I’m a big consumer of media. My girlfriend and I get through a lot of films and TV, we play a lot of games, I spend altogether too much time absorbing content on the internet. In recent years, we’ve seen the media emphasis just how social it all is. Video games are dominated by multiplayer. Call of Duty in particular is a massive hit on the back of its multiplayer side. Social networking sites were a pretty big bubble for a while there too. It seems whatever we want to do, people want us to it together. It has been suggested that a large part of 3D TV’s failure is because it makes it more inconvenient for large groups to watch a film together. The social aspect of our media can make or break its success. There are a few obvious reasons for this. First, the technology to play a game together or connect online is relatively new. There’s an element of novelty to it all still, and so the benefits of this form of social interaction is exaggerated in these early days. Secondly, and more cynically, when we are connecting with other online, we are required to used someone else’s service. This might cost us money up front, or require that we be exposed to ads every time we click.
The book, however, seems to be as solitary an experience as ever. There have been attempts at opening up the book, of course. Amazon allows users to share highlights and quotes from Kindle books, and people are still free to discuss their latest novel, but the reading is very much a solitary activity. Of course, it has much more to overcome than television or radio, forms of media where near perfect depictions of our world are relayed in real time. A book must be read, and we all read at different speeds. We all tire at a different pace. A family can not sit around a book and read it together. Certainly, a book can be read aloud to a group, but this experience is not only uncommon in these days of high literacy, but it becomes a performance in itself. An adaptation of the text, rather than a simple sharing. The book is not easily shared at the same time.
But there is something else about literature that makes it a poor fit for sharing. A writer creates people and worlds out of scratch, using only their language. This connection between the reader and the writer is a powerful tool, creating a bond between two people who are entirely separate. It is a symbiotic relationship, relying on the writer’s choice of words, and the reader’s comprehension and pace. To read and appreciate a good book, one must be free to seclude ourselves with it, even in a room full of people. We need to take time over the words, read (and reread) each line in out own time, turn the page when we are ready and close the book only when we feel satisfied.
The feeling a take from a good book has more in common with playing a good video game than watching a film. Though these experiences are very different, neither are passive. They require input and reaction from the audience in a way that television does not. But a writer can only speak to one person at a time, and there are always moments that are not meant to be shared. To be discussed, perhaps, but they must be experienced when we are wrapped up in the text, isolated from the world we came from.