The Future of Reading
The ability to read in depth will not disappear,
but it will probably be limited to
a smaller and smaller part of the population,
The point of this piece is to create dialogue on what it means to read beyond words and what values we can adopt from paralympics and theatre to enrich reading experiences.
Reading as an Experience
Reading as an activity can be isolating in this shared-social economy that exists not just for goods and services but also personal information.
To design experiences for the future of reading in a city, we deconstructed the experience of reading. We explored analogous experiences that could be borrowed from, to change how we read.
A good starting point is to acknowledge that reading is not inherently an activity that is accessible to everyone. The number of people that can pass the membrane reduces at each step of the process below.
Apart from having physical or cognitive disadvantages, there are cultural and social barriers that affect accessing information through traditional ways of reading.
Not being lucky enough to be born in a society that equally encourages everyone to be literate is one roadblock to name.
Why Read? Why does anyone do anything?
We used a simple logic chart to explain how we choose to do something. This is of course limited in its scope as it doesn’t account for compulsion and forces that the individual herself can’t control. This represents the thought process of activities that we do voluntarily.
To understand why some people read, and why others don’t, ‘feedback’ struck us as a notion.
Naturally, we ended up evaluating the concepts of gamification: long-term and short-term rewards, milestones etc.
Reading as an act is a process and not a task.
So to provide gratification post the task is not the best way to enhance its experience.
An experience is how one feels during and after involvement in an activity, like smoking a cigarette or riding a bike.
We also recognised here that long-form reading now and in the future will get less popular if it cannot compete with the rewards that come with democratised technological progress like immersion, living in virtual worlds, or even limitless scrolling to find something that strikes the eye.
For reading to become a pleasurable activity, it needs to be done at a rate that keeps the reader’s focus on the communication itself and is not constantly distracted by the limitations of the medium. In other words, being a good reader is important too to reap the fruit of the activity.
Reading can easily be compared to other habits that must be consciously maintained in order to profit from it’s gains.
Reading as Training
Performance and Pleasure
The word ‘training’ has bitter connotations that don’t immediately make one feel chirpy. Yet it proves to be beneficial in countless experiences.
The pleasure that might come from reading would be comparable to eating healthy or going to the gym than say, buying an expensive bag.
To level the playing field while considering pleasure as a trait, we reached far and wide to understand what we could attain from analogous experiences that encourage training.
Paralympics run shoulder to shoulder with the Olympics while offering fair competition and opportunity to those that may not be able to compete at the Olympics.
Playing and competing provides a sense of belonging to those that take part and closes the circle of their identity. Apart from the obvious rewards and recognition that come with being a sportsperson, the insistence to improve are incentives that continue engagement.
Long-term rewards that come with constant training, short-term rewards like runner’s high and finally the feedback from having an audience makes participation exciting.
Clearly these values are core to the experience of contending in the Paralympics, making it a bountiful experience, to say the least.
What are ways we can leverage values and emotions of such strength to the experience of reading?
If reading, as an experience, was to encourage participation at different levels, like the Paralympics is to the Olympics: specific to needs, would it include the people left out of the system?
From a passive activity that reading is, how do we shift its paradigm to make it more inclusive, fair and active?
Would training in a peer group help improve one’s skill to grasp information?
Could reading become more powerful if metrics played a role in gauging the experience?
The answers to these questions can be advantageous to a plethora of sectors–
What would it look like to impart primary education with equity?
What can change in the ways magazines and newspapers function for them to stand a chance in this age of “bite-sized information”?
Just as Socrates said about the written word, we can say about reading, “Words, they seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say from a desire to be instructed they go on telling just the same thing forever.”
If reading as an experience remains passive, will argument always take a back seat? Can the solutions to these challenges address the problems of fake news too?
Impeccable performances are a result of practice, rituals and standing up each time after falling. Every actor practices her lines countless times and failing the first few times is nothing but expected. Every new play demands the effort no matter how experienced an actor she is.
To be in an environment that expects mistakes in the initial stages of a learning curve, pushes one to be better like nothing else does. Can having such a support crew help a reader? Can practicing with people of similar proficiencies make the experience of reading easier?
It is only constructive to start at levels that one is comfortable in rather than to be put in a bucket that is supposedly right for them, only so they give up without trying.
To convert non-readers into readers undoubtedly requires providing a level of comfort after which they can leave those levels to improve. Reading as an experience can be pleasurable when the medium doesn’t interfere with the message. To juice all the benefits of reading, one needs to improve as a reader.
Being a catalyst in this process is an opportunity for innovation that people can capitalise on. To be a diving board for a reader can be a powerful enough experience to get them to swim in the pool of knowledge.
Learning from those that are at a disadvantage to benefit from traditional mediums of reading can be an inoculum for intervention in transforming the future of reading. Creating worlds for reading that are beyond ‘words’ can include a larger, wholesome set of audience making experiences richer and this way no one is left out of the system.
Subcultures and Exclusivity
Identities are also formed when a group of people separate themselves from the mainstream. Playing with the models of exclusivity can make experiences superior. Implementing the attributes that come with power: legacy, heritage, rarity and pride, into designing an experience can be very successful.
Possessing customised artefacts, upholding and passing the uniqueness of rituals onto a successor and propagating laws and decrees are how exclusive groups conventionally function. These can make individual experiences highly treasurable.
Creating closed communities encourages its members to care for each other and also for the virtue that brings them together. To build communities around reading can exponentially enrich the experience of gathering, sharing and receiving information. These can also be grounds to breed novel ways of sharing knowledge and art.
In the times where having a billion copies of something is commonplace, how can the knowledge of limited resources enhance experiences? Is it possible to create experiences that cannot be recreated? How might the awareness of being a part of an ephemeral reading experience change the value it holds to the reader?
In conclusion, it is an important reminder that reading as an artform cannot hold ground if it doesn’t adhere to the pace of change that is brought by the internet. To bastardise the art is not an option, but to give it the respect it demands through experiences can redefine its essence while granting equal opportunities to those that have constantly been left out.
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