Audiences have always interacted with text, whether it is hand-written marginalia as Plate describes itor online comments and annotations as Watters describes it. Some people have no problem annotating and commenting online, but despise it when others write in physical books. Other people hate online comments sections, but enjoy making notes in the margins of their books. Everyone has their own opinions and, ultimately, you cannot please everybody.
Personally, I took notes in the margins of my school textbooks all the time, but I couldn’t bring myself to do the same in the books I read for pleasure. Reading comments sections on most websites makes me sad because most often comments tend to be negative and fights break out; however, I do comment on specific websites and forums frequently—places I know are more professional and people are less likely to cause petty fights. I suppose I’m a happy middle in between the two people described in the last paragraph.
I had never thought of marginalia and comments being a problem—if you don’t like the comments section, stay away from it, and if you don’t like people writing in books, make that clear when you lend a book to someone. Stay in your happy bubble and everything will be okay. However, that is thinking about it purely from a reader’s point of view—what about the author?
I definitely think it is up to the reader whether or not they want to interact with the text, however they may choose to do so. I had never thought about it from the author’s point of view, and what if they don’t want people interacting with their text in that way? Watters makes an interesting point in her blog post “Un-Annotated” about not wanting comments, annotations, marginalia, or anything like that on her websites. I understand her point about not wanting to “wade through threats of sexualized violence in order to host conversations on [her] ideas,” but I’m not sure I understand why she went from allowing comments to not allowing any—surely there’s a middle ground we can work with here.
I’ve always been told that having people comment on your blog post (and social media, for what that’s worth) is a good thing. It allows your audience to connect with you in a way that they normally can’t in person, and this can drastically improve the way your audience sees you if you’re responding to and engaging with them. However, as stated above, I hate most comments sections because of exactly what Watters is describing. In an ideal world, we would have control over that. Perhaps a step between allowing commenting and disabling it altogether would be to install a plugin that filters out comments that have certain words or combinations of letters that could indicate a negative comment (negative here meaning hurtful, not “I don’t agree with you” because those comments are valuable). Many websites aimed at kids already do this (Neopetsand Runescape, for example). Obviously comments can still sneak through, but filters can be improved and it will reduce the number of negative comments being posted. I think something like this is at least worth a shot before completing removing the ability for readers to comment altogether—give them the chance to continue the conversation.