Print Is Dead? Not on Tumblr
There’s been talk that the lit world is in crisis. That, as a society, we’re reading less, texting more, without the patience to pick up — let alone stick with — a good book. But oh, that’s all wrong: Reading is alive and well. In fact it’s flourishing, at least if you ask Benjamin Samuel, co-editor of Recommended Reading, the Tumblr lit magazine from the folks at Electric Literature. Each week, Samuel and his team bring the crème de la crème of today’s best fiction to a computer screen near you — via previously unpublished short stories as chosen by popular authors and editors. We asked Samuel what it means to read and write in the digital age.
How is new technology affecting the literary world?
Technology has certainly had a massive influence on the way readers engage with literature, but I’m not sure recent developments have changed literature itself. You can look at the rise of self-publishing, but, again, I’m not sure that’s a change in literature as much as it is a change in publishing. The real change brought on by technology is the way we can now discover and read literature.
"What the ebook vs. print debate highlights is the fetishization of the physical in favor of the digital. What it misses – what is almost always missed in debates of that kind – is that the reality of the situation isn’t necessarily zero-sum in nature. The argument is not exclusively for one or the other. Publishing and reading are not and probably will not be be all digital or all physical; they’re far more likely to continue to be an augmented blend of the two, and a more useful approach would be “what will the nature of this augmentation be and what difference does it make?” rather than “EBOOKS BAD/PRINT OLD”."
"Probably the biggest change is going to come from the changed definition of what we’re reading. More and more, texts will evolve the way Wikipedia entries evolve; the idea of a finished text, where all the words have been locked down, will start to seem a little less orthodox—something you’d expect from a novel, but not from a magazine article, say. And that open-endedness will likely mean that the reader is capable of participating, adding links, commenting, suggesting new avenues for exploration, fact-checking. So we’ll have to read in an even more focused way, I suspect, knowing that we can have a say in where the text eventually goes. So there you go: ebooks and digital text are keeping us from skimming *and* forcing us to engage with the text more directly. Who would have thought it?"
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