The Writer-Reader Connection

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Over the past two weeks, Mr. Grunberg has spent several hours a day writing his novella, while a battery of sensors and cameras tracked his brain waves, heart rate, galvanic skin response (an electrical measure of emotional arousal) and facial expressions. Next fall, when the book is published, some 50 ordinary people in the Netherlands will read it under similarly controlled circumstances, sensors and all.

I thought this was a fascinating article in the NY Times covering a study currently being conducted by Dutch researchers on the author Arnon Grunberg. The electrode cap captures the electrical stimulation in Arnon’s brain as he writes the book. Then, researches are going to toss the hat on readers when they actually sit down to read the book. The goal is to highlight a link between the way “art is created and consumed”.

I think this experiment is interesting for two main reasons:

  1. The idea of quantified self is becoming more and more popular and prevalent in our society. We’re tracking everything from the major to the minutia including steps walked, glasses of water consumed, miles run, words written, etc. I’m interested to see what can be done with that data as right now, I don’t think we’re utilizing it very well.
  2. With the rise of the internet and specifically blogging, it’s never been easier to create content. Nearly everyone that blogs has an interest in sharing their thoughts and feelings with the world. Some are better than others at portraying their feelings and getting across their argument. It’s easy to sit at your desk, type out some words, and hit publish. It’s harder to quantify the impact you’re having on others through your writing. The metrics in place now (social stats, page views, comments) aren’t really a fantastic indicator of the perceived value of what you’ve written. Were your readers engaged? Did they share the same thoughts and feelings? If they don’t write a comment, you’ll never know.I think the experiment with Arnon showcases some exciting new data that can be used to impact the effectiveness of writers and bloggers everywhere (even if we don’t all have access to a sweet looking hat).

I’m not extremely interested in the quantified self movement just yet because I feel like the applications aren’t very useful as we have them set-up. However, this is an exciting experiment that showcases our ability to track how other individuals think and feel. To me, that’s a much more exciting piece of information than how many steps you take in a day.

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