Our lives are handily and portably stored, available at a touch. On phones, kindles, tablets. Friends, family, contacts. A digital diary of what we did, of what we're going to do. Photos, films - all of it in hi-res, hi-def. We carry this with us, pretty much anywhere, all of the time. It is as if we can't truly experience life and the world around us, unless we do so vicariously via our digital daemon. Included within this rich source of information, are books.
Books are no longer exclusively tactile entities, to be picked up and handled. They are blended in as part of the digital wallpaper. A book is not chosen from a shelf of other books. A book is selected from a screen that contains a stultifying array of social media, and quite literally anything on the world-wide web, available at the press of a finger.
Books are no longer exclusively tactile entities, to be picked up and handled. They are blended in as part of the digital wallpaper
Those at the forefront of this new reading experience are children. Though, of course, this is entirely natural to them, is all they've ever known. The argument goes that surely it is better for children to read something, anything, than nothing at all. And indeed, 'better' for the wider population. Yet if the only way people will read is via a digital device, is this a sign that the true reading experience has gone down the toilet?
I can't help feeling that to be an author in this noisy world, is utterly different to how it was even five years ago. It is impossible not to be thinking about how your words will compete on the digital shelf, and this feels somewhat incongruous to the art of writing itself. Potential readers have so much else to attract and dilute their attention.
Are writers having to shout louder, talk differently, to be heard?
Paul Mason wrote recently in the Guardian about how ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write:
I remember reading novels because the life within them was more exciting, the characters more attractive, the freedom more exhilarating than anything in the reality around me, which seemed stultifying, parochial and enclosed.
To a kid reading Pynchon on a Galaxy 6 this summer, it has to compete with Snapchat and Tinder, plus movies, games and music. Sure, that kid can no longer see what other people are reading on the beach – whether its Proust or 50 Shades – but they can see in great detail what people in their social network are recommending. Life itself has become more immersive. That's what writers are really up against.
Jennifer Maloney writes in the Wall Street Journal about the rise of phone reading, to the extent that publishers are now having to think about how a book will be read on a smaller screen:
The rise of phone reading is pushing publishers to rethink the way books are designed, marketed and sold with smaller screens in mind. It's also prompting concern about whether deep, concentrated thinking is possible amid the ringing, buzzing and alerts that come with phones.
To engage readers, publishers are now experimenting with ways to make the mobile-reading experience better. They are designing book jackets with smartphone screens in mind. (Handwritten scripts or small fonts may not be legible.) They are customizing their marketing materials—email blasts, Facebook posts and websites—to be read on phones. And some are trying to catch people on the go, offering free access to e-books in airports, hotels and trains.
As a writer, I am slightly uneasy as to how it's possible to be heard amongst all the noise.
Don't forget to check out last week's digital morsels on W&P:
Monday's Inspirational piece by K M Lockwood
Tuesday's eclectic collection from SCBWI blog-writers, foraged by Nick
Wednesday's onomatopoeic proof-reading tips from Catriona
Friday's Illustration Feature from Alex Wilson, talking about his experience illustrating for Storytime magazine
Saturday's celebration of Claire Barker's publishing success
Nancy Saunders is the Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders