The volume of how much you have read is much more tangible when you have physical copies.

Where do you source your books and ideas for new reads?

Mostly recommendations from friends and family, or top ten in a book shop.

I have trust in people and shop recommendations, but also online outlets who identify new read by authors I like and similar books.

Do you view the information you read in a book, the same way you do with other information you read online?

No – I scan read online, and actually invest time in each word and the structure and details of a book. It’s the difference between looking for a key point versus enjoying the detail.

Are there similarities in how you read books and how you read other content online?

It’s a totally difference experience, and I’m aware of this. Online reading is a day to day activity to gather information I need. Reading represents time out, going into a zone and being open to other worlds.

Do you believe you remember the plot of a book better in physical or digital copy?

Physical. There is a visual and design aspect there.

Do you spend much of your time on other digital platforms?

Yes - scrolling on Instagram and news apps.

How does this fit in with your reading habits?

I really try to disrupt scrolling with reading. Purposeful interruption. You know what you are scrolling through is mostly garbage, so I aim to get the balance between ‘switch-off-scrolling’ and engaged reading time.

So, Eva what are your opinions of the culture surrounding reading in a digital age?

I think it is a positive move forward for reading in the digital age for reading. Digital reading devices are enablers and encourages non-readers to read and then wraps people up in the world of reading. The accessibility of reading through digital reading devices is a really positive move forward. When you think about audio-books, flexible fonts and copy size, now there is a medium for everybody.

Thank you to Eva for sharing her thoughts in this conversation to mark World Book Day 2019.

For more information, see https://www.worldbookday.com/world-book-day-ireland/

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