Links to Flood Your Brain

First, a link to NPR’s article on Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets. According to the article, The New York Times reports that the average computer user checks 40 websites a day and can switch programs 36 times an hour. “It’s an onslaught of information coming in today,” says New York Times technology journalist Matt Richtel. “At one time a screen meant maybe something in your living room. But now it’s something in your pocket so it goes everywhere — it can be behind the wheel, it can be at the dinner table, it can be in the bathroom. We see it everywhere today.”

Richtel’s series, Your Brain on Computers, also questions whether the information overload and the accompanying signals are addictive: When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline.” he says. “Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You’re conditioned by a neurological response: ‘Check me check me check me check me.’”

I know that removing myself entirely from my computer, phone, and anything that beeps or talks to me leaves me in a completely different mood, though I don’t know that I’m conditioned to respond to a beep so much as I am conditioned to compulsively read anything I can get my hands on. Remove me from text entirely and I go through a strange withdrawal period. What about you? Is that true for you?

Hey – and you know what you need? More information! Have some more links!

In other news from the internet, Teleread reports that BN’s digital book sales outpace their print sales, and that “customers with Nook devices have increased their spending by 20 percent.” I am not at all surprised at the increased spending, as clicking does not ever feel like spending money when I purchase books through a digital device, especially with a credit card on file! What does surprise me is that sales have increased so dramatically, despite the BN/Nook abysmal customer service.

I read this article in Hubby’s print magazine but I wanted to share it with you because I think the author makes a very interesting argument: do the high costs of international travel for Americans have a higher cost for American society? Christopher Elliott looks at the costs of international travel visas and passports – which are going up in the US, dammit – and impeding international travel for budget voyagers: It may not be a coincidence that a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that about half of all Americans say the United States should “mind its own business” and let other countries hash out problems on their own—the highest number in 40 years. That’s not to say we’re in danger of turning into another North Korea or any Iron Curtain–era Eastern European country, but by staying home and turning inward, we definitely become less informed. And maybe, less interesting.

We’re better than that. A passport should be a birthright, not an expensive indulgence. Visas are relics that have no place in a global economy. It isn’t the cost of international travel that should worry us. It’s the cost of not traveling.

Huh. What do you think of that theory? I’m curious because, generally speaking, romance readers read a LOT of narratives set in foreign countries, set in both past and present, and many of us who interact online are aware that we’re speaking with people around the world, far outside our own borders. I’m not saying that reading Zoe Archer’s Scoundrel is going to make you an expert on sailing the Greek islands, but it did make me curious about Greece, and I did idle research to learn more about where the characters were and where they were going. Moreover, I learn regularly about what’s happening in other countries from both comments here and posts on Twitter and other blogs. I’m aware that the internet is a borderless, global party of micro-communication, and I learn a tremendous amount from my mental travels in text in books and online. This certainly doesn’t make me a global expert on the price of caïques, but does my sporadic international travel (I mean really, have you tried to get through TSA security and customs? Holy pain in the tuchas) mean I am inward and less curious? What’s your take – do you think Elliott has a point in his article? 

And finally, one more link from the “ORLY?” department: The New York Times is reporting that reading digital books make readers and passers-by more social:

Social mores surrounding the act of reading alone in public may be changing along with increased popularity. Suddenly, the lone, unapproachable reader at the corner table seems less alone. Given that some e-readers can display books while connecting online, there’s a chance the erstwhile bookworm is already plugged into a conversation somewhere, said Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.

“I think, historically, there has been a stigma attached to the bookworm, and that actually came from the not-untrue notion that, if you were reading, you weren’t socializing with other people,” Dr. Levinson said. “But the e-reader changes that also because e-readers are intrinsically connected to bigger systems.”

Marianne Mancusi once mentioned to me in passing that while it’s not socially acceptable to whip out a Kindle and start reading while standing in a group, it is more acceptable and common for you to peek at your phone, so you could be reading a book or reading email or looking at sports scores. And people start conversations about the books themselves.

But I admit, I bristle at the description of the bookworm being antisocial. Most of the avid readers I know, both print and digital book aficionados reading romance and other genres, adore discussing books, recommending them, and talking about what they are reading, even if interrupted. I’ve asked strangers on the subway if they’re enjoying the book they’re reading, and when I mention that I’m interested in that book or that author, I usually get a few recommendations as well. (Granted, I don’t do this on the subway in the morning when no one is likely to be caffeinated). I also disagree that readers are disconnected unless reading digitally – I think that depends more on the age and internet-proficiency of the reader. I’m also amused by these statements that reading alone carried a negative stigma. Since when? Really? And I was supposed to care if so? Screw that, I’m reading a really good book!

So, do you talk to reading people? Are bookworms antisocial? Did you jump up and run to the computer when you got a notification that something to read had arrived somewhere for your perusal? Are we technological dogs du Pavlov? Or do articles like these strike you as they do me: that looking at reading through the format being employed, whether it’s digital or paper, isn’t really looking at reading so much as it is looking at the decisions of the individual reader – a totally different subject. I don’t think reading has changed that much except that, with so many more flat surfaces on which to intake words, we’re doing more of it.


Comments are Closed

  1. So, do you talk to reading people? Are bookworms antisocial?

    Yep…if I’m in the mood.

    And um… I’m laughing at the second part-anybody who has met me knows I’m a bookworm…and they also know I’ll talk their damn ear off if I get a chance.

  2. Sarah W says:

    When it comes to e-mail and blog stats, I’m like a lab rat hitting the lever that once produced an alfalfa pellet.  Now?  No? How about now?

    And I once lost $50 when I bet I could go one whole hour without reading anything.  I would have won, but I went to the bathroom forty minutes into the bet and automatically snagged a book on the way. . . damn reflexes. 

    What do people do if they can’t read in the bathroom?

  3. lilywhite says:

    If reading alone carries a stigma, I’m screwed—there’s nothing I like more than taking myself out to dinner and lingering for an hour or two with a book.

  4. peggy h says:

    I admit the article about the man concerned about the cost of international travel, and the mention of visas and hassle made me chuckle just a little bit. 

    I am a legal resident of the US (i.e., I have a green card) but I carry a non-US passport.  As a citizen of a third-world country, I need a visa to travel almost everywhere (except to go my home country and a handful of other countries aside from the US), sometimes even if I’m just going to pass through a country for a few hours enroute to another country.  When my husband and I went on a South American cruise three years ago, we had to physically go to three consulates (two in Philly where we live, and one in DC) just to get visas stamped on our passports (each for a fee, of course). 

    I don’t think you need to travel to widen your horizons, to be curious about and learn of other cultures.  But if you really wanted to travel, I think you will “just do it”, despite the hassles.

  5. lunarocket says:

    But I admit, I bristle at the description of the bookworm being antisocial.

    Heck yeah, lots of bookworms could be deemed anti-social. My DH is such a one, but then he is anti-social, I married a hermit, fortunately, he knows how to pretend to get along with other people!

    I’m sure I’ve been thought of as anti-social since I do read a lot and therefore do not join into conversations, but it really stems from my being super shy as a kid. Being taller than the boys, smarter than almost everyone else, and changing schools due to things beyond my control like moving and that stupid idea they had in the 70s called “busing”, reading became a refuge.

    I certainly have changed since then, but the internet sure is a great way to pretend to be not shy. In large groups of strangers I would probably still prefer a book to hide in. But if I feel comfortable and interested in the conversation, I’m liable to talk your ear off, too.

  6. Eva says:

    Eh, the thing is, for one or two “abysmal customer service experiences” you might hear about, there are thousands of others who have been perfectly happy. And I guarantee there are just as many people who have had negative customer service experiences with other vendors.

    I’m sorry, but it just always kind of puts me off to read these articles and find such a heavy flavor of device-war attitude to them. So you loooooooove your Kindle – great! I LOOOOOOOOVE e-books in general, and have had wonderful experiences with several different sources for them, including *GASP* BN. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of us who use e-readers aren’t using them to purchase e-books from the big companies anyway. For me personally, I try to stay away from the big vendors because I want to support indie sites as much as I can. Indie sites, which, btw, led me to your blog which I use to find books at even more indie sites. And my e-reader makes that a lot easier to do.

    I’m not interested in the bashing or hyping of any of the big vendors, BN or Amazon included – what’s the point? And it just kind of cheapens the experience of an otherwise fun blog to see this topic come up repeatedly here, especially when it seems to be based on a relatively small number of experiences. And I’m sorry, Sarah – I love this site. But you sound more and more like you’re just bashing the competitor to your precious Kindle, and that makes me wrinkle my nose.

  7. Isabel C. says:

    Oh, dear.

    I’m very antisocial and I like it that way, especially where “random encounters”—the subway, the deli, etc—are concerned: I like talking to friends, and online, but I have zero desire to interact with strangers in person, and if I want to meet new people, I have specific ways to do that. So I get sort of surly when people talk to me when I’m reading, mostly—was actually thinking of making a Kindle cover or a dust jacket that says something like “This Book is More Interesting Than You” for subway rides.

    But hey: introvert.

  8. Suze says:

    I’m anti-social, and generally prefer a book to company.  Reading in public is, to me, a signal that I’m content on my own, so please don’t interrupt me—unless you want to talk about books.  Or you’re bringing me my lunch or a drink refill.

    I’m finding with my e-reader, I get a lot of people asking questions, and I do my demo and talk it up, which I enjoy.  I have no problem at all being interrupted for book and e-book-related conversation, but I deeply resent people who, clearly seeing that I am reading, feel free to interrupt me so I can keep them company and they can tell me all about their lives, their problems, their friends and pets and relatives, and I just don’t care at all.

    I recently had to endure a lady (we were both volunteering at a function) who kept offering throw-away quips to people.  Except we were all tired, so people missed it the first time she said it, so she’d say it again louder, and then again.  Honestly, throw-away comments just to make conversation DO NOT need to be repeated.  Especially when people are clearly not interested in making conversation with you.

    Harumph, grump.  Now all you damn kids get off my lawn!

  9. SB Sarah says:

    Bashing the competitor for my precious Kindle? Really?! I’m stunned by that. I do think BN has customer service, particularly in my own experience, and I think Amazon has met customer expectations and exceeded them quite a bit, but I’m more than happy to expound at length about the limitations of the Amazon/Kindle relationship, not the least of which being that I don’t actually have my books so much as I ask that they be released from the magic cloud so that they might gift me with their presence for awhile.

    I do recognize that there are many Nook readers out there, and if that’s the device that works for you, more power to you. I also stay away from the bigger vendors – I buy books for the Kindle from other places, strip the DRM and then convert to the format that I need. I only buy from Amazon if the price is too good to resist or if I don’t care that I don’t have a stored copy of the book file.

    I’m confounded by the accusation that I would denigrate the Nook to elevate the Kindle when I don’t think I mentioned the Kindle at all in the entry. I’m absolutely against the “device war” mentality – and the “print vs ebook” mentality too – and have said repeatedly that whatever device or format works for you, happy reading to you.

  10. Pam says:

    If there is a stigma attached to reading in public, I should be checking my hands and feet for bloodstains.  However, I don’t think the form of what you choose to read makes you more or less social.  It just makes others more curious.

    I don’t know if this is a generational thing, but I think that the definition of “social” has changed since the rise of the internet,  cell phones, and associated technologies.  To me, the term social means primarily interacting with other people face to face. Phrases like social media seem almost oxymoronic. I feel that someone who maintains constant contact electronically at a distance seems isolated from surrounding people by a kind of virtual wall—in short, antisocial.  This appearance of indifference to present human beings is the reason that I and many others still find public cell phone use somewhat rude.  I also think that there’s a profoundly different perception of civility at the root of the differing attitudes towards constant and very public connectedness.  Students in the high school library where I work often cannot comprehend why they shouldn’t be able to talk or text when and wherever they please.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m dog-paddling before a ginormous tsunami of major cultural change, and I just hope I can hold my breath long enough adjust to the deluge.

    I actually really enjoy the discussions of e-reading on this site.  I have yet to invest in an e-reader, but when the time comes, as it inevitably will, I’ll feel much more confident in making a choice.  It isn’t the the promotion of specific brands of e-readers that I find useful, so much as the discussion of various e-book formats, e-reader features, publishing and DRM issues.  SB Sarah’s preferences aren’t an automatic recommendation, but the discussions are excellent and very helpful, particularly in helping to normalize a technology that is still a little alien to me.

  11. Cora says:

    Echoing what Peggy above said, the US immigration laws are not particularly welcoming to visitors from many countries. I am actually one of the privileged ones, since I’m white, come from a country which is part of the visa waiver program and have been holding a US residential visa since childhood. Nonetheless, the US border experience is not particularly fun for tourists or business travelers, since many US border guards seem to consider every visitor a potential illegal immigrant and their politeness often ranks vaguely above those of former East German border guards. And if you happen to be darker skinned and/or come from the wrong country, entering the US is a lot more hassle. The same goes for many other Western countries, e.g. entering the European Union is not particularly pleasant for visitors from non-member states either.

    So high visa costs and hassle may partly be retaliation (visited on the wrong people as usual) by some countries for the way US immigration authorities treat their citizens. Other countries use visa fees as a convenient source of income in hard foreign currency. This was very common among East European countries during Communist times – they would charge you an arm and a leg to enter a country where no one in his right mind would have wanted to stay.

    As for passports, having a passport issued costs a not insignificant amount of money pretty much everywhere. And again, the US are driving up passport fees for the rest of us, because US immigration often requires the newest (and usually more expensive) passports including fingerprints and other biometric data, which means that people wanting to visit the US often have to have new passports issued, even though their old passports may still be valid. What is more, there have been cases where visitors have been refused entry into the US because they had stamps in their passports from Cuba or certain muslim countries. In the old days, frequent travelers such as businessmen often had two passports, a West (for the US and other western countries) and an East (for Eastern Europe, Cuba, China, etc…) passport.

    It would be really great if travel became freer and if the Western world would not fortify its borders quite so much and not always view every visitor as a potential illegal immigrant and/or terrorist. But unfortunately, I don’t see it happening any time soon, particularly since there actually are terrorists out there.

    Anti-spam word: place98 – I’d like to visit 98 places without visa or immigration hassles.

  12. Kilian Metcalf says:

    I guess I’m below average, then.  I do check sites, but nothing near 36/day.  I don’t rush to read a new email, and I take small vacations from the electronic leash when I travel, checking email once a week or so.  Interesting interview on NPR with Wiliam Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry.  He advocates turning it all off for short periods at regular intervals just to come up for air and look at the real world. Here’s a link to the interview, which is worth listening to for the sake of hearing an educated, articulate and thoughtful person speaking in complete sentences.  That along, regardless of content, is worth the time to hear it.

    I do start conversations with readers, asking them about the books they have in their hands, and I find that my Kindle is a conversation starter as well.

  13. SonomaLass says:

    My partner is a green-carded alien. We travel to his home country about once a year, and I swear it’s more of a hassle every time. I’ve heard many folks speculate that other countries are taking a quid pro quo attitude about the increasingly tight US immigration regulations; I would not be surprised if that’s true.

    But I LOVE books set in other countries! You mentioned Zoe Archer, and I love all the different, vivid settings of her Blades of the Rose books. Also Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords, set in Tang dynasty China; it’s a wonderful romance, firmly grounded in its culture. Sherry Thomas (Not Quite a Husband), Carolyn Jewel (Indiscreet), and Meredith Duran also do Eastern-set historical romance really well.

    As for e-reading, I do it on my iPad; I buy books from BN, Amazon, BOB, ARE, Sony, MBAM and other publisher sites. Strip the DRM if I need to, then read them all on my device of choice. SBSarah helped me realize I could do that.I really hope that’s the future of digital reading. It frustrates me when I recommend a book to my Nookish sister or my Kindleish daughter and she can’t get it for her device. Sheesh.

  14. carob says:

    Eva, out of that WHOLE post, and the only thing you take away is the small reference to BN’s customer service? I must say, I absolutely love the variety of topics that get covered here.

    I can’t say I’m personally addicted to the instant gratification brought about by the message beep of today’s multi-media living, especially as I live sans internet during the day, only checking my emails and blog subscriptions at night, instead of watching T.V. Having said that, I can understand the draw, the pavlov-ian reward of that beep, of knowing someone is seeking to communicate with you in some way… yaay, somebody likes me!  – (or is trying to sell me something, but we wont think of that) 🙂

    I’m an immigrant living in a small town in Australia. I know that for a large portion of Australians and New Zealanders, going abroad, travelling and living in another country between finishing university and starting their career is fast becoming a tradition, even though the cost of travel for us here is quite high, given the distance to everywhere else and the lack of competiton due to the smaller population! Speaking for my corner of the world, I’m surrounded by a lot of people who’ve never travelled outside their county, let alone the country. I don’t have too many friends who read romances (or will admit to it, anyway), but I know a few of them are also avid readers and on the whole I find them to be more knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects that my non-bookworm friends. I definitely think reading widens your horizons! Having said that… generally speaking, I have to admit I find the people that HAVE travelled to be more interesting conversationalists than their non-travelled counterparts… which isn’t to say that they’re less educated or intelligent AT ALL, but their view points are offered from such a variety of first-hand experiences that it enriches them in some way… makes them less insular and more open to and accepting of other cultures… I have found most of my non-travelled friends tend to be curious and interested in learning more of other countries / cultures, but are very closed on the possibilities that a different way of doing things could possibly be as good, if not better than the western way… hmm, I’m not explainig very well, am i?

    I also hate the idea of “bookworms being antisocial”. Maybe it’s more that anti-social people tend to be bookworms, rather than the other way around..?

  15. SB Sarah says:

    @cora I hear you on the exit/reentry. I’m an American citizen and I get the most bizarre inquiries when I leave and come back. It’s almost not worth leaving the US because of the hassle to get back in. And that’s nothing compared to what those who are not US citizens go through. Yeesh.

  16. Lisa says:

    I recently crossed from Canada to the US and back again at the Detroit border crossing taking my kids to visit their grandmother in Maine. Since I took an airport bus service, it was quite easy. But, I was also prepared with the passports, letters from the noncustodial parent allowing the children to travel with me, itineraries, etc. I have heard so many Canada US border crossing horror stories, from both Canadians and Americans, that I was moderately trepidatious. Things can go ass over teakettle depending on the mood of the border guard you’re dealing with. Over and over again, that’s what had people concerned in all the stories I heard: the fact that one person in a crappy mood can destroy your travel plans, take apart your car, separate your family members for questioning, when you have done nothing wrong other than show up at the border that day.

    I read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, and it was very well done. He looked at the history of neuroscience, recent findings in neuroplasticity, brought in Marshall McLuhan’s work, traced the history of the written word and books and tied it all together neatly with the conclusion that yes, any technology we use does change how our brains function so pay attention to what you’re doing and realize that you are making a choice. I highly recommend the book.

  17. dick says:

    I must be anti-social because I hate it when anyone, friend or stranger, interrupts my reading and asks if he/she is interrupting.  Damn right!  If I were interested in socializing, I wouldn’t be reading.  Nothing you can say or ask will be nearly as interesting as the words on the page.  Shut up and go away!

  18. Eva says:

    @Sarah – I know you didn’t actually *say* as much, but it’s just that seeing you repeatedly reference back to that one bit of BN customer service crappiness every. single. time. the topic of BN’s e-book products comes up, *THAT* is how it’s starting to read to me. And you might just want to be aware of you’re coming across. That’s why I said I get nose-wrinkly. It’s not an “OMG THAT SARAH IS SUCH A JERK I HATE HER SITE!” but an “eh, really?” sort of thing. *shrug* Either way, I rely on this site heavily for recs and reviews, and I love it.

  19. geekgirl says:

    Pam’s hit my feelings on “social media” right on the head. How is having 300 facebook friends you never see in person being an extrovert?
    In my experience the rabid texters are more anti-social not less. There is nothing I hate more than people who “just have to check this” 20 times in a face to face conversation. I’m sorry people, but unless you’re a doctor on call or something, that’s just flipping rude.
    And Dick: YES! That! I always want to bean them with the book and explain that no, just cause they’re bored doesn’t mean I’m going stop what I’m doing just to entertain them. (I will occasionally hand them a book though. 🙂
    Boils down to petty childish me! me! me! mentality. I mean why would anyone not want to spend all their time talking to me!?

  20. Jessica C says:

    I can be anti-social with a book.  In some ways I have to admit that it is like watching TV for some people – just want to be somewhere else/see someones life/fill my head with something else. 🙂  You can be neglectful of significant others or family by reading, right?

    Am I antisocial since I only accept new friends I know on Facebook, then never post updates?  🙂

    I have a Nook, and haven’t needed BN customer service.

    The problem BN has is using Adobe DRM.  The Adobe reader program is crap, and crashes on my computer all the time.  I haven’t been able to get an independent book on my Nook for a month, not even from the Library (Adobe just won’t work.) I think I tried to download too many books at once, and it remembers the links to said books, so tries to continually download when you open the program. Adobe barely does online forum support only.  I just resort to buying non-DRM books for my Droid, and downloading directly from BN.

    Take it or leave it.

    written69: I have definitely read 69.  Though I wouldn’t mind writing a book.

  21. Kathleen says:

    So, I am responding from the beach, where a gaggle of “antisocial” mommies and grandmammies were gathered on the porch this morning discussing…..books!  So much for antisocial.  Though I am frequently known to go out to dinner/lunch alone with my book for company—as well as for a screen against the dreck.  That’s less an issue now that I have a darling, darling man to accompany me for dinner.  But still, a filter is a good thing when work dictates that I will lunch alone. 

    As for the e-readers:  I lust unabashedly after Darling Man’s i-Pad, but have discovered one thing that prevents me from really going into the e-book thing.  I can’t read it outdoors in full sun such as…at the beach…where I am now…where I adore being.  Rassum, frassum, grrr, snrrrr, pout!

    And finally, about that travel thing.  Since I have two rug rats, travel to the places I’d like to go is 1) too expensive and 2) too exotic.  So, my printed friends help me to visit all the lovely places in the world I may never get to see.  I’ve been a harem girl in Turkey, a doctor stranded and ill in Antartica, a medieval herb woman, a science fiction high priestess in a completely imaginary world, a woman braving the Australian outback, an African medicine woman on a slave ship bound for the New World, a Pirate Queen, and on and on.  You get the idea.  Oh, I also speak fluent French, Spanish, and Italian (in my imaginary books), have a Ph.D and a Nobel Prize along with an Oscar.  How could I not adore books of every stripe?

  22. Tamara Hogan says:

    By coincidence, I blogged about my personal experience with digital overload yesterday at The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. I think Matt Richtel is doing humanity-enhancing work – and I say this as somoene who has worked in tech for a quarter of a century. 

    Maybe I say this BECAUSE I’ve worked in tech for a quarter of a century. I’ve personally hit the wall, and am no longer willing to be technology’s bitch.

  23. AnnaM says:

    I talk to people from at least 3 countries besides the US every day at work. (Some days as many as 6.)  So, I don’t get out much, but I do have a certain international flair.  Actually, even though it’s my native tongue, my English has gotten downright weird.

  24. kornco says:

    I lust unabashedly after Darling Man’s i-Pad, but have discovered one thing that prevents me from really going into the e-book thing.  I can’t read it outdoors in full sun such as…at the beach…where I am now…where I adore being.  Rassum, frassum, grrr, snrrrr, pout!
    Australia Visa

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