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People aren't reading less. In fact, literature has never been so interactive.
A new study at the University of Basel shows how interactive literature has become.
- Researchers at the University of Basel tracked the habits of millions of readers using the platform Wattpad.
- Over 100,000 stories written in over 50 languages are shared every day by predominantly young readers.
- "Social reading"—everything related to the experience of reading ebooks, including bookmarking, sharing, and commenting—has emerged from interacting with digital texts.
Fyodor Dostoevsky is considered one of the world's literary greats. Notes From the Underground, his 1864 novella, is an early classic of existentialist writing. The literacy rate in Russia during the 19th century was around 24 percent, yet Dostoevsky and his contemporary, Leo Tolstoy, were known for writing dense novels. Tolstoy penned the 1,225-page epic War and Peace for a public in which most of the citizens could not read.
There has likely never been a time when writers didn't fret over the lack of participation in their craft. Literature, an extension of accounting (written language was invented to represent animals and grain so that farmers could keep stock of what was owed), had quite turbulent beginnings. Just as population control began with resource management, mind control commenced with religious figures claiming only they could translate sacred texts. The art of reading was purposefully limited to the few.
Over time, societies understood that a literate society is an intellectually competitive one. The high art of metaphysical speculation and social codes soon gave way to gossipy stories and pulp fiction as more people learned to read. More importantly, writing, whether on papyrus sheaves or lined paper, became an essential communication tool. Then we evolved to digital screens and once again writers freaked out over lack of participation.
For a while, at least. In 2018, a whopping 675 million print books were sold in the United States. Digital books took a hit that year, losing $29 million in revenue from 2017. Books, however, are not the only way that readers consume content. A new study, conducted at the University of Basel and published in PLOS ONE, claims that literature is not only alive and well, but growing—just in ways that we have not previously experienced.
The authors cite the supposed lack of "deep reading" by younger generations. As they phrase it, "The end of deep reading is a commonplace in public debates, whenever societies talk about youth, books, and the digital age." Deep reading is required when one sits down to read War and Peace and wants to comment intelligently on its themes. Their study is, in many ways, a response to this claim. In a social-media-dominated world, it appears that we prefer quick bites, images, and video over the contemplative introspection that comes from long-form literature, but their research suggests that's simply not the case.
The impact of digital "social reading" is changing how we read and respond to literature. Not only can publishers and writers track how books are being read, but readers can also now respond in real-time to the texts on digital platforms and websites. This offers authors immediate feedback as to how their words are landing. E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, began her series as a fan-fiction response to Twilight. It soon took on a life of its own thanks to her active participation on such a platform.
Studying the user-generated platform Wattpad, lead author and University of Basel professor Gerhard Lauer and his team discovered that 80 million mostly young readers and writers from around the world exchange over 100,000 stories written in over 50 languages every day. They note that "there will soon be more books in computers and digital shelves than in our material literary collections." That's quite an impressive amount of literature being traded and discussed.
Lauer and his co-authors used network analysis and sentiment analysis to discover patterns in reading behavior on Wattpad. Teen Fiction predominantly invoked affective interaction in readers. Commenters were more likely to discuss how they felt about the text. When reading Classics, however, social-cognitive interaction became the prevalent theme. In this case, readers put on their analytical caps more often when discussing themes in literature. The authors write:
"Readers who engage in Teen Fiction learn to read Classics and to judge books not only in direct emotional response to character's behavior, but focusing more on contextualized interpretation of the text."
Fan Expo 2018: The event is an annual speculative fiction fan convention held in the Toronto Metro Convention Centre.
Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
On Wattpad, the researchers observed specific sentences that drew hundreds of comments. They were then able to see which sentences and ideas spun off into other stories. This trend harkens back to oral storytelling, when griots and corrido singers traveled from town to town to share the news of the day. As with the childhood game, Telephone, those messages were reinterpreted and remixed, taking on a life of their own. This is how religion was born and spread throughout our species.
Professor Lauer says this represents the first time that reading behavior has been analyzed in real time.
"Social media is ushering in a revolution in our understanding of culture. Platforms such as Wattpad, Spotify and Netflix enable culture to be understood in a density and accuracy that goes way beyond previous approaches in the humanities and social sciences."
The emotional and intellectual impact of storytelling remains an essential feature of our species. Print books might soon go the way of dinosaurs, but then again as recent years have proven, they could make a resurgence the way vinyl records have. As much as we love cracking open a new hardcover or flipping through a century-old classic, though, there is no potential for immediate feedback and commentary on paper.
When I'm working out in the gym or walking the streets of Los Angeles, streaming music delivered via Bluetooth works incredibly well. In my living room I prefer my the warm sounds of acetate spinning around in a circle. Reading also takes on many forms to represent the different environments we find ourselves in. The one clear message from this study is that we're still reading. Yes, the kids are alright.
Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.
- Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
- With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
- The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Howard et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that 'to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again'," they wrote in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56316-y#Fig3" target="_blank">paper</a> published in Nature Scientific Reports. "Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."</p>
Connecting modern people with history<p>It's not the first time scientists have "re-created" an ancient human's voice. In 2016, for example, Italian researchers used software to <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hear-recreated-voice-otzi-iceman-180960570/" target="_blank">reconstruct the voice of Ötzi,</a> an iceman who was discovered in 1991 and is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago. But the "Voices of the Past" project is different, the researchers note, because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is especially well preserved.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Howard told <em><a href="https://www.livescience.com/amp/ancient-egypt-mummy-voice-reconstructed.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>.</em></p><p>As to whether Nesyamun's reconstructed voice will ever be able to speak complete sentences, Howard told <em><a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/ancient-voice-scientists-recreate-sound-egyptian-mummy-68482015" target="_blank">The Associated Press</a>, </em>that it's "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."</p><p>John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is nothing more personal than someone's voice," he told <em>The Associated Press.</em> "So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."</p>
Inequality in wealth, gender, and race grew to unprecedented levels across the world, according to OxFam report.
- A new report by global poverty nonprofit OxFam finds inequality has increased in every country in the world.
- The alarming trend is made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which strained most systems and governments.
- The gap in wealth, race and gender treatment will increase until governments step in with changes.
People wait in line to receive food at a food bank on April 28, 2020 in Brooklyn.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Credit: Oxfam International
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM