I suspect that my definition of public reading is quite different than most because I’ve been actively doing it for over a year or so now. I post nearly everything I read onto my personal website, and quite often with my notes, highlights, annotations, and some brief analysis. Rarely, if ever, do people react or interact with it, though on occasion it will spark a nice, albiet short discussion. In some part, I post all of it for my own personal consumption and later search, though perhaps one day someone will come across something and it will light a bigger fire. Who knows?
It all reminds me of something my friend P.M. Forni once told me about his own writing as a scholar of the early Italian Renaissance. He said he thought it was sad that only about eleven people would ever read any of his academic writing at a very deep level, but he was far more gratified to be able to write prescriptive books on the area of civility and living a better life that were featured on Oprah and had readers in the millions. I’m happy to write on these topics and have no readers–besides myself–whatsoever.
Of course all of this to say, that as educators we still ought to provide relatively safe spaces for students to try on ideas, make arguments, and see what comes of it without damaging them in the long run.
I’ve read many online documents that have been annotated by many others, most of them in the early days of Genius.com when it was known as Rap Genius. It has been a while, however, since I’ve read something like boyd’s It’s Complicated with so many annotations by others. It is quite refreshing to see a relatively high level of work and commentary on a piece (compared to the typical dreck that one can find in most online newspapers’ comments sections.) I suspect that for some performative nature may come into play, but I find this less of a factor on more scholarly facing platforms like Hypothesis (compared to Genius.com or Twitter). Certainly one can get caught up in the idea of becoming famous or popular for their commentary.
As boyd points out in the introduction to her book, this sort of thing seems to be common human nature:
None of the videos they made were of especially high quality, and while they shared them publicly on YouTube, only their friends watched them. Still, whenever they got an additional view—even if only because they forced a friend to watch the video—they got excited.
In the end, some of it may come down to audience. For whom are you writing, annotating, or working? The vast majority of the time, I’m writing and documenting for myself. Anyone else that stumbles upon the conversation may hopefully only make it more interesting, but as often as not, except for an occasional class no one notices–and even then they may not publicly comment.
As for boyd’s book, I’m somewhat less than impressed. I’m aware of much of her work and appreciate the role she plays in the broader public conversation, but I’ve been far too close to the topic she’s writing about for far too long. I view it in a somewhat more historical framework and slightly different viewpoint than she. As a result, she’s not telling me much I didn’t already know or haven’t thought about for quite a while. I suspect that my commentary in my annotations may make this a bit more clear.