Could E-Books Be Our Social Media Future?

E-books and social media
E-books and social media
“Reading” | flickr | Chrissy H

E-books and social media don’t always work well together, but as more people read on devices, e-books could become the most powerful social media platforms.

Today, we think of social media as a technological tool, an online platform to promote a brand or product. But it’s more than that. Social media can be as simple as people passing handwritten notes or writing graffiti on walls.

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Evernote for Book Lovers: The Best Tool For Sharing and Taking Notes

Future of Publishing
Kindle 3 moved all major operates to the botto...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many tools exist to help you clip articles, share notes, and save text as you read. But without a doubt, Evernote is the most feature-rich tool. Here are some quick ways you can make Evernote work for you.

Last week, I covered how to automate and control parts of your online and digital book reading with a tool called IFTTT. Today I want to cover Evernote, a popular note-taking app and highlight some features you can use to get started. While Evernote’s main purpose is to help you organize and take notes, keep to-do lists, and save files, it can do a lot more.

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IFTTT for Book Lovers: How to Get the Most Out of Reading Online

IFTTT for book lovers

There isn’t an easy way for book lovers to control and automate their reading habits, digital marginalia, or the books they’ve read on an e-reader. IFTTT is one solution to this problem.

Unless you do all of your reading on one platform, like Amazon’s Kindle, and never read physical books or articles on the web, it’s difficult to keep track of your reading and notes. Instead, all of the notes, reviews and progress get lost in various places.

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Friday Reads: “Ancient Marginalia: Yesterday’s Naysayers” by Cory Pressman


Culture purists have always wanted to preserve old forms of communication. Here’s why.

In today’s friday reads (“Ancient Marginalia: Yesterday’s Naysayers,” Digital Book World), author and critic Cory Pressman takes readers back to print’s “punky upstart” days: when the printed word, and written language itself, was the new technology imposing its will on the hearts and minds of a new generation.

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In the margins of books and digital culture (#edcmooc digital artifact)

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jeremy Mates [creative commons]
Image courtesy of Flickr user Jeremy Mates [creative commons]
I’m at the end of my E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. For our final project, we’ve been tasked with creating a digital artifact. This artifact needs to address some aspect of digital culture and education.

For my digital artifact, I started something that I hope grows into a much larger project: Dancing in the Margins of Digital Culture. I ask these questions: how has reading changed in the midst of digital culture? How have readers returned to a time of marking up and sharing books?

I’ve written extensively about this topic before. (For examples, see here, here, here, and here.) I believe strongly in social reading online, and as tools change, these reading experiences will get better.

To make this project, I used two digital tools: Tumblr (to host the project, and for future expansion) and Storify (for the “marginalia narrative” I created). You can view each part separately, or as one large post, as linked above and below.

I’d like to hear from readers about this. What do you think of the project? Where/how can we expand it? I’d like to make this collaborative, and I’d also like to include my Dancing in the Margins pinterest board once I learn how to embed it on tumblr.

For now, this project will be an extension of Critical Margins, not a replacement. I’ll be here writing away for a while!


#EDCMOOC Digital Artifact: Dancing in the Margins of Digital Culture

What we gain and lose in the future of reading

"Digital Reading" flickr user jose.jhg
“Digital Reading” flickr user jose.jhg

Some interesting thoughts from writer Baratunde Thurston in Fast Company about the future of books and reading. Writing about what is lost versus what is gained in the switch to e-books, Thurston has this thought:

What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.

This is a fascinating idea, and it’s one that is slowly becoming a reality. Thurston continues, talking about the technologies in place to bring the idea of an enhanced book into being:

Yet we’re doing more than digitizing words and adding tantalizing interfaces. We are networking them–and the ideas they represent. What excites me most about the future of reading is the linking, translating, co-creating, and discovering we have yet to do.

This approach to reading is like the MOOC approach in education: it’s about discovery, experimentation and re-appropriation across a vast network of like-minded people (and along the way, you can learn something and pick up new skills).

When we link what we read — whether through apps, social networks, or some new thing to come — our experience of the book becomes more than a solitary experience. The model of Thoreau reading alone in his cabin in Walden is not as relevant as it once was. Instead, the model of 18th Century readers marking up books and sharing them with each other, basically reading as a social act, is the new approach to reading. It’s just a digitized version of this today.

Now, I’ll admit that solitary reading still has a purpose, and most of my best reading experiences happen when I close off the world around me. But I love the idea of sharing my experience in real-time. It’s still difficult to do this, but many new book sharing tools like findings and annotary make it easy to share with like-minded readers.

Maybe it’s still too early to say we’ve returned to our social reading roots, and maybe it’s a technology or access issue that prevents this utopian vision from happening. Still, readers who care about books and the power of a good story are ready to share their reading and hear from others.

Dancing in the margins of books at Pinterest

kindle note sharing

Readers of this site know that I’m a huge fan of marginalia. In fact, I’ve devoted a whole section of the site to it, and I’ve written several articles about the importance of marginalia in my reading and writing processes.

paleking2Since I’ve shared my margin notes several times on this site — including my kindle notes — I’ve collected a lot of beautiful images of marginalia. I’ve followed in the footsteps of writers like Sam Anderson who catalogs his year in marginalia over at The Millions and the New York Times. In fact, Anderson’s work inspired me to write this long, rambling piece about how I developed my take on marginalia. That article has been on this site for almost two years now, and it’s still one of my most popular articles.

With that in mind, I’m convinced that people want to share their reading, whether through social media sites or somewhere else.

I’ve tried to come up with an efficient way to share images of my non e-book marginalia. Even though I am an e-reader apologist, I still read print books because I love to mark in them, and I want to share that.

pinterest-iconI think I’ve come up with an interesting solution to sharing my notes, and it involves the social media site Pinterest. Most people know about Pinterest, and it’s unique because it focuses on images. I’m collecting my marginalia and the marginalia of whoever else I find online at my Pinterest board titled “Dancing In The Margins.”

So come over to Pinterest and dance in the margins with me. It’s fun!

How I’m using Evernote and IFTTT to collect and organize my digital marginalia

Digital Disruption - Critical Margins

Digital Disruption - Critical Margins

If you enjoy this Evernote and IFTTT overview, check out three ways you can use IFTTT to get the most out of your digital reading.

This year, I’ve written about how digital marginalia — those notes, clippings, likes, and kindle book highlights — have re-shaped the way we read. In particular, I believe that we are entering a new era of reading, an era that has a social reading element similar to reading in the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when commonplace books and note-sharing were standard.

Recently, I came across an article in The Verge by Thomas Houston that covers this topic. Part of “The Verge at Work” series, Houston talks about the history of reading and note-taking, and delves into his personal 21st-century version of this:

Sixty years ago, Vannevar Bush imagined a hypertext information machine (a memex) in his essay ‘As We May Think’ that would act as an “intimate supplement” to memory. Bush imagined a desk-sized machine for keeping track of a user’s books, records, and communications, tracking what you read and your notes like a modern day version of the commonplace book. Years after reading a book or writing down a note, the user would be able to return to it, tracing written thoughts in “trails” that can be recalled, shared, and stored. “Thus science may implement the ways in which man produces, stores, and consults the record of the race,” Bush wrote, surely unaware of where hypertext would take us.

Stumbling on all of this years ago got me thinking, and I started playing around with my own notes after reading author Steven Johnson’s article in the New York Times where he described his own system. He saw digital tools helping “the subtle arts of inspiration and association,” providing a unique way to not only augment memory but share idea creation with the machines. Johnson used an app called DevonThink to store his writings, notes, highlights from a decade’s worth of books, and other things that had influenced him, building a personal database of reading, writing, and thinking (dig into his process at his personal site). But it’s not just for having all of this information at your fingerprints, Johnson explains. The promise of the system was its ability to find documents that he’d entirely forgotten about, “documents I didn’t know I was looking for.”

Houston then goes onto explain his own way of collecting all of his ideas digitally: he uses Evernote and IFTTT to organize his online reading life.

Before explaining my own process — which, as many readers have noted, has evolved over the last year — I’d like to explain briefly what these two tools can do. First, Evernote is a note-taking app that does everything from basic word processing and note taking to advanced Website clipping and social sharing. If you can think it up, you can do it with Evernote. Second, If This Then That (or IFTTT) allows you to automate online services. For example, with IFTTT, I can send each tagged photo of me on Facebook to Dropbox, Skydrive, or Google Drive without having to find them on my own. The service does the work for you, and it allows you to access whatever you want wherever you want it.

IFTTT has several Evernote “recipes,” including some that allow me to save notes from the internet and archive old tweets without having to go through the steps myself. After months of trying to organize my digital life, I think I’ve found the best solution. Here’s what I do to organize my digital marginalia:

1. Simplify the sites I use. I used to be all over the internet, and now I stick with these reading apps: Twitter (for finding stuff), Flipboard (which links to my Twitter and Google Reader accounts), and Instapaper. I also link my Kindle to which tracks my Kindle book notes and highlights.

2. Use Evernote to collect everything noteworthy for me. Whenever I read something on Flipboard, I star it. This sends it directly to Evernote, and it saves the article in one of two notes: a Twitter “favorites” note and a Google Reader “Starred Articles” note. With Instapaper, I collect the best articles, then send a compilation of these articles to my Kindle for reading on my free time. If I like it, I hit “like” on my Kindle and it sends a copy of the article to Evernote. By the way, all of this is set up using IFTTT recipes. This takes some getting used to, but it’s totally worth it. Check out IFTTT help for more information.

3. Tag my Evernote articles for later reading. I also use smart tags (via IFTTT) so that every article is tagged appropriately. Again, this is just a matter of editing the individual IFTTT recipe.

4. Download my clippings.txt file on my Kindle to Evernote. Every Kindle has a clippings.txt file which stores all of your highlights and notes. This is done manually, and right now, all I do is connect my Kindle to my computer, then copy and paste new notes from the clippings.txt file to Evernote. If someone knows of a way to automate this process, let me know. For now, I don’t organize these notes in any other way.

I’ve also set up IFTTT to automate some of my social media posts. I also use Hootsuite to schedule tweets. IFTTT has some powerful Facebook Pages recipes as well.

For now, this works for me. It allows me to create my own digital commonplace book, and it reminds me to go back and read important and interesting articles for later.

The Pale King in the Margins: Wallace’s attempts to find fulfillment and authenticity

Photo from flickr Creative Commons, user jakemohan,

The Pale King is a novel concerned with meaning and purpose in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Throughout the novel, characters grapple with concepts of humanity and authenticity. What is the role of a citizen? How does work define who we are? In my opinion, this idea of authenticity is clearest in chapter 19.

In this chapter, Wallace focuses on a conversation between employees at the Peoria Regional Examination Center. A discussion about civic duty turns into a discussion about the power of advertising in American life. One of the characters says this:

But corporations and marketing and PR and the creation of desire and need to feed all the manic production, the way modern advertising and marketing seduce the individual by flattering all the little psychic delusions with which we deflect the horror of personal smallness and transience, enabling the delusion that the individual is the center of the universe, the most important thing — I mean the individual individual, the little guy watching TV or listening to the radio or leafing through a shiny magazine or looking at a billboard…that his first responsibility is to his own happiness, that everyone else is the great gray abstract mass which his life depends on standing apart from, being an individual, being happy. (p. 144)

There is a lot to unpack in this long statement, but at its core it suggests that the desire to find fulfillment, propagated by advertising, becomes the thing we think frees us. In this case, we are told that fulfillment comes through the things that we see in marketing and advertising, that the individual “watching TV or listening to the radio” can find happiness through the very things that cause the insecurity in the first place. Freedom and individuality is found by giving into the masses, based on marketing.

This idea contrasts with a larger concept of fulfillment and authenticity presented earlier in the chapter:

But the point is psychological. Of course you want it all, of course you want to keep every dime you make. But you don’t, you ante up, because it’s how things have to be for the whole lifeboat. You sort of have a duty to the others in the boat. A duty to yourself not to be the sort of person who waits till everybody is asleep and then eats all the food. (p. 131)

The debate between these characters is centered on how we find authenticity in America: should we do what is best for us the individual or should we do what is best for the larger collective good?

This debate is one more reason why I think Wallace has placed this lengthy discussion about meaning and purpose in the halls of a tax collection agency. With the election in full swing right now, the narrative has focused on the role of government, of civic duty: should we seek out fulfillment by keeping what is ours, or should we give back to the larger, collective good?

Wallace doesn’t seek out an answer to this question. Instead, it seems that he points to how difficult it is to seek fulfillment either way. As the novel continues, Wallace suggests that this confusion brings us to a standstill, and thus we cannot ever find true fulfillment.

The Pale King in the Margins: Meta-Wallace

Photo of The Pale King, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, user ErasingScott


As I read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, I’m reminded that Wallace liked to play with authenticity in narrative. Who is writing this novel? Who is the narrator? Like Paul Auster and other similar, postmodern authors, Wallace is placing a fictionalized version of himself in this novel.

Sixty five pages in, we’re introduced to David Wallace, the fictional narrator of the novel. He is an IRS employee who, until this point, has stayed behind the scenes.

This portion of the novel is called the “Author’s Foreword,” but it’s placed far enough in for the reader to realize it is part of the novel, and it’s fiction. But Wallace is concerned with “reality” — that everything in this novel is real, except the copyright page: “The only bona fide ‘fiction’ here is the copyright page’s disclaimer — which, again, is a legal device: The disclaimer’s whole and only purpose is to protect me, the book’s publisher, and the publisher’s assigned distributors from legal liability” (p. 67)

This is meta-fiction at its most bizarre and complex, and Wallace is both critiquing this po-mo technique and revelling in it. This is how he puts it:

As it moves on, we get the sense that the IRS represents what Wallace could have become if he hadn’t been a writer: a bored, disaffected office worker. These are the people that make up his fictional Peoria IRS Regional office. They are the people who aspired for something larger, but ended up doing what is respectable and “normal.” So, as we read this novel, the things these characters represent, in their own weird way, are the things that we deal with on a daily basis. It’s the mundane, the average, that take up the majority of this text.

For Wallace (the real Wallace), it’s about those dull and boring moments. Maybe there’s beauty in those moments.

We shall see how these characters deal with their perceptions and attitudes about work and social expectations. Wallace wants us to see that these mundane events are an important part of reality, so in that way, it’s semi-non-fictional.