During the mid-nineties, someone came up with the idea of viral marketing to describe how product awareness can spread by word of mouth through social networks. A few years ago, we began talking about “viral videos” and “memes,” referring to media on the internet that large numbers of people took notice of in a short amount of time. Word of mouth has always been the most effective way to “get the word out”, but the internet has intensified the rate and reach of many forms of communication.
It’s not surprising that internet memes and viral videos are usually short and entertaining. If several of your minor acquaintances on Facebook post a link to a hilarious video, it’s not a significant exercise of trust or investment of energy to find out what everyone’s talking about. Complex ideas and practices that have the potential to shape our lives in deeper ways are more difficult to spread. They take root over time in close communities. They require more time and energy for reflection. If these ideas or practices are significantly different from what is familiar, they may not be immediately interesting or easy to understand. We are more likely to take the time to engage these ideas within a group of people that we trust and share our lives with, as opposed to more casual acquaintances.
The fast pace, mobility and level of distraction in contemporary life makes it difficult to build and sustain reflective communities. Reading is one of the most important practices for cultivating sustained reflection, and it’s not unusual to hear people confess (with some amount of guilt) that they should read more. Reading alone is important, but our understanding deepens when we discuss what we’re reading with other people. Reading groups are a familiar form of reading community, but the scheduled meetings times and structured assignments don’t work well for many people who would like to be involved.
Viral Reading is a new form of reading community that builds communities of conversations within our everyday social networks. Think of all the people that you run into in the course of an average week. Some of them are family or close friends, many are acquaintances and coworkers. What would your interaction be like if you were all reading the same book over a two month period? In a five minute conversation over the water cooler, you would still mention the latest cat video, but you might also talk about a passage in the book that is blowing your mind. You may be one of those people (like myself) that spends a lot of their spare time at a local coffee shop, or a similar gathering place. You probably see a lot of the same faces every week as you stop in for a latte in between classes, before work, or after your work-out. What would your community be like if some of those faces had their noses buried in a copy of the book you were reading last night? What if the coffee shop kept a few copies of that book in the shop, and readers wrote notes in the margins?
The Marginal Conversations website is designed to facilitate (but not replace) face-to-face discussion within your local community. Participants can set up groups (with or without scheduled meetings), invite friends, and discuss ideas. If you would like someone from Marginal Conversations to help you get a group started, give a talk on the book, or facilitate a discussion, please contact Heather Griffin. Marginal Conversations is based out of Charleston, South Carolina, but we are happy for you use our website to participate in Viral Reading in your own community as long as your activities are in the scope of Marginal Conversation’s mission and purpose.
Local businesses, community organizations, workplaces, and other groups can become Viral Reading host sites. Host sites display a Marginal Conversations poster and keep copies of the featured Viral Reading book on site for patrons to read. The goal is to get as many people as possible who are regulars at the host sites to read the book and discuss it together. Please contact us if you are interested in registering a host site.