Why I’m Here

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My name is Lee Konstantinou. I’m an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. I study contemporary American fiction and culture, and I’m also a novelist.

This is my second book sprint.

During my first book sprint, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I discussed how my twin perspectives—as a literary academic and a fiction writer—led me to think that we needed to “reimagine (and transform) publishing as a field…from production to distribution to consumption.”

What I meant was that the future of the book was as much a matter of human institutions as of technology. I wanted to bring a sociological perspective to the question of how we’ll write and distribute text in the future. I feel much the same way about the future of reading.

I want to resist the tendency to discuss the future of reading, publishing, and writing solely in terms of technology, to fixate on the finished thing in front of us (whether p-book, e-book, or some hybrid of the two). Against this habit, I want to focus on questions of social process.

These questions indicate how I think about the future of reading:

What is a reader? What capacities do we think readers ought to have? What better models of reading should we promote? What values, assumptions, and ideologies—that is, what normative models of reading—shape the way we build and assess new reading technologies? How do our contemporary models of the reader compare with historical models?

How do we become readers? How do readers come into the world? What are the educational, economic, governmental, and social institutions that make us into the sorts of readers we are? What forces shape our reading practices, communities, and capacities? What are the advantages and limitations of our current institutions of reading?

Will readers flourish or whither away in the future? If we think, as many do, that reading is in crisis in the United States today, what is the nature of that crisis? What are its social, economic, political, and technological origins? What might we do to assess the scope of the crisis? How might we reverse it?

These questions will, I hope, inspire debate. But I believe that the future of reading is in our hands—not in the hands of our machines. I’m here to participate in that debate.

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