The fact that you’re even reading these words represents a victory.
WordPress-powered websites publish more than 77 million posts each week. The New York Times runs about 150 stories every day. (Here at WIRED, it’s more like 15 or 20.) Last year, 687.2 million books were sold in the United States—and that’s just print versions, not e-books. Speaking of which: even as Amazon opens more stores, independent bookstores continue to thrive, despite the fact that a quarter of adults haven’t cracked a cover in a year. Words are everywhere. Not all of them are the best words, granted, but we’re awash in them like at no other point in our history. They’re in our books and our e-readers, in our newspapers and magazines, on our laptop and phone screens.
If scale is your metric, there’s never been a better time to be a reader. But by most other metrics, there’s also never been a more confounding, daunting time to be a reader. There’s less time, more options; less focus, more distraction. Perhaps in acknowledgment of that, reading with an old-timey capital R has begun to feel more urgently necessary. Not simply scrolling through feeds and timelines, wading into the tributaries of attribution and reference and losing any sense of how you got there. Not snacking, but feasting; cramming story by the fistful, holding on to a sentence to better coax out its subtext. And when your job can reach you in the middle of the night and your schedule is shared with multiple other people, to read—to engage single-mindedly, for art rather than application—is in its way an act of resistance.
So how are we all doing it? How are all these words getting into our eyes (inescapably) and ears (increasingly) and brains (hopefully)? How is the way we read changing? The short answer, as it always is, is: People are adapting. The longer answer is that there are almost as many answers as words—which is why, starting today and continuing throughout the week, we’ll look at some of the many ways technology is shifting our relationships with books and stories. They won’t be all of the answers, and some might not feel like answers at all, but with any luck, they’ll make you reconsider your own. And maybe, the next time you’re in line or on a bus, you’ll pass the time not with a scroll, but with a book.
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