While introducing Big Universe to new second and third grade students this week, I limited the introduction to the basics that would allow them to sign in, locate books, save to their Book Shelf, and Read. They were led through the steps together, and then allowed to experiment and find books for a few minutes on their own. A few interesting things happened.
First of all, they did not find books on their own. Instantly, the students were sharing their finds with their neighbors, gleefully pointing out the cool books that they found before their friends did, showing each other how to find similar titles. These students could have found and read books quietly for fifteen minutes, but they chose instead to share titles, images, sections of text with friends who were seated nearby. This only reinforces for me that reading is a social activity; books read alone are not as fun, meaningful or interesting as those that are read together. It wasn’t a quiet activity, but it sure was exciting!
Secondly, the students found, on their own, how to share messages between friends. This underscores the fact that our students are used to being socially connected online, and prefer to work in communities rather than alone. Luckily, the tools for finding friends and sending messages are fairly intuitive in Big Universe, and the students were able to connect easily.
According to Bob Stein of The Institute for the Future of the Book, “...books are becoming these places to congregate; the form of expression is undergoing changes.” But, he contends, eBook developers have not caught up with this social aspect of reading; eBooks are still independent units, downloaded to individual readers, enjoyed by one user at a time, much like CDs. He foresees a time when multiple readers share their perspectives and points of view simultaneously, while reading the same text.
With web-based eBooks, the chance to share, recommend and comment on what we are reading brings us closer to that concept than we were just a few months ago. As readers become comfortable reading and discussing together, they bring a richer meaning to the text. Since books are nothing but words strung together until they are given meaning by the reader, will not multiple perspective give each book all the more value, and deeper meaning?
The technology is here that would allow us to read simultaneously and discuss what we read with people around the world. Google has just announced the ability to share info about books from Google Books in circles on Google+. It is already accepted practice, especially among the younger, more-connected generation, to simultaneously watch TV or a movie and discuss it on the “second screen” – their computer or other Internet connected device. For our students, reading is more than an individual, confidential, personal pursuit and escape from reality, and a private entertainment; they are ready to share this very intimate activity with others.
Read more: The Social Context of Reading: Five Questions for Bob Stein — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers