I overheard an interesting conversation earlier, but it wasn’t really all that interesting for its content. It was interesting because of what it made me think of. Snippets of some other life are like that. A lot of the time they inspire more than they intrigue.
Anyway, the thing I overheard made me think of topic I think about fairly often. I was sitting at a coffee shop, of course, and scrolling through random online media. Also of course. I was lending half-an-ear to the surrounding people. It was busy. Being a payday weekend, everyone was out shopping and perusing the wares of a strip mall I dropped into in search of house wares. I needed an airtight container where I could seal my cereal in defense against stale flakes and bugs.
The people at the coffee shop were also busy and moving fast to stay busy. Most weren’t sticking around long enough to strike up a proper conversation with their companions. They waited for their drinks with an impatiently cocked hip or with the kill-some-time swipes through their phone. Most of the snippets of conversation were about where to go next, the latest political nightmare, or how many calories some drink had.
There was, however, one group of friends that had taken up residence one table over. As friends do, they were making fun of one another for random things.
One didn’t understand the difference between a normal bank and a credit union. They were declared to be ignorant, stupid, and “Haven’t you heard of Google?”
Another was surprised to learn that you were required to have insurance to own a car. That resulted in less insults and more bitter agreement that such a rule was a terrible inconvenience.
But for the most part, whatever they said, as soon as one of them spoke up about something, the others made fun of that something.
One of the friends mentioned a hobby of collecting quarters. For non-Americans, or perhaps those Americans that don’t look at their coins, she was referring to the quarters with specific designs on them. It’s a campaign by the U.S. Mint called “America the Beautiful” that releases new quarters every year for states and notable places throughout the United States. They’ve been in circulation since 2010 and have 54 distinct designs on the backs of quarters.
The response to the young woman’s hobby was mostly negative. There was one friend that offered a generic, “That’s kinda cool.” The remaining reactions ranged between “That’s dumb.” and “That’s useless.”
Useless was the keyword that got me thinking.
Now, granted this is a group of friends that seems to have fun with making fun. They were all smiles as they insulted one another about trivial things. Maybe they don’t even believe what they’re saying. Some people like saying things for the sake of a laugh or to get a rise out of someone. So, the content of their conversation was mostly fluff. Not all that important.
But, it got me thinking.
My hobby, though it’s probably clear in some fashion, is writing. I like to write. I like to create things in general, but in particular I like to write. The main thing I write are fiction stories. That’s fun. One day, maybe, I’d like to publish one of my stories as a book.
Though, I often ask myself a question of little value. At least, I don’t value the question that much because I’ve come to believe that the question doesn’t matter. I only still ask it because part of me frets over stupid things. It’s difficult to stop yourself from fretting over stupid things.
But, how many people read a book? Not like, how many people buy the book. Not even how many people open the book to look at it. But how many people actually read it? The whole thing. The people that turn every page. Whisper every word. Hang on the end of each sentence and rush into the next.
Now, every book has a different audience, and every reader is not necessarily reading for the same reason. But, let’s pretend that we’re talking about those that want to read it. For whatever reason.
There are people, websites, organizations, that analyze this kind of thing. Of course there are. There are a billion sources of data in the world these days. We’re all little bits of someone else’s tracking system, right? And yet that data isn’t so easy to get at most of the time. Or it’s not very easy to digest. And so we often rely on nice bite-sized tidbits that give us the approximation of an idea. As usual, the curse of simplification is that it obscures the truth.
We like narratives. We like a story. We like an idea that’s been honed and sharpened and whittled down to something clever and pretty. Even if it is a repeat of a repeat.
But what about the data? Well take some American Pew Research for one data point. Reading is declining! There are people that haven’t read a book all year! Well. Yeah. Not surprised. But what does this measure? How do we measure reading anymore in a world of content? These studies focus on the term “book” in a way that doesn’t account for other things that involve reading. What about online serials? What about in-game content for MMORPGs and games in general? Does it count if people only read screenplays? Or if they read magazines, or comics, or pamphlets, or zines, or whatever else by the dozens?
Data is meaningless, after all.
And The Long Tail continues to lengthen. Niches can forever get more specific. And that isn’t any kind of surprise. Between self-made bubbles, social media bubbles, and good ol’ cognitive bias, the easiest path is selectivity.
We do tend to focus on the things that interest us. Fortunately, now we can actually find more of whatever interests us with minimal effort. We’re not trapped to some localized version of the world. The town we live in no longer controls our information flow. Gone are the days of monoculturism and all hail the rise of globalization! Now everyone will be the same!
Right? Well. Maybe not.
Really, our neighborhoods, our communities, have moved to the cloud. The borders and walls between cultures have gone digital. Now we can just ignore the pieces of the world that we don’t care for.
We can each be uniquely more individual than ever before.
So. Collecting quarters. Useless? I dunno. What’s useful? A skill that brings about profit and a livelihood? Since when has that mattered when it comes to hobbies? Does something have to bring an eventual goal of wealth to be pursued? That doesn’t seem very fun.
I mean, don’t we all do something as a “day job” that’s useful so we can do the useless thing at night?
So, how many people read a book? How many people will read my book? My stories? One?
And if it is zero, should I care?
Nah. After all. I wrote it to fill my own special personal niche space of preference.