Recent articles proclaim the death of the novel and the decline in our reading habits. Authors such as Philip Roth claim that generations who grew up watching TV and using computers cannot concentrate long enough to finish an entire novel. Some claim that with 24-hour news cycles, multiple channel culture and hyper-sensual attractions, we have all degenerated into computer-game addicts with bad grammar and short attention spans.
However, over the Christmas season the most popular items sold were electronic book readers, which some saw it as evidence that we still read. Do we, or are we just fascinated by new modes of technology?
To answer this question, it is interesting to find out what we are uploading into our Kindles or iPads. How has digitization changed literature?
I went on a journey filled with links, open tabs and wireless connections to discover the history of the future of fiction.
The Death of the Author Publisher
Some predicted that the advent of the Internet and hypertext would create a more interactive mode of writing, in which we can change story endings and plot lines. Supposedly this interactivity will make our reading experience more visual by adding animation to online stories or creating linked stories. But for the most part this kind of interactivity has not occurred. As readers we want to immerse ourselves in a story and to be guided by the author. Although reading is more active than watching TV, it maintains its charm by allowing us a certain degree of passivity.
The most radical change is taking place in the writing process itself. Since the aspiring writer is not held back by publishers, the writing-editing-publishing process is rapid, and the story does not have to be finished. The author is his own editor, for better or worse. This can create stories with a chapter-by-chapter format, which the author can update or delete at a click of a button. This proximity and immediacy do not necessarily result in better writing, as they can lead to an impulsive, sloppy, writing style. Also, with a plethora of stories being published every day, many will get lost in a sea of links, which defeats the notion of this techno-utopia.
English majors remember the frantic search for Cliffs Notes in order to understand James Joyce’s references. Now, Wikipedia has solved this problem; it stores information online. However, this process doesn’t work in reverse; since the internet is continually updated, it would be an impossible task to publish Wikipedia. Thus the Wikipedia style is leaking into the way we read. Imagine a novel in which you can click on the character name and get a sub story or biographical notes. This creates a fact heavy, multi-layered storytelling process, in which the reader can choose how much information he wants to discover. Are we on the cusp of the first multi-link novel?
Non-fiction is the new fiction
They say that truth is stranger than fiction: a cliché that reality television confirms (the contestants of Big Brother come to mind).Authors of non-fiction, such as Anthony Beevor, who wrote the best seller Stalingrad, or Malcolm Gladwell, who writes for the New Yorker, have developed a personal stylistic approach to academic writing, making their books more than simply generic academic texts. This new found popularity for non-fiction signifies our desire for “real stories”, exaggerated as they may be, and our curiosity about the globalized world in which we are living.
Despite these changes and speculations, stories will always have the same goal: to spark our imagination and tell us something new about the world we inhabit. They allow us to connect to one another on a universal level. With endless blogs, websites, and E-magazines accompanying traditional print, it seems that our thirst for this connection is only growing. With the help of fibre optics, it is becoming even faster.