The medium, the environment and reading in Madison

Those of you who’ve been reading me since my days as a strange and seldom pertinent writer at the Badger Herald (so pretty much just my mom) knows that, for me, like for McLuhan, the medium is equally as significant as the information it’s transporting. And when I say ‘the medium’, I don’t just mean the technological device (TV, laptop, iPod, projection system, cell phone, etc.) which serves as the vehicle for the information being transmitted, nor am I referring exclusively to the form (words, images, sounds, smells, etc.) taken by information being transmitted; for me, the consideration of mediums must also take into account the environment within which information is being sent and received; in other words, ecology matters just as much as do technology and form. One of these days I’m sure that I’ll find a way to come to grips with content, but until then…

Am I making myself clear? For example, it’s obvious that watching a film on your laptop (the medium) alone in your bedroom (the environment in which the medium is situated) is a radically different experience than watching a film in a crowded movie theater (another kind of medium situated within another kind of environment). But how do we explain the differences between the two medium-environment configurations?

Now, most people probably aren’t as caught up on the whole “watching a film on your laptop” thing as I am, so here’s an alternate example which may be more relevant for my literate friends: The environment in which you read a book certainly impacts the intensity, the depth and the rhythm of your reading; the type, the amount and the volume of ambient noise each affect your ability to remain engaged with the text; the presence of clocks may alert you to the amount of time you’re spending on reading, possibly dissuading you from continuing to read for as long as you might if there weren’t any clocks around; and so on.

Ever since I began attending UW-Madison, I’ve been searching high and low for the optimal reading environment. My room is quiet and cool but it’s annoyingly lonely, thus making me feel overly aware of my own embarrassing bookishness; coffee shops like Espresso Royale or Indie Coffee feel alive, and the ability to buy liquid stimulation (“coffee”) is definitely a plus, but they can also get way too noisy, or a conversation at a nearby table may present itself as being far too easy to eavesdrop on for me to focus exclusively on my book; Memorial Library can feel like a tomb, while College Library can feel like a cafeteria, and I don’t quite know which of these is worse; parks are undoubtedly pleasant, but they can also be obnoxiously windy, and daylight becomes an unwelcome factor; etc. Just about everyone I know seems to deal with a similar dilemma, and they each have unique answers to the question “Where to read?” Yet, we’re never totally satisfied with our answers and we inevitably find ourselves revising them as time passes and our sensibilities shift.

Well, I just so happen to be up for a little discussion. Readers, if you’re out there: What’s the best place in Madison to get some reading done? When (season, time of day, etc.) should one go there to engage in literary pursuits? And why, why, why? Bonus points for anyone who can tackle the above questions while swapping “writing” for “reading,” because frankly, I haven’t any clue where the best place to write in Madison could possibly be, though I’d be very interesting in finding out.

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One Response to “The medium, the environment and reading in Madison”

  1. Kyle Szarzynski Says:

    The third-floor quiet area at College. No noise, no clocks, very few distractions of any kind. At the same time, there are always some other people around and a background of slight activity, so you aren’t overwhelmed by solitude or taciturnity. Also, there is a really cheap coffee machine downstairs.

    As for the writing question, I haven’t figured that one out yet, either…

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