Ebooks are incredible things. Twenty years ago, if you'd picked up the phone and told someone they'd one day be able to carry all their favourite books with them, wherever they went, they'd have slammed down the receiver at a speed rivalled only by that in response to adverts for the newest Dyson hoover.
Now, they're everywhere, and their influence is growing fast. My classmates come into class carrying iPads, tapping away at the screen and drawing intricate patterns on the page as they highlight the key passages needed for our next essay. My teachers prop open their Kindles on the desk and flip their way through to the passages they annotated for passage that day. My tutor glares at her desktop computer and bemoans the fact that she left her much faster iPhone at home.
And not only are we reading our favourite books . . . they're reading us.
According to an article that I found lurking on one of my multiple website newsfeeds a few weeks ago, new technology in e-readers is allowing the device to track certain actions and events in their readers. Amazon now has records of which passages most readers commonly highlight, which parts of the narrative are read fastest, whereabouts readers slow down the most. Rumours say that they can also keep track of which characters are most popular by how fast the reading pace picks up in a given area of the story.
To me, this represented an incredible opportunity for authors. By looking at these statistics, they can gauge almost exactly what parts of their book are being enjoyed, and which parts they need to keep an eye on. Reviews can be forged and paid for, but unless you're being incredibly Machiavellian, even the sneakiest of the internet trolls is unlikely to deliberately turn pages slowly for the sake of mucking up a statistic. Authors can also work out which devices their books are selling best on, and perhaps be encouraged to shift more towards the ebook market if their sales are higher there than in paperback, or vice versa.
The reading experience is more interactive than ever, and the author - rather than being some distant figure abiding on some celestial plane and surrounded by an impregnable wall of anonymity, has a real chance to engage with and take account of their readers.
But . . . you saw this coming . . . there's always the proverbial shark lurking under the surfboard.
If ebooks can record reading information from us, what else might they be recording? The inner workings of e-readers are well beyond the comprehension of most of the general public, and in an increasingly interconnected cyber world, who's to say what else your e-reader might be peeping at? Your search history? Your email accounts?
It might even have found that embarrassing baby picture your mum put up on her Facebook profile. Oh the horror.
But let's not start wearing tinfoil hats and joining up with Anonymous just yet. Just because there's a potential for something doesn't mean it's bound to happen. Not everyone out there is an uncaring internet overlord after your personal information. There are laws and restrictions that even the great entities like Amazon and Facebook are restricted by in giving out information on the accounts thereon.
Nevertheless, it's worth being watchful - people often have ways of knowing more than you think. However, as long as you put nothing compromising within their reach (and by that, I mean keeping it in that locked box under your bed. Yes, I know it's there. No, I haven't touched the key that is hidden inside that googly-eyed doll on your shelf) then you have nothing to worry about. Most of the information they track is relevant to their specific interests in making their enterprise more attractive to buyers. I highly doubt many of them are daft enough to think a sudden spate of stolen personal details in relation to new software development will do them any favours.
Besides . . . I rather enjoy keeping track of what browsers you guys use when you visit my site.
~ Charley R