“Should Reading Be Social?”


eBookNewser poses a question for us to think about: “Should Reading Be Social?

Social reading (something we’ve talked about here and here) is and has taken on an evolving sense of importance as our online — and perhaps offline — reading habits change little by little.

But, making reading social simply for the sake of being social runs the risk of missing something valuable — what is the point of social reading? What does it add to our reading experiences? Reading is a solitary activity; and there’s something irreplaceable about that pleasure of solitude we get from just ourselves and our books. And that’s perhaps the more central distinction: with the individual vs. collective experiences of reading, how does one compare the two experiences, really? When everything can be shared, the question of selectiveness — what is and isn’t social — should be something we keep in mind.

Evgeny Morozov, discussing the related topic of Facebook and social sharing in general, makes the point : “Besides, isn’t it obvious that consuming great art alone is qualitatively different from consuming it socially? And why this fear of solitude in the first place?”


“Engaging the history of flânerie may be a good way to start answering these questions. Thanks to the French poet Charles Baudelaire and the German critic Walter Benjamin, both of whom viewed the flâneur as an emblem of modernity, his figure (and it was predominantly a “he”) is now firmly associated with 19th-century Paris. The flâneur would leisurely stroll through its streets and especially its arcades — those stylish, lively and bustling rows of shops covered by glass roofs — to cultivate what Honoré de Balzac called “the gastronomy of the eye.”

While not deliberately concealing his identity, the flâneur preferred to stroll incognito. “The art that the flâneur masters is that of seeing without being caught looking,” the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman once remarked. The flâneur was not asocial — he needed the crowds to thrive — but he did not blend in, preferring to savor his solitude. And he had all the time in the world: there were reports of flâneurs taking turtles for a walk.”

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