I wrote a new post for University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Media Studies blog! “We’ll Really Miss You, Mrs. K.“
This showed up in my RSS feed, from The Paris Review. India is ranked at Number 1 with an impressive 10 hours, 42 minutes spent reading per week; the U.S. is at 23 with 5 hours and 42 minutes. Although keep in mind the data for this nifty infographic comes from 2005:
Here’s the full article with some additional details, if you’re interested.
I am an avid bedtime reader, for better or for worse. So this article from the Wall Street Journal, “Does reading in dim light hurt your eyes?” certainly piqued my curiosity. It’s worth a read, if for nothing else than the part about pirates and eye patches.
“Turns out, our parents were wrong. “There is no reason to believe nor evidence to support that any long-term damage to the eyes or change in the physiology to the eyes can be caused by reading in the dark,” Dr. Sheedy says.
… ”The predominant determinant of myopia is genetics.” No link to long-term damage has ever been conclusively shown, says Dr. Sheedy. “It’s an old tale, a ploy used by moms to get kids to go to sleep when they wanted them to,” he says.
Reading on a tablet device won’t damage your eyes, Dr. Sheedy says. His team has studied various fonts, computer displays and pixel resolutions, and found the difference in effect on the eye between reading e-ink and the printed word to be negligible.”
Reading in the dark hurts your eyes: more myth than reality? While it likely varies on an individual basis, there might be some science to be said about backlit screens around bedtime, but I much prefer an E-Ink screen for reading in the dark.
And on a related note, check out this neat article from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Reading in the dark – with a headlamp”
“Usually when reading, we may be concentrating on a line or a sentence, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we’re also seeing the larger context, the whole paragraph, the page, and even the next page. We notice whether the paragraphs to come are long, whether we’re at the end of a chapter; sometimes our eyes wander from the sentence to look ahead, reading a few words or a sentence, and then returning to where we were …
The headlamp changed everything. There was nothing but that circle of light that didn’t even cover the whole page, just a small chunk of words. To see the next group of words, I had to move my head slightly or move the book. I was no longer reading in a context, but reading each line as it came into view.”
The immersive aspect of our eyeballs focused on just a circle of words sounds wonderful to me. I kind of want to buy a headlamp now.
Here’s something that has been interesting me lately: since we are reading more and more on our tablets, what does that mean for our reading habits? To that end, The Atlantic Wire asks: ”Are Tablets Killing Our Attention Span for Books?” –
“Today in the “modern life is hard” department: Reading books on tablets may be more difficult than reading print books. Sure, a tablet is lighter, more convenient, and saves you a trip to the bookstore, but these devices also make it very, very hard to focus. With the e-reader sales surge this holiday season (according to Pew Research, the number of American adults owning tablets nearly doubled from December to January), Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel are exploring the possible dark side to this first world problem in the New York Times.”
For longer bouts of reading, I do prefer my Kindle Paperwhite (with the Wifi turned off). Better to remove the temptations of distraction technology than to exert more willpower resisting those distractions, right?
“The tablet is like a temptress,” said James McQuivey, the Forrester Research analyst who led the survey. “It’s constantly saying, ‘You could be on YouTube now.’ Or it’s sending constant alerts that pop up, saying you just got an e-mail. Reading itself is trying to compete.”
In terms of our reading habits, the good news is that the tablet can do a lot of different things. But the bad news is that the tablet can do a lot of different things. The ability to look up a definition or Google an obscure reference is a great thing — but searching is a different cognitive function from being immersed in a book. All of that brain gear switching inevitably takes its toll on our focus on the boo itself. And I think “tablet” in the above passage can just as easily be understood to mean “internet” or “social media” or “technology.”
On this topic, I’d recommend Leo Babauta (of ZenHabits fame) and his book, The Power of Less. Chapters 10 and 11 (Simple Email; Simple Internet) remind us of the virtues of disconnecting and simplifying our digital lives.
I love writing and working at coffee shops. Writing and staring at a computer all day gets a little lonely — so there is something mildly reassuring about being in the middle of a hub of humanity at the local Starbucks. And maybe some science suggests we’re more creative for it, from The New York Times (“How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity“):
“Coffitivity, was inspired by recent research showing that the whoosh of espresso machines and caffeinated chatter typical of most coffee shops creates just the right level of background noise to stimulate creativity. The Web site, which is free, plays an ambient coffee shop soundtrack that, according to researchers, helps people concentrate …
Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels.
A higher level of noise, however, about 85 decibels, roughly the noise level generated by a blender or a garbage disposal, was too distracting, the researchers found.”
My preference is for the medium-busy coffee shop; blender noises are too jarring, but even worse are the baristas who sound like they have Carnival Barker listed somewhere on their resumes. Sometimes variety is good: “The benefits of moderate noise, however, apply only to creative tasks. Projects that require paying close attention to detail, like proofreading a paper or doing your taxes, Dr. Mehta said, are performed better in quiet environments.”
Coffitivity is a great alternative when total silence gets too deafening. They even have an app now ($1.99). My only quibble is that a little more variety in coffee shop type sounds would do wonders — even if it is only ambient noise, hearing the same sound patterns on a continuous loop over and over again can also be counterproductive.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study mentioned in the article has some interesting tidbits: “Switching the color of your computer’s background screen to blue enhances performance on creative tasks, for example, while making it red helps with detail-oriented tasks.” When you’re stuck on ideas, anything’s worth a try, I suppose.
Lifehacker also has another coffee shop ambiance alternative: “Soundrown Plays Coffee Shop Noise, White Noise, Rain, and More to Help You Focus“
The New Yorker has published Haruki Murakami’s new short story “Samsa in Love.” For Murakami or Kafka fans, it’s well worth the read:
“He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa ..
All he knew was that he was now a human whose name was Gregor Samsa. And how did he know that? Perhaps someone had whispered it in his ear while he lay sleeping? But who had he been before he became Gregor Samsa? What had he been?”
At least those 7000 or so words will have to tide fans over until the English translates of Murakami’s newest novel, Coloruless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage comes out some time vaguely next year (Los Angeles Times: “Haruki Murakami’s latest novel to be published in the U.S. in 2014.”) Based on the popularity of 1Q84 and the Harry Potter-esque demand of the novel in Japan, I am hopeful it’ll be worth the wait.
The grammar news of the week is that “e-book” keeps its hyphen, while “email” loses its (at least according to the New York Times). From GalleyCat: “E-Book Keeps Hyphen in NY Times Style Guide Refresh”
I still prefer “ebook”, and Digital Book World seems to agree, based on some Google AdWords keyword search results: “E-Books vs. Ebooks vs. eBooks“
Abstracts are now being accepted for a symposium on “The Adventures of Tintin” at University College London on 10 January 2014 in celebration of Tintin’s 85th birthday. Proposed essay topics should creatively engage with the critical, philosophical, cultural, or social issues explored in the Tintin universe. All presentations will be considered for publication in a book of proceedings.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
Tintin and Hergé
Tintin and comic book history
Tintin and detective fiction
Tintin and the adventure story
Tintin in translation
Censorship of Tintin
Tintin in adaptations
Tintin in films
Tintin fan culture
Tintin and geography
Tintin and travel
Tintin as cultural phenomenon
Travel and colonialism
Treatment of race in Tintin
Snowy as sidekick
Tintin and gender
Tintin and masculinity; homosocial relations
Tintin in criticism
1. Submission deadline for abstracts (400 words) and a short biography (150 words) for your 20-minute presentation: 31 October 2013.
2. Please do not send documents as attachments.
But Star Wars-meets-Shakespeare sounds like a fun idea that at least needn’t be taken too seriously — Slate has an excerpt of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (available in print and ebook).
I do rather like the woodcut-style illustrations. Huffington Post has some additional examples to check out: “Inside William Shakespeare’s ‘Star Wars’”