A notification bings. Light radiates from a screen. Messages constantly come into inboxes. Adolescents are constantly communicating and engaging with their peers. Their eyes may be glued to the phone in their palm or the laptop sitting on their knees. Whatever the device, adolescents are connected. A number of social networking platforms exist to connect people. Facebook is being phased out among many adolescents with platforms like Instagram, Twitter, tumblr, and Youtube. Although each platform connects people to a wide network, they each have a different purpose that encourages adolescents to bounce back and forth between each one. A New York Times article from 2010 cited a Kaiser Permanente study claiming that adolescents are online almost eight hours a day. Eight hours. Except for time spent in the classroom, kids are online almost every moment they are awake. Books are a classic form of media. How they are read has shifted from physical pages to a scroll on a reading device. Technology has not stopped adolescents from reading. With hands fixed to phones and keyboards, how adolescents engage with literature is also changing.
It is easy to imagine that with adolescents plugged into social networking sites like Instagram that they would spend the majority of their time scrolling through images and leaving books aside. Some would argue that this is not the case. Instead of reading a book in a quiet corner of a room and keeping thoughts to yourself – or to a time when class discussion opens up – you can engage with authors and other readers online. The extent to which using online resources to discuss books may be unique to young readers and the world of adolescent literature. They can see how each person connects with a book and that connection changes with each novel. A few examples are how people connect to books can be seen from Instagram.
There are over ten million posts on Instagram that use a #harrypotter hashtag (the numbers would be infinitely larger if we tried looking up variations of hashtags for all of the other characters from the series). Harry Potter fandom spans a love of the book series, the movies, merchandise, and the theme park. Harry Potter is everywhere. Its presence on social media helps demonstrate all of the different ways adolescents interact with it. Social media platforms have been used to show each other the different ways they obsess over the series:
There are plenty of images on Instagram with young people showing that they love Harry Potter. There are pictures of open books, stacks of books, and people reading. In some ways, these photos show off that people read Harry Potter and it encourages people to read as well. There are also pictures of the characters – drawings and figurines. People use photos to reconstruct their own world of Harry Potter.
Where some people are using Instagram to showcase their collection of Harry Potter related items, others are using it share different interpretations of the book and its characters. Hermione is a character that is imagined differently by all sorts of readers. In the films she is played by Emma Watson, a young white female, but some readers thought that her Hermione’s description also described a black girl or someone of mixed race.
These networks connect readers to a larger community of people who think similarly to them. But how people interact with books and a community online varies with the book and the fan base that it has. For Harry Potter, users use the multitude of characters, spells, and general hype to create memes, recreate scenes, and flaunt the materials they accumulated.
Readers of We Were Liars, on the other hand, typically put the book on display. Images of We Were Liars are surrounded by other books or items that are associated with the novel. The plot takes place on an island off of the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Users who posted the images seemed like they were trying to tell the world what they were reading instead of engaging with different interpretations of the book. In a sense they are finding ways to show that they are engaged with reading.
These collections of images, not just left to Instagram, serve as mini user generated advertisements. Adolescents are choosing the books they read off of what they see their friends and the people they follow are reading.