Andy Miller, who runs the Booklisted podcast among other things, writes a funny piece about being shamed, or at least mildly chastised, for the number of books he’s read. The fact that this happened at a book festival adds a special valence to the experience.
Now. Making an audience at a literary festival boo you for reading books is clearly some kind of shit achievement. And in one respect, I was not entirely telling the truth. In the year in question, I had not read ‘something like’ [XXX] books; I knew it was precisely [XXX] books. Why did I equivocate? Perhaps I sensed at that moment that the crowd was turning against me and it was necessary to self-deprecate as a matter of urgency. But that ‘something like’ was nothing like enough. What I should have said was ‘I don’t know exactly how many! A lot! I don’t get out much haha! Hahaha!’ And the audience, sniffing the air, would have turned its slavering attention to Lionel Shriver or someone and lumbered off in pursuit of where she gets her ideas from.
It’s true that if you cut down your time online and fill your discretionary time with reading, you can get through a lot of books. I certainly read more now than I did when I was more active on Twitter and Dear Author. But there is a performative aspect to telling people how much you read that is very much part of the online age (after all, this started because of Miller’s tweets). We don’t just read, we tell people we read, and not just what it is and what we thought of it, but where it fits in our total reading experience. I’m not sure where to draw the line between interaction and performance, but they aren’t the same thing.
This article in The Atlantic, on the declining use of books in academic libraries, has been making the rounds. What Cohen talks about mirrors my own experience, both as a researcher and as a teacher. I don’t assign books because (a) students won’t read them in their entirety; and (b) they’re expensive. I consult fewer books for my own research than I used to because results are so frequently reported in journal articles (which are also what I tend to assign students in upper-level and undergraduate classes).
The decline in print circulation also coincides with the increasing dominance of the article over the monograph, and the availability of most articles online. In many fields, we now have the equivalent of Spotify for research: vast databases that help scholars search millions of articles and connect them—often through highly restrictive and increasingly unsustainable subscriptions, but that is another story—instantly to digital copies. (There is also a Napster for research articles, of which we shall not speak.) Very few natural and social scientists continue to consult bound volumes of journals in their field, especially issues that are more than a few years old. UVA recorded nearly 3 million e-journal downloads in 2016, a massive and growing number that is typical of most universities.
Fields differ, of course. But the internet and Google Scholar have made it much easier to find both published and unpublished articles online, and the draconian copyright rules of the for-profit journal publishers have meant a rise in online distribution of preprints (scholars give up distribution rights, as a rule, both for articles and books).
And yes, there’s also the Napster for research articles. Let us speak of it: When a single article costs upwards of $50 if you don’t have library access, what else can you expect?
I’m not on Instagram and don’t want to be (big surprise), so most of what I know about it is second-hand and probably inaccurate. But I do know that a lot of people use it to show their lives as more glamorous, beautiful, and successful than seems humanly possible. That sounds like so much work! Anyway, the perfectly curated and filtered Instagram aesthetic is facing a backlash. How big, who knows, but the Atlantic got a story out of it.
Fast-rising young influencers such as Emma Chamberlain, Jazzy Anne, and Joanna Ceddia all reject the notion of a curated feed in favor of a messier and more unfiltered vibe. While Millennial influencers hauled DSLR cameras to the beach and mastered photo editing to get the perfect shot, the generation younger than they are largely post directly from their mobile phones. “Previously influencers used to say, ‘Oh, that’s not on brand,’ or only post things shot in a certain light or with a commonality,” says Lynsey Eaton, a co-founder of the influencer-marketing agency Estate Five. “For the younger generation, those rules don’t apply at all.”
In fact, many teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse. Huji Cam, which make your images look as if they were taken with an old-school throwaway camera, has been downloaded more than 16 million times. “Adding grain to your photos is a big thing now,” says Sonia Uppal, a 20-year-old college student. “People are trying to seem candid. People post a lot of mirror selfies and photos of them lounging around.”
I guess Lomo filters are destined to come back around every few years. Everything not-so-new gets to be new again, over and over. I’m not sure what’s especially authentic about using a throwback filter app in 2019, but I used the Hipstamatic app nearly a decade ago and it was fun.