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Highlighting Connected In Cairo

July 31, 2013

Social_KindlingWeb 2.0 offers all manner of interesting ways of exploring texts. A few days ago, I went to my Amazon author page to update my biographical note–six months late–and was distracted by a feature called “Notes & Highlights”

“Popular Highlights” displays passages that people reading the text on a Kindle have marked using Kindle’s highlight feature. Amazon combines “the highlights of all Kindle customers … identifying the passages with the most highlights” according to their helpful “What’s This?” explanation.

Not every book entry in Amazon shows highlights because “some books don‘t have enough highlighting in them.” Amazon conveniently shows “the number of people who have highlighted the text … at the beginning of the marked text.”

Why? Because “the resulting Popular Highlights help readers focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people.”

Erin Templeton (Converse College) reflects on her ambivalence toward “social Kindling” in an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Certainly I can see how you could use this in a classroom, especially a small seminar. If all texts assigned were e-texts, students could be required to highlight as they read, and also to review which passages are being highlighted, before coming to class to discuss the book. The prof could even design course discussion around the highlighted passages.

Anne Trubek (Oberlin), in an essay titled “When It Comes to Kindles, Do You ‘Like’ or Unlink?” published in The American Prospect, argues that this e-reader feature reconnects us to an “age old” tradition of reading that stretches back to antiquity. She admits, however, that this technique might be at odds with contemporary (Western) reading practices, which are based on the idea of a solitary reader who “escapes” into their reading.

(I’m interested in Trubek’s assertion because I have studied social news reading practices in India, where public reading rooms exist in many places, although they are clearly on the decline).

I don’t know if I buy Kindle’s claims, or Trubek’s, but it is certainly interesting to me as an author to discover what passages in my book people are taking the trouble to highlight (I personally haven’t used the feature in part because I find it too cumbersome).

One of the most interesting things to be gleaned from this data is that people are, in fact, reading my book as a text about localization, not just as a book about growing up cosmopolitan in the modern Middle East. Also interesting (but less positive for me as an author) is that most of the highlighted passages came from the Introduction and first chapter. Please: read on, read on.

The most popular highlight:

First, localization is a cultural process that produces locality by contrasting things that are “local” with those that are from elsewhere.

Second, localization produces identities as people link themselves (or are linked by others) through consumption, labor, discourse, and other forms of social action to particular places-both those that are local and those that are far away.

Third, localization, so understood, is inevitably a metacultural process (Urban 2001) through which people reflect on, question, interpret, reproduce, and revise their cultural categories and social actions.

The second most popular:

My point here is that through juxtapositions of regional solidarity, Islamic religiosity, and commodification, Arabic children’s magazines construct a hybrid subject who is at once fully “modern” and fully “Arab.”

Third place:

Finally, globalization does not just happen as a result of supernational social processes; it is always the result of specific agents situated in specific places pursuing personal goals (which are, inevitably, also social and cultural goals) through strategies involving the appropriation and recontextualization of goods, persons, capital, technologies, or ideas. Globalization, in other words, is a result of myriad localizations, and it is these localizations I will examine in this book.

and in Fourth place:

Education is a key theme in these magazines, but education is tied to social mobility, which is increasingly marked by the acquisition of transnational commodities.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 29, 2013 7:33 am


    Great article you have here. The notes and highlights feature Amazon has made available for Kindle have quite taken up the world by storm, so to speak. There are pros and cons and mixed reviews by users.

    There are some though that find it difficult to access their highlights and notes online. A new iOS app can change this and make it easier for Kindle users. This iOS app is called Snippefy ( and will be released on November 2013. It will make reading and sharing notes and highlights easier and it can be done all in one place.

    I hope this will interest you and you will find it helpful.

    Thank you


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