New technologies engage the human mind in many ways. Depending on one’s perspective, the latest gadget is either a miracle or a menace.
Michael Greer, who teaches the online course The Technology of the Book: Past, Present, and Future for the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, assigns his students to conduct ethnographic field work in order to understand how reading is changing all around us. They take to bookstores and book clubs to research firsthand the latest track of our literary culture.
“The temptation is to ask, ‘Is print dead?’ What we tried to do in the class was to take that [black and white] story – good, bad, either/or, menace or threat – and to put it back in historical context,” Greer explained. “The students in the class weren’t really convinced that digital technology was the end of books. Most of them took the course because they loved books. They wanted to explore the question, ‘what is becoming of reading in the late age of print?’
Before the arrival of the Web, reading was primarily a solitary experience. Today, Greer and his students found, reading is increasingly a social experience – an experience of “community.”
“Books have become part of this new ecosystem,” Greer tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “One of the areas that the students particularly focused on was fan fiction and fandom and fan culture. People not only have conversations about the Harry Potter books and their investment in them, they begin writing their own stories. What happens, then, to book publishing is that it becomes a conversation and not just a one-way street.
“One of the optimistic themes that emerged was that the readers get to speak back. The readers get their own voice. The reader versus author divide becomes more complex. Authors can become readers, and most importantly, readers can become authors. There’s not one gatekeeper publisher in New York City deciding whose voice matters. There’s much more opportunity for a plurality and a kind of populism in literary culture that I think is quite new and quite important,” Greer said in an interview recorded at the recent PubWest 2016 Conference.
Teacher, writer, and editor Michael Greer is owner/director at Development by Design, a Boulder-based consultancy working in content development, online assessment, and instructional design. He is a frequent guest on “Beyond the Book.”