E-books, Anonymity, and Serendipitous Meetings

I’ve been thinking a lot about how e-books and digital consumption of magazines and newspapers eliminate the conversation starters that happen today around what people are reading in public spaces. Of course – sometimes this is welcome. We don’t always want everyone to know what we’re reading (or listening to), but we always had the ability to shed the book jacket or cover it with something else, or leave certain reading material at home. But on many an occasion, I’ve met interesting people based on what I was reading or what they were reading, or discovered an interesting book based on a stranger’s recommendation.

Last week this hit home even further. I was on the New York City subway reading Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen. A stranger approached and asked what I thought of the book so far. He had heard of it and was considering buying/reading it. I told him that it was great so far and that sparked a conversation about technology entrepreneurship. We exchanged contact info.

A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

The stranger is now no longer a stranger, he’s Ray Wu. We’ve already corresponded a few times and plan to meet again at a meet-up this week. It was a great serendipitous meeting that would never have happened if I was reading the book on my iPhone or iPad as I’m apt to do.

So what’s the solution? In the analog world, it was not considered narcissistic or odd to “broadcast” the book you were reading in a cafe or the books you’ve read in the past on your bookshelf. But any digital solutions I can think of to bring this serendipitous and passive discovery of what others are reading into the e-book age seem contrived and by definition somewhat intentional/narcissistic.

There are so many ways to make new and serendipitous connections now online – I think Twitter is perhaps the most interesting, but are some other digital advancements eliminating others?

What do you think? Is this an issue? Any ideas for preserving this cool way of meeting new people/learning new things?

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One response to “E-books, Anonymity, and Serendipitous Meetings

  1. I covered about 35% of _Do More Faster_ on my iPad/Kindle App since we met, and also was thinking about the same phenomena your wrote about here. Indeed a great read, thanks Ron!

    Status updates are narcissistic in nature – perhaps Kindle/iBook/other e-Readers should start tweeting the book titles as often as we desire, including highlighted quotes, notes/train of thoughts. We can even build a Foursquare of pedestrian literature network.

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