Conversations

While we read we communicate with the author. We step inside of their brain. No matter if the author is dead or alive, our thoughts and the author’s words engage in a dialogue. For every moment we are captured by a text, whether print or digital, we are in a conversation.

The writer is talking to us, and in both print and digital mediums we are able to respond, comment as we read, write our own thoughts in the margins, contribute to the conversation. Obviously, the conversation is on an extremely larger scale in the digital world than on print.


One of the differences between reading digitally and on print is about who else can access or engage in this conversation. Our responses on print are never seen by anyone else unless they read that exact same physical book, article, piece of poetry, etc., and on the other hand our responses on digital mediums can be much more public.

On digital mediums, like Medium.com, we can comment on readings and have freedom and power to share our thoughts to the world, to everyone who will or has read what we have just read. The author of the digital piece may even see our responses and, like on Medium.com, be able to respond back to any individuals’ comments on their writing. Thus creating an amazing interactive communication between creator and receiver.

Peterson’s Cultural Diamond, note the two-way line between producer (creator) and receiver

We cannot undermine the value of private comments though. By private comments I mean the ones we write on print, pen to paper, in the margins of our books for example. I take a lot of notes while I read and most of the time they are sentences, such as questions to myself, emotional reactions, or trails of thought enacted by the writing. But I also circle words I do not know the definitions of, underline sentences that confuse or stand out to me. For I truly believe that reading print allows for more honest and inquisitive thinking due to the increased intimacy of conversation between creator and receiver. No one else ever has to know what I write in my books. Therefore I am more comfortable writing on them than I am on someone’s Medium.com article.

I was pondering this idea while comparing the two experiences of reading my partner’s multi-modal essay on medium.com and reading five of Emily Dickinson’s poems from the Norton Anthology of Poetry, both for twenty minutes. I pulled out my laptop, and while reading my partner Octavia’s essay, I highlighted the spots I appreciated or felt were most interesting, commented on areas I thought could be improved, and hit enter on the keyboard after each comment in order to share my ideas with her and everyone else who will read her essay.

Knowing that Octavia is going to consider each of my responses and that anyone can judge my opinions, I am forced to write not only thoughtfully but also carefully. I make sure to write in a way that will make sense to outsiders. There is also a certain level of responsibility while writing responses to digital pieces such as Octavia’s. Because she is going to read my comments, and no matter if it is obvious or not, it may affect her thinking.

My notes on print remain as a conversation between myself and the author, the author speaks to me and I respond, with the author most likely not responding back. It does not even matter that the author most likely won’t hear me. That’s what makes this relationship even more beautiful. The author cannot tell me what they think of my ideas about their work. This can kind of encourage me to think more creatively about what the author means and to say exactly what I feel, not worried about judgement or disagreement. Because this conversation, this relationship, is my own. I hold no responsibility for another person’s actions.

While reading digitally, the idea that I am not alone will always loom over me. So while I comment on an online piece, the eyes of the world effect how and what I write, and my mentality while writing it. This can be both negative and positive. It can push me to write more intuitive comments, but can also unnerve me just enough to avoid writing personally or writing any honest opinions at all.

While reading Emily Dickinson’s poems, or while reading any type of print, I can sit on my window seat in my dorm room and know that I am alone. Well, alone with Emily Dickinson. My written responses or annotations do not have to make sense to anyone but myself. I hold the 1500 page Anthology of Poetry in my lap and am free to write whatever comes to my mind.

Emily Dickinson, 1830–1886, Amherst, MA
Some notes in The Norton’s Anthology of Poetry on Dickinson

I think the privacy of reading a physical book allows us as readers to feel more comfortable to react honestly. While I read Dickinson’s poems from the Norton’s Anthology of Poetry, I lack the mental stimulation of other’s opinions and ideas which I would experience if I were a reading a digital news article for example, but I can also gain a more unique opinion without the influence of outsiders. The intimacy of it plunges me deeper into my own thoughts, provides a safe space to jot my questions, and persuades me to fully reveal myself.