At UC Irvine, students in the class “Narratives in a Digital Age,” taught by journalist and assistant professor in the literary journalism department Erika Hayasaki, are discussing the future of reading. A 2012 report found that “the increased use of mobile devices has provided a boost in readers for long-form journalism.” But is that true? The class discussion led to the below set of essays, called “How I Read.”
My Day In Words
The background of my sleek, white Macintosh displays and defines one of my favorite words, “wanderlust.”
I open Google Chrome and immediately open Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and my UCI webmail in one window. I begin from left to right, and, status after status, I scroll through Facebook’s mundane updates.
“I am sad to inform you all that I have no intention of seeing The Hunger Games,” Johnathon Cassidy says.
“happy birthday cidneyyy!” posts Christina Tran onto a friend’s wall.
“Screw the lamb, Imma goin’ eat my fuckin Sardinian pork <3,” Matteo Bertoli declares to the select few that understand.
As I rapidly scan familiar names and faces, I read a headline from NPR, a profound opinion by Lisa Ling, a video posted by James Franco.
I switch over to my second tab: Tumblr.
Between the blur of memes, Instagram photos, and gifs of various celebrities on a talk show, I glance at posts by “Newsflick” and “The Daily What.” I move on.
Next is Pinterest. “Matt and Liz repinned your pin.” Cool.
Twitter is the next tab. It’s great for breaking news but terrible for just about everything else. The right of my screen tells me how the Associated Press tweeted, “Police say 2 men will face murder charges; black community questions motivation,” and The Huffington Post informs me, “Tiger’s personal life is kicking his butt.” Interesting, but not retweet-worthy.
Last on my rotation is my UC Irvine webmail. My eyes search through the “Subject” headings for cancelled classes or alerts from the New University, my university paper. If there is no e-mail worthy of opening, I start back from the beginning.
This is how I read every morning.
Throughout the day, if I’m not checking back into my various social networking accounts, I am reading the long-form journalism pieces that I am assigned biweekly. I usually print my assigned reading out so that I can write, highlight, and underline as much as I desire. Even if I owned an iPad, Kindle, or Nook, I would not choose to do my assigned reading on them.
If it is a Tuesday, my fingers blacken as I flip through the new issue of the New University to see how my fellow writers did. I hardly have time for a personal book, but the one I keep going back to is David Nicholls’ One Day, in paperback.
I end every day the same way it begins because there is always something new.
Cleo Tobbi is a third-year literary journalism student at the University of California, Irvine. She has written for the New University and is the creator and compiler of the World Section. She is also a writing intern for filmledger.com.
Ending the Day
As a kid, I ended every day with a book. Until he stopped putting me to bed when I was about eight years old, Dad read aloud before I went to sleep. He would perch–his thin legs crossed delicately, claw-like feet nestled in house slippers–on the edge of my twin cot and read a few pages from Herman Melville, J.K. Rowling, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Jack London. Each evening, placing his hand on the spine of whatever novel he had chosen, he’d slow down his speech toward wrap-up. I could tell when the end was coming, and I hated it.
Throughout the day, I’d read comics (the Calvin and Hobbes phase from 5th grade lasted a year), children’s novels (among my favorites were The Phantom Tollbooth and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe), my diary (erasing any glaring grammatical errors I didn’t catch the first time), billboards, sleeves of CDs (“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”), anything I could get my hands on. These were the ’90s, the glory days: e-books did not exist, the Internet was a long dial tone away, and newspapers were doing all right. I usually kept a book within arm’s reach because it was a form of entertainment for me.
Today, as a 21-year-old, I begin every day with the paper. Before I leave for school in the morning, I walk to my porch and pick up the Wall Street Journal, wrapped in thin cellophane, off the cement.
The paper started appearing at our house in Newport last quarter. I asked each of my roommates, “Hey, did you get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal?” None of them did. Nor had any of our neighbors. At this point, the mysterious subscription to the WSJ should be looked at as a sign from the Journalism Gods, a little added bonus to life. I figured capitalizing upon the free literature would be all right if no one protested.
I leaf through the sections (ignoring “Business and Finance” because, honestly, as a college student, there isn’t much), going straight to the op-ed columns at the end of News. I peruse world and U.S. news (especially Middle East and Asia-related issues), picking which pages I want to bring on the shuttle bus. On the way to school, I read what I’ve brought, saving articles on light topics like dining and travel for when I get home in the evening, as a post-dinner reward.
During the afternoon grind, I check Twitter on my phone to keep up with news while on campus. I also read a few blogs if I am on my computer or phone and have a free moment. I like Thoughtcatalog.com and longform.com, depending upon how much time I have.
At dinner at home, I read leftover articles to go with my leftover chicken. I then read for my various classes. Literary Journalism readings are the ones that interest me. Textbooks I can’t stand.
I end every day with a book. A novel for me is like a little treat, one that reminds me of my father using goofy voices and accents to bring to life books that were beyond my comprehension. Before I go to bed, I open the book I’ve chosen for that week and read it before I fall into the arms of Hypnos. Articles are great during the day, but at night I love feeling like a kid, my imagination running in circles.
Maxine Wally is a senior in the Literary Journalism Program at UC Irvine. She has worked as an intern at Slake and Los Angeles magazine, where she wrote, “White Witch.”
A Stubborn Conflict
Had I been asked the question “How do you read?” about a week ago, my answer would have been, “I only read real books,” as demonstrated in this comic by Poorly Drawn Lines:
I was very hesitant to cross over into the world of e-readers, and one moment in my life demonstrates why. It was summer 2003. I was 13 and completely in love with the worlds reading introduced me to. I wandered the crowded bookstore The Printed Matter in my hometown of Lompoc, California. In the corner, a woman painted children’s faces, decorating them with lightning bolts, dragons, and round glasses. Kids ran around in black robes, waving sticks in the air and shouting at one another. I clutched my own handmade wand.
I remember that feeling as I was handed a fresh new copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was my very first midnight book premiere, and it would not be my last. My childhood belonged in books. It’s so satisfying carrying that book home and staying up into the early hours of the morning immersed within its pages.
The Printer Matter closed only a few years after that.
The closing of that bookstore steered me away from digital reading. Books meant so much to me growing up, and they still do today, so why on earth would I want to stare at a digital screen? Will there be midnight download parties? Instead of watching the clock, will we watch the download bar?
I was of course a hypocrite about this. I had no problem reading magazines and news on my iPhone. But books seemed different. So when my boyfriend presented me with an early birthday gift, a Kindle Fire, I felt an internal conflict. But I will admit: I succumbed.
Now I can read classics like Dracula or The Time Machine, both free in the Kindle store. I can download comics–whether they’re an old favorite like Batman or a new one like The Walking Dead. I’m reading more now that I have this new-fangled technology. As the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project’s new study claims, “30 percent of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now.” Before, I would have scoffed. Now, I am the 30 percent. Me from a month ago is screaming at me right now.
Kat Boyle is an avid writer and third year English major at the University of California.
Reading Across Continents
Even my laptop clock is on French time. At the time I start writing, it is exactly 21:41 over there.
It’s not that I don’t like it here. It’s just that, even though I’m thousands of miles away, I still want to know what’s happening.
So my reading habits are shared between French and American sources. When I wake up, it’s evening in France. When I go to bed, they’re getting up. I’m nine hours behind, and yet I know what will happen the next day the night before. I read Monday news on Sunday night. Confusing, huh?
Every night I go to bed and check the newsletter I just received from Libération, a French newspaper. They send it around 9:00 a.m., midnight here. They’re the first ones. Then, depending on what time I actually shut my laptop off, I might read Le Monde’s newsletter. And finally French “pure players” Rue 89 and Mediapart. (In the French media we say “pure player” when a news organization only has a website and was never on paper, like Slate or The Huffington Post). On Twitter, I can find out hard news and rumors before it’s in traditional newspapers. Last month I found out a famous French professor had been found dead in a hotel room in New York–a spooky death. I could read the Reuters article even before Le Monde talked about it. And I don’t even follow Reuters on Twitter.
When I wake up, it’s the same thing. I open my e-mails and glance at the last newsletter I received. I click on the articles that have caught my attention, open all the pages at the same time (sometimes I have 20 tabs opened in my browser), and start reading.
The rest of the day, I focus on American news. When I find something interesting on the French or American presidential elections, I post it to my scoop.it.
Scoop.it is a media curator, an app where you post articles according to a theme. As on Twitter, people follow you and see what you post. But they know all they will find will be about the same topic. You won’t find anything about a new video of Nyan Cat on my Scoop.it.
If I need to check quickly what all the main news sites say, I switch to my Netvibes. There I have several dashboards. I mainly use two of them: one with French media and one with American media. In one glance, I can check all the news pieces the main news website posted: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, or even Foreign Policy …
When my eyes are tired of looking at a screen, I grab a book. I can’t focus on only one, so most of the time I’ll be reading two books at a time: one in French, one in English. For the moment it’s a history of the Beat Generation–one of my favorite literary movements–and a collection of articles by a French journalist who used to be a news correspondent in Los Angeles.
Pauline Moullot is a journalism graduate student from the Institute of Journalism of Bordeaux Aquitaine (Ijba), in an exchange program with the literary journalism program at UC Irvine. She has interned at L’Humanité, La Croix, La Charente Libre, and The World Policy Journal in New York.
The Luddite, Kind Of
I don’t think I know how to read in our age. By reading, I mean glancing over all of the abbreviated grammatical catastrophes–so-called “status updates”–which leave me feeling like I have a plastic bag over my head, only without the eventual satisfaction of losing consciousness.
I don’t understand how tags work (thought that was a game in elementary school), what an RSS feed is (reptilian cookie monster?), or how to pronounce Pinterest (“pin-interest”). I hardly ever check my e-mail or watch TV; it took me over three days to figure out the technicalities of Tumblr. I only recently resurrected my Facebook to post pictures of all of the drunken fun I was having in San Francisco over spring break. I can’t spend more than 45 consecutive minutes frozen in front of my laptop screen reading articles posted to the Shroomery News Messageboard or through music blogs aggregated on Hypem.com before I start to feel my eyeballs pickle and my soul wasting away. I just can’t bring myself to do it, to sit there, fixated on nothing.
I guess I need the kinetic intimacy of folding down the corners of pages that are home to moving passages. I need to hear the nervous heat of someone reading an excerpt aloud from the crinkling pages. I need to hold something. I need to see the pigment and smell the acid of ink. I need the synergy of my fingertips and my retinas on turning pages to give the books I read vitality and life.
So how do I read? I suppose physiologically would be the most apt term: I read tattoos, I read ingredient labels, I read the back of shampoo bottles, I read directions, I read people. I read books, both mandatory and not. I graze the Vegetarian Times for new variations of recipes before buying groceries; I read the direction the wind is blowing to predict if there are waves. I read my horoscope.
Something wicked has happened to the way we read, the integrity of the way we ingest and digest words: cultivating our imaginative processes has been compromised for the sake of efficiently passing and exchanging information. Sure, “e-book sales increased by 202 percent” and “downloadable audiobook sales also increased by 36 percent in February,” but I find these statistics to be disheartening.
In this “digital” age, we have been collectively reduced to our numerical value: “The more engaged the readers are, the more chance we have of making money from them–whether through advertisements or a variety of other transactions.” We are marketing trends, supply and demand charts, convenience tables, Tweets and empty houses. We have allowed “them” to dehumanize the humanities, and I’m left scratching my head thinking, “What the fuck? How did this even happen?”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t need an entire “media experience.” I simply need a book in my hand and words on a page. And the words that came to my mind were those of Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, in which the following conversation takes place between the World Controller Mustapha Mond and John the Savage:
“But I like the inconveniences.”
“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. “You’re welcome,” he said.
Kelee Kottel is a senior in English at UC Irvine, and “solar-powered vegan who loves sunflowers, being barefoot, and the roots of redwood trees.”
*Photo courtesy of edtechie99.