¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 2 While television, then, is critiqued, justly or unjustly, for pretending to soothe our need for human contact while instead exacerbating our loneliness, networked culture has the potential to help those who participate in it forge real human connections, if at a distance. There are of course all sorts of negative examples of networked interactions to be found, and all sorts of cautions against over-idealizing online social networks to be raised, but we cannot overlook the real intellectual and emotional engagement that can be found in online communities. And that so much of this form of engagement is produced in the very act of reading and writing together as a community is not incidental; reading in the social network presents the potential to transform widely dispersed individuals into a community, by giving them the opportunity to share their thoughts, to listen to one another, and to be listened to. These networked experiences of reading, of entering into a discussion that is not just between author and reader, but among readers, can help those readers not just to feel “less alone inside,” but in fact to be less alone in the world as well.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 7 The question remains, of course, whether Infinite Summer is an extensible model for reading in the network age, or whether it was an isolated instance. A core group of the participants in Infinite Summer conducted a group reading and discussion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in October 2009, but the discussion thinned out fairly quickly, and even Matthew Baldwin noted that despite “diligently keeping up with the Infinite Jest reading schedule for three months straight, Dracula somehow got the better of me” (Nobody), forcing him to struggle to keep going. After Dracula, the group planned to read Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, but there is no evidence that this networked reading took place. There is thus reason to suggest that Infinite Summer was so thoroughly determined by the specifics of its situation — the particular connections of this text with these readers; the emotional circumstances of its author’s death; the internet savvy of the project’s organizer — that it could not be repeated.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 On the other hand, social networks that are built around books and reading are flourishing: LibraryThing boasts “a community of 1,000,000 book lovers” and the ability to make connections among them (LibraryThing); Goodreads claims “more than 4,200,000 members who have added more than 110,000,000 books to their shelves,” and that the site helps them to “recommend books, compare what they are reading, keep track of what they’ve read and would like to read, form book clubs and much more” (About Goodreads). While Infinite Summer may have been an outlier phenomenon, there’s certainly reason to believe that a desire exists for community in and through reading.
What strikes me here is that the model for television dissemination – tied to a schedule, privileging simultaneous consumption both within a room and across the country – is much better suited for this type of social “reading” than literature (at least non-serialized lit). When does a literary text spur “watercooler moments” aside from recommending that others read a book? Whereas TV, people regularly talk about shared consumption experiences and come up with ways to structure that sharing (via Twitter, blogs, wikis today; watercoolers & conventions in previous eras). Is this a comparison worth bringing out?
It’s a good point that – much fun to be had for instance in simultaneously watching a TV broadcast and tweeting about it with, in many case unknown, others (whether seriously or, more often, not, almost in an MST3K riffing style).
I guess that’s where InfSum had its cake and ate it – the 75 pages per day thing (in theory) allowed more or less simultaneous consumption and communal commentary, while retaining the benefits that literature can bring and TV cannot.