Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

3 Responses to Creatures of Habit

  1. Andrea says:

    The reasons not to get an e-reader just keep piling up… Am I the only one who doesn’t want reader-tailored stories? I want stories that take me out of my comfort zone and give me something new to think about, to experience. Isn’t that part of the point of all art?

    I want to read the story the AUTHOR wants to tell me. When I buy a book, I see it as a kind of contract between me and the author. I really don’t care at that point what other people think of that particular book, or when they stop reading, or how fast they read it, and I don’t want my own reading experience influenced by those other readers. If the author chooses to reveal the plot twist on page 104 and not on page 98, I presume she has a valid reason for that. If not, then maybe the book has been published too soon. Maybe it should have had another round of editing.

    And if publishers are so eager to know when people stop reading, or how fast they read, or when they skip pages, why don’t they just ask instead of spying on people’s reading habits? I feel I’ve already lost way too much privacy and control over my own life, so DON’T TOUCH MY BOOKS!

  2. David says:

    Here is my take on this latest Guardian piece. This is a carefully crafted argumentative essay, and spends a lot of time raising questions, which essentially are based upon fears, uncertainty and doubts. The purpose of the article is not to suggest a future role for the ebook at all. The author makes no attempt to resolve any of these “problems” but instead JUMPS to a conclusion that “Once these features of privacy and continuity are acknowledged, the ebook might well come into its own.”

    My favorite line of all is,”and the book is continuous over space, time and reader.” I almost burst out laughing at this line. I have never read someone reference the print book using the language of physics. What does the author mean to imply? Is it that e-books are not real, like Durham Castle? E-books come from some other unknown dimension of space time, and the English must be careful, lest the book disappear. They are not as trustworthy and reliable as Exeter Cathedral!

    I know that the Guardian takes itself extremely seriously, and enjoys pontificating upon various topics. The ebook is not some university student programme seeking academic approval and acceptance from various stakeholders of the publishing industry. It is a disruptive technology that promises to increase margins of profit, and overall sales volumes, by reducing the built in cost structure of print books and distribution. The declining sales volumes and revenues of print books are now the graph of the past, and the rising market share and growth of e-book sales is the graph of the future. Are any of the CEO’s in publishing unaware of this fact? If so, there is your next short sale on stock.

    What makes the writers at the Guardian believe that there is anything that is going to change that trend by all their silly worries?

    The article is entertainment, and the best of that is found in the comments.

  3. D.C. DaCosta says:

    First, terrific comments, above.

    Second, I have to admit to being intrigued by the idea that the reading of a book on an e-reader is transitory: a piece of performance art, if you will, rendered by the reader. Significant? Probably not at all.

    Third, and most important: “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.” Seems to me that any editor worth the name would have made this recommendation on first reading.

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