The conference will be held November 26, 2018 at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” in Sofia, Bulgaria

The conference Reading Practices in the Digital Age aims to explore reading across many different platforms: from book to screen, by examining the role of the medium, and of multimodality marked by the interplay between text, image, and sound.

We invite individual abstracts and panel proposals in an array of topics, discussing but not limited to the areas below:

What has happened to reading in the age of the Internet?
• How did the “digital turn” affect the usages of free time? What is the place of reading practices in the digitalized contemporary usage of free time and its market-driven hierarches?
• How have readers’ attitudes and behaviors changed as texts migrate from page to screen, and from the print medium to the digital ones: e-books, tablets, computer screens?
• What are the changes in the reading tempo and rhythmus?
• How is reader-response affected?
• How are attention and concentration ability affected?
• How is comprehension and memory affected by reading on screen?
• Do the interactive features of the digital platform distract readers from the textual content or do they facilitate comprehension?
• How are digital reading practices located between the poles of “reading-for-pleasure” and “reading-for-practical-goals” (cognition, information etc.?)
• What is “the future of the book” – elegiac or optimistic?
• What are the pedagogical implications for reading on a digital screen?

Proposals for twenty-minute presentations or for panels / roundtable discussions to be submitted by 1 November 2018. The official language of the conference will be English.

Please include the following in your submission:

• Name:
• Affiliation:
• Email address:
• Title of Paper or Panel Proposal:
• Abstract (250 words):
• Bio (100 words):

Please address emails to:


The Cultural Center of Sofia University Team led by prof. Alexander Kiossev, Department of History and Theory of Culture, Sofia University

Prof. Alexandra Glavanakova, Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University & Executive Director of AFEAS


The digital has disrupted contemporary culture on many levels, affecting in particular notions and practices of literacy, textuality, narrative, authorship, agency, and the processes of writing, reading, teaching, studying, and critically analyzing texts. It is clear by now that a major cultural shift has taken place that can be best formulated as a movement away from the print paradigm and into the digital one. Even the most superficial glimpse at the history of writing and reading will reveal that texts have been and will continue to be transmitted through different media: print and digital. A useful reminder is that Plato expressed concern (in the Phaedrus) that “trust in writing . . . will discourage the use of [our] own memory”, when the spread of writing was challenging an earlier oral tradition in the late 5th century BC. As print is no longer the default medium, the intersections between media – print and digital – will continue to develop in dynamic and complex ways, and with important implications for pedagogical practices, curriculum design, and reading for study or entertainment. Another significant fact which affects the nature of reading are the inherent features of the new medium. There has been an important shift concerning the awareness about the paramount role of the medium which carries the text. The trajectory of this shift is away from Sven Birkets’s warning of the extinction of the book in The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (1994) and more in the direction of Johanna Drucker’s claim that “the book is here to stay [. . .] media do not displace each other in a linear way, media artefacts exist in ecologies, in systems, where they reconfigure each other” (keynote address at the Resurrecting the Book conference, 2013).

Since digital technology is developing exponentially, the changes across generations of readers will vary widely. Because of the nature of primary education in many countries, including Bulgaria, print-based skills and practices of reading and studying are not out-of-date yet, but neither can they be seen as universal and trans-historical. The millennials gather information, communicate, read, study, or seek entertainment on a computer screen. It is clear that they, as true “digital natives” (Prensky 2001), will have the disposition towards surfing, multi-tasking, rapid attentional switching between different media, and the craving for even more intense bombardment by stimuli that their parents and teachers do not have to the same degree, or not at all. As K. N. Hayles has stated in her now seminal text “How We Read: Close, Hyper and Machine”: “people read less print, and they read print less well” (2012a: 56). One consequence, as Hayles sees it, is that our surrounding socio-technological environment systemically privileges hyper attention and leads to a significant shift in cognitive modes (2007b: no page). Owing to hyper attention, humans are capable of scanning large amounts of data and of identifying repetitive patterns. Hyper attention leads to flexibility in switching between different information streams, a quick grasp of the gist of material, rapid movement between texts. However, this type of attention usually requires instant gratification and is marked by a very small attention span (Hayles 2007b: no page). In contrast, deep attention involves a long-term engagement with a problem that may eventually lead to gaining expert knowledge, solving problems and dealing with issues of high complexity. Traditional methodologies used especially in the humanities play a significant part in fostering deep attention. Both types of attention: deep and hyper have their pros and cons, and lead to corresponding modifications in the practices and methods of reading texts. It is easy to hypothesize that in the digital ecology the preference would be for reading online. However, a number of studies have gone against this proposition, establishing the variable contexts and reasons for which people, especially students, chose reading print over online texts (Baron 2015; Baron 2017).

Indeed, new professional reading strategies have evolved in the digital age as novel interpretative tools and analytical approaches. In addition to close reading and historical contextualization, which have been established analytical tools for decades, hyper reading (James Sosnoski 1999; Katherine Hayles 2012), social reading (Bob Stein), distant reading (Franco Moretti 2005, 2013), surface reading (Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus 2009), and even machine reading have been proposed and recently developed.

In his essay “Hyper-Readers and Their Reading-Engines,” James J. Sosnoski defines hyper reading as “reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading” (1999: 167) and outlines eight hyper reading strategies: filtering, skimming, pecking, imposing, filming, trespassing, de-authorizing, and fragmenting, and two further ones: juxtaposing, scanning, described by Hayles (2012a: 61). The term surface reading was introduced by Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus to name a reading strategy that focuses on the surfaces of texts. It is limited to:

What is evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts; what is neither hidden nor hiding; what, in the geometrical sense, has length and breadth but no thickness, and therefore covers no depth. A surface is what insists on being looked at rather than what we must train ourselves to see through. (2009: 9)

Surface reading aims to study the materiality of texts, mostly on the medium used for carrying them and the significance of the medium in defining the work itself. Social reading, as a collaborative online reading practice in which several users read the same text, comment and respond to it, is of greatest applicability in the teaching and study of literature. It overcomes solitary reading and turns online reading into a collaborative, interactive process, which involves the exchange of ideas. The Golden Notebook Project is a clear example of collaborative reading of Doris Lessing’s novel. It is “an experiment in close-reading in which seven women are reading the book and conducting a conversation in the margins,” which strives to “enable a culture of collaborative learning” (Project no page). Finally, the practice of distant reading, as defined by Moretti, involves the analysis of large corpora, regardless of whether they are done by human or machine (2013). Moretti aims at the bigger picture: the description of literary patterns and developments that connect hundreds, even thousands of literary texts over decades and beyond national borders. He presents this practice as a shift “From texts to models, then, and models drawn from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary theory” (Moretti 2005: 1). In addition, Hayles insists on distinguishing yet another category: machine reading as “human-assisted computer reading where computer algorithms are used to analyze patterns in large textual corpora” (2012a: 70). This approach allows researchers to understand a work within the larger literary and cultural tradition that it reinforces, or subverts and resists. Finding patterns in large amounts of data, which involves quantitative approaches to large corpora of literature, has started to gain ground.

When it comes to using web sites, studies indicate (Nielsen, 2008) that on average, people are likely reading less than 30% of the words. Even academics seem to be taking less time to read a scholarly article, particularly online articles, than they used to (Tenopir et al., 2009). It is easy to hypothesize that in the digital ecology the preference would be for reading online. However, a number of studies have gone against this proposition, establishing the variable contexts and reasons for which people, especially students, chose reading print over online texts (Baron 2015; Baron 2017).


Baron, Naomi S. 2015. Words onscreen: The fate of reading in a digital world. New York, NY: Oxford.

Baron, Naomi S., Calixte, R.M., & Havewala, M. 2017. “The persistence of print among university students: An exploratory study.” Telematics & Informatics, 34, 590-604.

Best, Stephen and Sharon Marcus. 2009. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations, 108 (1): 1-21.

Birkets, Sven. 1994. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. New York: Faber and Faber.

Drucker, Johanna. “From Boundaries to Protocols: The Current Condition(s) of the Book.” Birmingham, U.K. 15 November 2013. Keynote Address.

Hayles, Katherine N. 2007b. “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes.” Profession, 187-199.

Hayles. 2012a. “How We Read: Close, Hyper and Machine.” How We Think. Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, 55 – 83. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.

Lessing, Dorris. The Golden Notebook Project. <> (accessed 30 July 2015)

Moretti, Franco. 2005. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London: Verso.

Moretti, Franco. 2013. Distant Reading. London: Verso.

Nielsen, J. May 6, 2008. How little do users read? Fremont, CA: Nielsen Norman Group. <> 

Stein, Bob. A Taxonomy of Social Reading: A Proposal. The Institute for the Future of the Book. <> (accessed 13 October 2015).

Sosnoski, James J. 1999. Hyper-Readers and Their Reading-Engines. In Hawisher, Gail E. and Cynthia L. Selfe (eds.). Passions, Politics, and 21st Century Technologies. 161–77. Logan, Utaha/Urbana, Illinois: Utah State University Press-NCTE.

Tenopir, C., King, D.W., Edwards, S., & Wu, L. (2009). “Electronic journals and changes in scholarly article seeking and reading patterns.” Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspective, 61(1), 5-32.