As much as I hate to acknowledge it, long form reading is down. Hell, even for someone like me, who was so addicted to books in my youth that my mother would often force me to stop reading and go outside, about the only time I can carve out to read lately is the 10 minutes before I pass out each night.
Attention spans are shrinking. Critical thinking and reasoning, two things we tend to build in the process of reading, are most certainly down. But you know what’s up? If you said “phone usage,” give yourself a gold star.
These arms-length distraction machines are constantly pelting us with a glut of consumable content. So what’s a library to do to make books not just more accessible, but more palatable to a society addicted to social media?
If you’re the New York Public Library, you tackle the problem head-on. You don’t try to entice people away from their phones, but instead encourage them to pick them up and log on to their favorite social media app. The only app that isn’t full of bell-ringing Apocalypse callers or your racist uncles.
That’s right, the NYPL is bringing classic literature to Instagram.
Today marks the launch of “Insta Novels,” a NYPL program that utilizes Instagram Stories to convert classic novels into animated, interactive, social media events. In cooperation with Mother New York, the project found artists who have a strong Instagram presence to provide original illustrations and animations for three classic works. These animations are added to the text and the text itself is cut up into regular chunks of content (you readers may know them as “pages”).
It’s Classic Literature
First up will be Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, with art by Magoz (@magoz). That will be followed up in the coming months by two other novels: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and illustrated by Buck (@buck_design), and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis with illustrations by César Pelizer (@cesarpelizer). If the experiment is successful, future stories will hopefully be added to the roster.
Each work will be uploaded to Instagram in sections (Part 1 of Alice in Wonderland will be first). Each page will be one section of the Instagram Story (that you can pause by resting your finger on it…am I the only one who didn’t realize you could do this?). As an added bonus, small animations, both illustrations and fun typography manipulation, will play when you let the “page” play out. Don’t have time to read the whole thing? Not a problem. Add it to your Highlights, and the story will stay in your own personally curated digital library.
Playing around with the feature, I can say that it adds a surprising amount of engagement. I found myself reading quickly to see what little surprise was added next. For this reason, I’m glad Mother and the New York Public Library chose Alice in Wonderland as their first entry into the format. Many of us are already familiar with the story, having encountered it in some form of media at some point. That leaves us open to discover the text in a new way.
The hope is that Insta Novels will spark further explorations into digital reading via the NYPL’s SimplyE app and their extensive digital content library.