Users of today’s digital, networked information spend an increasing amount of time each day “reading” online textual and multimedia materials. Yet the practices of digital reading in online environments are not well understood according to the protocols of reading that arose in the last two centuries to support the individual, organizational, and social needs of late-literate societies.
Instead, reading in digital networked environments often places a premium on searching, scanning, jumping, filtering, aggregating, organizing, and other kinds of radically discontinuous, low-attention, peripheral-vision, or machine-assisted reading practices that do not map exactly over predecessor practices of individual or organizational literacy.
Digital networked environments also make more important the social, collective experience of reading, especially what might be called active social reading (as instanced by Web blogs, wikis, and other forms of Web 2.0 “crowd-sourcing”). Active social reading today expands such earlier practices as keeping diaries or commonplace books, annotating the margins of books, or writing “letters to the editor” into major new forms of knowledge-production and social experience.
Such new modes of online reading are shaped, and in their turn shape, the new technologies that allow computers to “read/write” to each other across platforms and software applications in ways that support, and even at times seem to supplant, the human activity of reading (as in the case of search engines, information aggregators, news feeds, and other Web services).
How are people today in fact “reading” online individually, in organizations, with social others, and in league with a burgeoning society of semi-”literate” machines? What innovations in technologies or interfaces are possible to increase the productivity, variety, and pleasure of these new kinds of reading?
And how can the historical diversity of human reading practices provide a metric—quantitative and qualitative—against which to gauge the robustness of the new digital practices? Reciprocally, how can contemporary practices provide new ways to understand the technical, social, and cultural dimensions of historical reading?