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Reading the Next Book

This last week I attended and presented at the Readex Digital Institute in Chester Vermont. This was a fun conference; it was small enough to interact easily and informally with others, and diverse enough to trigger fascinating conversations among people with very different perspectives. I am also delighted that my Facebook-friend, Meredith, is now a real world friend as well; she has an account of the conference on her blog, and her own presentation is at slideshare.

The talk that I gave (here per Meredith’s accounting) concerned some speculations I have been slowly shaping about how reading will change, and the ramifications particularly for privacy. I was not originally disposed to share it just yet, but after reading the recent BoingBoing post concerning the Canadian privacy commissioner’s desire to see software architects design for privacy, I had second thoughts — coincidentally, I also had quoted the Canadian privacy commissioner.

When I gave the talk, as so often happens, a lot of what I wound up thinking about most was not what I was presenting in my slides, so I have edited and added and tinkered; I hope the result manages to eke across the threshold into intelligibility.

The talk, as it stands now, is about how the book as a commodity is being transformed through its conversion to digital, and as a consequence, reading is being converted from an often individual, solitary act, to an inherently social act, embedded within the network. Not, to be plain, social as in a reading circle, but social as in a (gag, I can’t believe I am going to say it) web 2.0 sense.

One of the consequences of this re-creation of reading is that privacy is at tremendous risk of itself becoming a commodity, which must be purchased. Thus the Canadian commissioner’s plea that we must architect for privacy, or as I would similarly express it, that we must accept the costs of engineering privacy into our applications and networks as a social obligation.

Perhaps the greatest threats to privacy are from the aggregators of such stuff as: found or corporal data like websites, books, articles, and news; user-contributed data; and the click-stream traces of our actions; when combined these yield rich and beneficial applications. This is the trade-off: release of personal information in exchange for amazing new utility. The solution to this conundrum has often been rendered meanly. It is worth noting that Google’s approach to the management of personal information is much the same as it is to copyright: appropriation, with an opt-out option for those who are aware of, and object to, the taking.

But as many of us concerned with privacy are aware, privacy can readily exist even amidst applications and systems which assume the presence of user-identifying and user-generated information, through the creation and provision of mechanisms by which we as individuals can transparently control the release of information that should always be ours to own. Privacy is not a thing incarnate; it is a continuous construction, and its construction should reside in the hands of the people, not in the profit motives of search engines and advertising companies.

The ramifications for us are significant. It is up to us to shape what reading the next book looks like, and up to us to form our understanding of how we control our identity, our privacy, and our rights in the social space filling the firmament of the network.

The presentation via slideshare, or below.

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  • http://mndoci.com Deepak

    Peter,

    As usual brilliant. Your addition to the radar has further enhanced the value of one of the better blogs out there.

    In a recent blog post, Jon Udell discussed the future of the research library, a topic myself an others followed up on. I think the issue that he poses and the one you pose above are similar in many ways, but there are also subtle differences.

    The key, IMHO, is context. When we read for our personal consumption, e.g. if I am reading The Book of the New Sun (to pick a favorite), I don’t really care what others think about it, and the only way to read it is in book form(and if possible hardcover) Perhaps at some point in the future, there could be a need to discuss thoughts on the book with others, and that’s where social networks could come in. However, by and large, I still consider reading a very personal activity. At least a certain kind of reading and it shows in my reading habits

    However, when I am reading for research purposes, or reading a book that is supposed to add to my knowledge, then your point is very valid, and we need to follow through on that line of thinking, both in terms of access and sharing, as well as privacy. I can’t remember the last time I read a research paper in any format other than PDF or HTML. If you could take the approach PLoS is taking to annotate scientific literature, and extend it to digitized material or even say the safari library, the collective intelligence captured would have a massive benefit.

    Just some thoughts.

  • http://seoptimization.blog.com/ Search‚ò∏ Engines WEB

    Privacy is given up by those who do not browse via special proxies or delete cookies. However, look at what is given in exchange for loss of privacy: instant gratification, cost savings and the democratization of information.

    Readers receive the benefit of free quality content courtesy of the advertisers from those sites they visit. Imagine how research resources have changed for today’s university students compared to their parents’ college years. Also, today’s health and legal professionals can take advantage of breaking updates unlike their predecessors who waited for journals.

    The digitization of reading has now evolved even further. One important transformation is social site participation. This allows immediate group review and critique of any hypothesis or assertion that is placed on a blog or other social media by a writer.

    This is important because it allows for immediate disputing or rebutting to any statement being presented by an author or book reviewer as factual.

    Previously, in hard copy book reviews, magazines or news articles , one could only write a letter to an Editor without any guarantee that it would be printed or left unedited. The delay until the next publication took away much of spontaneity from the exchange.

    With books, there was no way to get an immediate dispute across to the reading public.
    So questionable information could potentially influence an ill informed public, unless a prominent television show gave air time to a credentialed disputer.

    Now, regardless of the popularity of any book or the prominence of any Author, anyone – regardless of their prestige – can dispute the facts to a judging public.

    It is not uncommon to create a blog or Website and purchase sponsor links on search engines to get the immediate attention of searchers seeking a controversial book or related information.

    Additionally, social media can have viral effect if an opinion piece hits home with the public.