Where are the Readers?

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” ― Oscar Wilde

My son moved to California in his twenties, and we talk through email and Twitter. He visits in the summer when we gather at my mother’s table in Indiana with uncles and married siblings and nieces and nephews. At one event I remember, he was telling me about an article he had read about the Gulf Wars. I asked if Cronkitehe meant a Time Magazine article because I had read it too. I felt an odd sensation that we received news from the same source.

News anchor Walter Cronkite in the 1960’s was well known for his departing catchphrase “And that’s the way it is,” followed by the program’s date. No longer does one personality define the daily news and establish a narrative for anticipating the future.

The promise of the internet was connecting people without a mediator dictating the news, democratizing information so a user can gain several perspectives. The reality of the internet, however, may be that society is fractured.dinner

People live in information silos now with cellphone conversations that trump talk with dinner guests, and success counted by volume of online visitors more than service to the local community.

I can gain information anywhere, so I seek those outlets where the viewpoints agree with my tastes – painted china rather than decals on motorcycle tanks.  I can ignore or discard the white noise of competing ideas and cling to bloggers who share personal experiences similar to my own.

My ideas are never tested in competition or debate. I live in the bubble.

My friend published her book and completed a blog tour and grew her Twitter following to 2000.  She did giveaways on her blog and in Goodreads, and solicited reviews everywhere. But the book had no sales. She complained bitterly that she lived in a “Kuiper belt” with other writers touting their books and no readers.

likeMy book on Goodreads has 375 people who have marked it “to read”, and seven reviews. Maybe the others friends are waiting for a fresh giveaway. An odd concept, though, that devalues the work of the writer. Goodreads friends only commit to reading a book that’s free.

In fact, so much reading is necessary to get to the content that we have energy only for skimming. I can return to a blog, or do a fresh search, if I “need” the information.

I recently participated in a Twitter frenzy where friends broadcast their blogs on the same day with a specific hashtag. hashtagExcept we retweet and follow new people and count the increase in volume as success. None of us read the blogs. We only note the titles for kudo replies.

Everybody’s a writer. Where have all the readers gone?

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