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Friday, June 08, 2012

An Excursus on Reading in Public

This is not an invitation to conversation.

Reading a piece of paper in public is, quite often, an invitation to conversation. You can take exactly the same words and the same action, put them on a screen, and suddenly it closes off any hope of talking. I don’t know if it’s a magical property imbued into every screen-based device, but it’s true. Pull up a book on your smartphone, iPad or laptop and read it in a coffee shop. People will ignore you. Even friends might hesitate to interrupt you.

Do the same thing with a print-book and you’ll have people asking you what the book’s about. They’ll feel compelled to inquire as to what you’re reading (if they can’t see the title) or how you like it. Read the news from a newspaper and people will ask you about the front-page story or discuss the weather with you.

Paper starts conversations. Screens kill them.

If you pop in to your local coffee shop and all you see are the logos on the back of screen-devices – it’s not too likely that you’re going to strike up conversations. Headphones will soon be out and myriad people will sit together, yet remain alone (probably posting on Facebook so all their friends can see). If you want to get the book read, or really dive in to the news. Stay there. Settle in, put up your glowing screen-armor and get to work.

What do you think? Overkill?
However, if you want to meet people, if you want to have conversations with other human-faces (in real life), then stow the screen and pull out your paper invitation. Grab a magazine. Flip open a book. Write in a journal. Read the comics in the paper. Dead trees make people want to talk. Go to a place where the screens are gone and the paper is out. Conversation will fill the air. You won’t get anything done, but you will be meeting people (eventually).

Which do you prefer? Paper or screen?

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