The following is part 1 of my interaction with Clay Shirky’s interview titled “How We Will Read.”
When you read a secondhand book do you like other people’s highlights and notes? Do you value other people’s input in your electronic reading, such as Amazon’s Kindle highlights?
The following is a meditation on how Social Reading may be akin to Christian hospitality.
I sometimes get mad at Clay Shirky. His writing comes off to me like a jet-skier describing the fish he might have seen while flying across the surface of the ocean… Nevertheless, he is a lot more qualified than I am to talk about technology, and sometimes I do like what he has to say.
The following comments he made about “Social Reading” make sense. First, if you don’t know what social reading means, think of the way that reading on the Kindle allows us to share our favorite passages with one another in a way never before possible. In the interview with Shirky which the excerpt comes out of, Shirky talks about some of the advantages of what he calls “Frozen Sharing”:
What I’m saying is — as I was reading it I was struck by this passage. And that sentiment is freeze-dried. Maybe no one ever defrosts it. Maybe it just sits there as an informative piece of meta-data. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference to anybody. But maybe, the fact that I picked out that passage causes it to surface in someone else’s search. Or I could see everybody that picked out that passage. Or I could do a search where I filter for everyone who cared about that passage and show me the other passages they agreed about to get the commonality of the books they read.
I see a scale with two extremes regarding how people may respond to this kind of social reading:
- I don’t want other people’s ridiculous highlighting to prime me to value certain paragraphs or ideas over others.
- I think the wisdom of crowds can save me time so I can quickly find the gems in a given book without having to do the hard work myself.
Since the majority of things the average person highlights are never directly useful for their own purposes, Shirky calls these freeze-dried extractions “being generous about things when you are offering it out to the public, without it being either in a specific time frame or for a specific target.”
In this sense, practicing social reading might be akin to the Christian practice of hospitality; by helping create value for others without expecting anything in return.