Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Future of Reading

I've been thinking a lot about the future of reading in the digital age. And I'd like to toss a few ideas out to you.

Fact: the up-and-coming generations have been TRAINED (by Sesame Street, et al) to have short attention spans.

For years we've been teaching that it's important to give the reader "white space." We writers now eschew block paragraphs of description, sermons in stories, any time when someone is sitting and ruminating (for the most part). We're all about action and movement.

The other day I found an online satirical piece called "America Shudders at Large Block of Uninterrupted Text." We are becoming USED to having links in our reading material. (Definition: a link is an internet address that will take you from your book to the web to view whatever material exists at the targeted site).

Is it possible that a today's simple stories will make readers in five years shudder the way page-long paragraphs in 100-year-old books make us shudder today? Oh, we'll read them, but we know it's going to force us to focus . . . and some of us won't want to make the effort.

I really don't think it's going to be too burdensome for writers to come up with linkable stories. For instance, my WIP is three stories in one, and you could read them out of order if you wanted to--and your brain would make the adjustment.
Plus, when I talk about the Silver Meteor train, it'd be simple to insert a web link to a photo of said train, or a map of its route. EVEN IF THESE THINGS WERE ENTIRELY FICTIONAL, the author could put up web pages where these "visual aids" would be available. Ditto for character photos, bios, etc.

Think of your fave TV shows like 24, Rubicon, etc. They have websites with games, interactive quizzes, character profiles, deleted scenes, etc.
Why couldn't we do that for digital books? When reading, you wouldn't HAVE to click on the link, but you could go back and check things out at your leisure. (I know, I know--when engrossed in a story, we don't always like to break the fictive dream.)

I think--I predict--that readers are going to be expecting these things in about five years, maybe less. With books going digital, it wouldn't take much to insert these links. In fact, if I can find the time I may start working on some of my OP digital books now. Just to see what happens. :-)

So my question is this: if you were reading a digital book (an electronic version), how would you feel about having some links inserted?

Would you think: 1) Wow, I can look up things she's writing about!
2) These things are distracting and a pain in the neck

And if you wanted to look things up, do you think you would do it immediately or later, at a chapter break or even at the end of the story? (I know--it probably depends upon the pace of the story where the link was found. But generally, what do you think?)



Anonymous said...

I spend a lot of time online skipping from one link to another. Despite my best intentions, I always run over the time I have started to allot myself for hanging out on the Web. Having said that, although I love curling up in a comfy chair with the handheld book, I can certainly see the advantage of online books with the links included. It would also be great for some of those $20 words that writers throw in just to see how well-educated I am. I'm sure you're on to something, Angie. Be our trend-setter and we will be cheering you on your way. As long as you get your proper commission for the sale of the books, I'm all for it. Clyde

Barbara E Brink said...

I just put out my first ebook and the publisher allowed links in certain places, but mostly author links at the end with a short bio.
Personally, I think links in the middle of a story are distracting and I probably would not click on them. I like to be completely involved in the story. If there was something at the very end of the book that looked interesting, I might look at it, but not otherwise.
I'm probably in too high of an age bracket for my attention span to be that bad yet:)

Mocha with Linda said...

Arrggh! I just wrote a comment, and when I clicked Publish, I got a "Service Unavailable" message!

This is making me feel old and old-fashioned. I think links would be distracting to me. I usually just skip over them on blog posts. Put some links at the end of the book, or if it's a map or family tree, put it at the beginning like printed books do now.

I received a book on PDF to review, and I just couldn't get into it. Sitting in front of my laptop was not nearly as enjoyable as curling up with a book that I can feel and smell. A Kindle might be better.

The advantage to digital is not having to physically store all the books. I love that we don't have a shelf of 20+ encyclopedia volumes in our bookcase. But then again, lots of times as you peruse an "real" encyclopedia you stumble across things that are totally unrelated that are interesting while looking up your intended subject. I don't know how you would surf the C volume online! LOL

And then there's the thickness and weight. Few things are as satisfying as curling up with a fat book by a favorite author.

I have a Bible on my iPhone, but I highly prefer my physicaL Bible with my notes and underlines and highlights.

Kathy C. said...

I still like to hold the book in my hand. I'm slow to embrace technology. I suppose eventually I'll have to figure it all out.

What do you think of all those electronic book thingies? (how's that for specific jargon--thingies) Which one is a good starter one?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last two posts. I hate the thought that books are being replaced with computors and Apple products. I love being able to run my fingers over the spines of my books, and smell the ink on the pages. Books are my friends, someone I come to again and again, and I just don't think I could get that close to a computer.
You can't lone a computer to a friend, or flip throught the pages to find favourite passages.

Sorry if you think I'm a little to extreme with this, but I've been thinking about it a lot.

Carole said...

I still read "real" books, but I absolutely love my Kindle. I never wanted an ereader until my husband surprised me with one as I was preparing to visit my missionary daughter in Germany last year. I loaded 25 books on my Kindle and read in coffee shops with my daughter from whatever genre I was in the mood for at the moment.

As for ereaders, I can't read for long periods of time on an LCD screen, so I've got to have an eink screen like the Kindle. And I don't want a multi-purpose device like the iPad.

I often click on a link while online, but don't believe I would while reading on the Kindle. I'm pretty open to new technology, but want to get lost in the story when reading a novel. I might check out a picture of something described if it was at the beginning of the book.

Doni Brinkman said...

I am a Kindle user and love it. If links were available, I'd have fun checking them out. Go for it!

Lynda in MO said...

I'm an avid reader of "real" books, too, but I also love my Kindle! One thing i really like is that, as I'm reading and come across an unfamiliar word, I can scroll to it on my Kindle and get an instant dictionary definition without even leaving the page - I love that! But as far as links are concerned, i would not be likely to click on them in the middle of the story. I would however probably go to them at the end of the book for more info on something that interested me. It's kind of like sidebars in a newspaper or magazine article - I often read them, but only after I've read the entire article.

Helena Smrcek said...

I love real books as well. There is something about the way a new book smells and feels - on the other hand I'm finishing a non-fiction book - a collection of refugee stories and would love to have the option to include clips, interviews, updated photos and so on. Digital technology has its benefits - perhaps Kindle and such toys are here to add to our reading experiences - still, I'm not giving my book collection away : )

Melinda Evaul said...

I agree that books will probably have these types of links in the future. I'd read them when I came to the end of a chapter or scene break. It's the way I read a blog post or article now. We have these same features in p-books. The map of a town at the beginning. A list of characters in a long saga. I find myself flipping to those pages as I read. I'd think a link in an e-book wouldn't be much different.

Kay said...

I think people will like it. Most definitely the younger generation.
I don't like links, though. I very seldom click on them.

I'm with Linda that they should be at the front or back of the book, but most people will probably like them in the text.
I'm not as adaptable to change as you are, Angie, and I admire how you just jump right on these things!

Ruthie said...

Some of us have short attention spans...and/or short memories...for reasons other than societal influences. For example, I take a lot of medication that alters my visual/mental coordination (is there really such a thing?). Thus, I cannot read for more than a page or so without getting lost. A Kindle or other e-reader wouldn't be much help to me as I require audiobooks these days.

That being said, if I were able to read physical pages I would not like links interrupting my reading. (I HATE those asterisks and footnote indicators one finds in academic texts!!) But I also think links in the middle of paragraphs or sentences would inhibit the flow of imagination. Unfortunately the "younger generation" doesn't seem to know how to use their imagination very well. Maybe that's the point. Perhaps it's the imaginative inhibitions that an author has to cater to these days. To me that's just plain sad.

Snowed-in in Alabama said...

I enjoy becoming totally engrossed in my reading. I don't think I could do that with distracting links. Other than a few blogs and news stories, I don't like reading on a computer screen (and even then, if the writing is too long, I may print it out).

It would be cool, however, to be able to go to a site after finishing the book and check out more things about the characters, etc., or go beforehand to check out the setting.

Lisa said...

Seeing as how I have never read a digital book, I'm behind the times. My gut tells me I would find the links distracting. I like to turn the good old pages of a book. I just finished Chris Fabry's "June Bug", and I'm currently reading "Blood Ransom" by Lisa Harris.