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Could Social Media Replace Some Books?

By Edward Nawotka

In today’s thoughtful editorial by Franz Wisner, he argues that the immediate, fragmentary nature of most writing on the Internet and social media needs to be complemented by full-length narrative — one constructed over time and after much reflection and deliberation. Do you think this is true? Could social media ultimately replace some books? (Newspapers, magazines? That’s a foregone conclusion — social media has already replaced some of these…)

Some might argue that taken collectively, social media and the Internet in general can tell the whole story — the whole truth, so to speak. But it’s important to remember that while that may be true of the moment — the immediate present — it isn’t necessarily so of the truth as it exists in the future, when time itself serves a different context and people, even those who lived through the events in question, are likely to view and think about them differently than they did as they were happening. It is the reason every generation of historians revisit the key moments in our history and manage to come up with something different to say. The same goes for biographers and historical personages.

What’s more, when it comes to fragmentary commentary like Twitter — which washes over us in a stream of hundreds if not thousands of messages a day — it’s going to take some individual, in their own moment of quiet isolation, to sit down and read them all to be able to ascertain an overall narrative, should there be one. It’s all the more reason why we’ll need books — whatever form they take — more than ever in the digital future.

Tell us what you think about in the comments below.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted December 10, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I am not at all sure that social mediaites and readers make up the same demographic. But new terminologies are always changing things that were… Remember walking?

  2. Posted December 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    The Mongoliad is an example of a serial novel in book form on a social site. There are a number of social book sites as well. This includes http://www.thecopia.com , http://www.bookglutton which allow internal note sharing.

    Also, Librarything, Shelfari, Goodreads, and Redroom are pure social media sites for books.

    If you want another example, Get Glue includes a section for rating popularity of books.

    If you look at some of the apps coming out there are even two social book apps for the Ipad. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/social-books-hopes-to-make-e-reading-communal/ There is also the Kobo App.

  3. vibha
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    Its true. Weill two years back they used to say that nothing can replace print media. we need newspapers everyday to know what is happening around. since the time i have gotten into social media, full-fledged i do not remember to have read newspaper. the tweets, link sharing, e-papers, articles, blogs are enough to keep me updated. moreover i not only can read them but i can instantly share them. how cool is that. i am getting addicted to social media and so are a lot of people. definitely, i think internet can replace a lot of things and it will surely very soon :)

  4. Posted December 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s not an either/or situation (long narratives OR social media). As someone who is addicted to both, I find that they both serve very different needs. There’s a difference between reading online and reading curled up in a chair (or in the bath); there’s ‘social’ reading (social media) done at your computer or laptop, and immersive reading (long narratives) done on your e-reader or in print; there’s the stuff you read at your desk and the longer stuff you print out to read elsewhere.

    Not to mention that social media is increasingly used not to replace but to *promote* long narratives (ie “author platform”). Social media can attract attention, engage, and draw the reader in, arouse curiosity and make the reader *want* to check out a particular book or long article. And as the bookstores continue to fold and people get more and more comfortable online and e-readers become cheaper and more plentiful, social media will be *how* we discover new writers and new books in the first place.

    Also, the same content will move between the two (long narratives broken up and adapted to forms of social media, while chunks and tweets that attract attention & interest can be expanded into something more in-depth). Which means that writers will be able to spread themselves and their work across more places and into more hands than what was previously possible.

    Social media might replace some of the disposable kinds of reading — the quick, confessional tell-all rushed to print six weeks after a scandal, for example — anything that doesn’t require a larger more thoughtful context. But movies didn’t kill off the radio, and television didn’t kill off the movies: people go to each form of technology for a particular kind of experience. Social media and long narratives will evolve, define and refine themselves against the experience that the other provides.

  5. Posted December 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    What Twitter and other social media do so well — offer short telegraphic bits of information and opinion — is not at all the realm of literature or books. You don’t expect to curl up with your Twitter feed. And if you did, you’d simply spend an hour or so feeling ever more fragmented than you already do from the many demands on your time. A book, on the other hand, inducts you into its world in a complete way, engaging your imagination and your emotions, and allowing you to live vicariously through the lives of its characters, even after you’ve stopped reading for the day. Social media doesn’t do that, and doesn’t aspire to. Each have different things to offer. The one is an instant, quick, ephemeral experience. The other is lasting, deeply meaningful, and even life-changing. Obviously, I’m a bibliophile. But for good reason, I think.

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