Recently I stood in the bookstore and read the back pages of four books. All of these fell under the same romance/BookTok category* that I so easily fall for. Some are excellent and some are terrible. Lately, I have read more that aren’t very good and add no real value to my life and/or osul. By reading the back page I was simply getting closure without putting myself through the process. If the back page caught my eye, I would flip to a middle page and see if that was any good. I didn’t buy any books.
I respect that this may seem like a somewhat sacrilege experience, but I think it’s a step further than reading the blurb. Like you may watch the trailer for a show, you may look up the rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you may even watch the first episode before deciding its not for you. I was just doing that except in a haphazard way. Also, I never look up ratings for anything besides beauty products. I have been spending a lot of money on books lately and this trick was to avoid that and avoid the somewhat obsessive headspace I have developed when it comes to devouring books.
There’s a groundswell that surrounds certain media products (and products in general) online. This sense that something is the highest rated, most watched, fastest binged, best-selling show/book/movie or whatever is a hype I can be very susceptible to. However, I think there has to be a pre-disposed idea or interest in that thing first. There are a few things to unpack surrounding this.
First, there are two media theories that come to mind. The first is the Agenda Setting Function Theory. In short, this theory developed in the 70s by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw states that the media can’t tell you what to think but it can tell you what to think about. Second, we have Henry Jenkins’ Spreadability theory. I have spoken about this before, but essentially the idea is, if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead. It being the idea, meme, media product or whatever. Neither suggest a predisposition to liking certain things, but perhaps a predisposition to engaging with, or seeking out certain media products.
Second, this makes me think about cookies, the type that follow you around online, not the type you buy from Subway for a $1**. The idea of a cookie is to track the user online and re-present certain products or ideas to them. So that’s why things you’ve searched come up again and again. Generally, you can be tracked for a certain number of sites or up to a certain number of days.
All of this reinforces the picture that we are surrounded by like with like, which is reiterated by the algorithm.
A few weeks ago, I decided to delete Instagram from my phone. Simply so I would stop checking it. I do this a lot, only to download it again. Sometimes I am off it for an hour, sometimes more, sometimes I go until the next day. This time however, I have not been back on for three and a half weeks. This spontaneous sabbatical has removed me from lots of conversations I didn’t know I was having. Some of these conversations were actual chats, some were comments and responses to comments, and some were screenshots and messages sent off the platform.
All in all these conversations were positive and generally went to building relationships, or strengthening those which already existed. By not being on the platform however, I don’t even see that book or that item of clothing, or that those two people are hanging out even though they say they don’t like each other.
I am not naïve enough to think I will ever shake the online, nor would I want to. The internet is full of smart, funny and wonderfully distracting things. What I like about my Instagram break and my last page reading is that I don’t feel compelled to be involved in a way that takes more than it gives.
*I use the term booktok to describe romance/smutty/candy like books that are popular on TikTok, I don’t know if this is the actual meaning of this term because I’m not on TikTok. Some bookstores just label them Romance. I was online looking for reading related t-shirt and saw one that said Basic BookTok Bitch.
**Some people may be familiar with Ben’s Cookies in the UK. I really wish there was one in Melbourne. There is a Cookie Box though, but I fear it won’t survive.