What effect, if any, will the increase in electronic reading (as opposed to reading done by the flipping of pages in a book) have on the way we experience (or produce) literature?
Writers will have to work much harder to maintain a reader's interest. With physical books, boredom has to be greater than the effort to close a book, stand up, and walk over to pick up another selection before a reader will switch to something else. But with e-readers and the like, all you have to do is hit the "home" key and there's a whole library ready to load on command.
It's funny that you mention "produce" because I was manually coding the Kindle version of Mel's chapbook when this topic popped. Did you mean produce as in write, or produce as in make available in a publicly digestible form?
What JSG said.
Go team technology!
what i'm finding is a strong writing community through indie lit mags, and sites like Fictionaut and Zoetrope Virtual Studio. The access to people, to writers, to mentors and colleagues and to readers... is phenomenal, and in this way, electronic reading (and writing) offers a new landscape for the writer and publisher - a less isolated landscape, more support and community, which means, more great work/experimentation than we've ever seen.
This may not have answered the question!
Electronic reading will lead to new innovations in writing both in terms of content and delivery. Technology has made it possible for writers to do things that simply cannot be accomplished in the print medium. For me it isn't an either/or situation. The printed page and electronic publishing are, to my mind, two beautiful sides to the same coin, each with unique features.
i like what roxane says, and the wisdom of not slipping into an either/or on this question--
for me it is about smell.
when electronic reading devices give off the smell of the library of congress, or years of shelf life at the new york public library, and lay prettily on those wonderful desks under the half lamp light, or somehow trigger the memory of gabrielle in yellow springs, who refused my offer to lend her one of my books, explaining that she could never give back a book once it had been in her hands and she had read it, yet she had no money to buy books, so i let the book pass finally into her greedy hands--then the old boring binary opposition game ends and we ener the new realm, the book an electronic portal of desire.
Great impact on the world - a bit on me. Even though - these days in particular - I'm most associated with & found in the electronic world - nothing will ever replace for me the book, the page in hand. That's too deep in my being.
Great point about smell. Old people smell ;)
There were probably folks nostalgic about the smell of horses, as there will be for the smell of gas.
I think the bigger issue is weight. A good anthology is too heavy and I'm no weakling.
As I look around I see a lot of young people carrying phones everywhere, and always reading from them. When I saw a student with a paperback book in class recently it was such an odd sight I had to do a double-take. Vanderbilt U has this very nice old library full of books but no students - they are all across the street, reading from their laptops in the Starbucks.
In the words of John Lee Hooker, "The old coots die off...it's gonna be a beautiful world."
I started reading from my iPhone and I love it. I love the portability and the fact that I can browse the web on the same device. The reading experience is good, it's immersive, and there are too many advantages. I can read at night, I don't get screen fatigue, I'm not chained to a desktop. It fits in my hand, just like a book, and it will make books cheaper and more accessible, maybe even free.
Amazon was first to enter the game, but their device is pricey and dedicated. Steve Jobs - you know the guy who gave us iTunes - is going to change all this. EPUB, free and open source, is going to change all this.
But we're writers, we'll be writing mostly the same kinds of books. With plot, character, setting. And I don't buy that the works will get shorter. Yes, when you are chained to the desktop your reading span may be shorter, but when liberated by the handheld device without screen fatigue, and the electronic bookmark, stories can be long again.
A little harsh on the old coots there, John - "old people smell " - Of course, the young never do. But.... I agree with your point, absolutely. Yes. Technology has forced literature, both its consumption & its production, into a new realm. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. History will let us - we'll be them by that time though - will let us know if it's a better literary world or no.
The portal device, I'm certain, is the now. In the meantime - to quote Tommy Lee Jones from MIB - "I'm going to have to buy the White album again"
By the way - I'm with you John. I just don't do the wink or the smiley face either.
As a composer of hypertext narrative, I'm excited about the possibilities of electronic publishing and the opportunities it opens up for writers and readers alike.
As with all newfangled ideas, some folks will still ride horses and most will be glad there are both horses and cars for when the mood strikes.
I believe that online availability of literature and e-lit such as Kindle, Sony Reader, iPods, B&N's new one, etc. as well as netbooks and laptops are all to the good. I would say it is an additional--not a replacement--form of reading.
For me personally, I'm glad that we don't have to depend upon the CD or software any longer to read hypertext stories and novels; that it's easily placed online by the writer via simple to use software writing programs such as Storyspace or Tinderbox or Twine. I applaud the opening up of the reading experience to include the visual (hey, William Blake included illuminations) and the audio and feel we're about to pull open doors, not close them behind us.
I find that I am reading so much more online that I wish I had a Kindle or a Nook or whatever Mac reader that is going to come out (soon, I've read).
What do folks think of the new Kindle TV commercial? Is there a male version of it?
RE writing: I'm not sure if electronic reading has impact what I write, yet. It has impacted how I take a piece to the market. But not what I choose to write with my limited time.
I still prefer the printed page to the computer screen. I find words on a page are more conducive to creating the "waking dream" envisaged by Gardner. I think the Internet lends itself better to funny, quirky short shorts, things you can digest quickly, of the like published by McSweeney's, Nanoism and, of course, Matchbook =)
I find that I do tend to read mostly short things (but lots of them) on the screen. I think for me it has less to do with the usual paper-is-better/screen-makes-my-eyes-bleed type reasons and more to do with competition.
If it was about the screen, I wouldn't spend so much time in front of it. Often when I read on the computer (and I imagine this is true for many people), I'm supposed to be doing <em>something else</em>. I can take on 10 different 6 minute distractions quite easily, but I can't reconcile a decision to spend a great deal more time on a single thing—I'm being naughty and know I should try to refrain. My limited resource (time) and the things competing for it determine what I read.
The ebook/ereader thing is a whole different can of worms than electronic/computer reading. To me, that's more of a convenience/nostalgia/price decision and has yet to really change the game in terms of content. I see possibilities for experimentation, but I doubt tweaking the ebook format will ever be the next big thing.
Geez-Louise, John. Though I kind-of-mostly agree with you, I'm scooting away from you a little bit. Just a little bit. (If you had come with me to Leonard Cohen last week, you might have come away thinking that old people are freaking awesome. Divine. Gorgeous. Sensual. But definitely not smelly.)
I used to be a bit of a ludite, but MAN I love my iPhone--what it can do. I'm starting to read on it, yes, but a book--a *real* book--is as divine as Leonard Cohen. I do a little iPhone reading--almost always short stories or news articles--and then I do a little book reading. For the feel, the smell, the yumminess. I'm not sure I could ever give up books. Yes, my library makes movers nervous, and I don't like carrying books on my shoulders, which are already plenty fatigued from a giant toddler. But they are--can I say this?--real. Real in the way that cash money is real. It's something you can carry around with you like a security blanket.
My iPhone could run out of battery power, betraying me. It could run out of space. It could just decide to crap the bed altogether. Not a book.
And as Gary beautifully pointed out, books have memories attached to them. Dr. Winters calling me into his Vanderbilt office and handing me Aeschylus. Dr. Hibbard signing a beautiful message to me in his Arabic volume of short stories. Cracking open my first-edition Ulysses for NPR.
My experience of literature must be sensual to be entirely satisfying. Books make my senses flicker. Electronic literature is good in a pinch (e.g.--getting to at least read *something* while getting an oil change), and it's definitely the future, but it's not the whole package. It's gourmet versus fast food: they each serve different purposes and are suited to different circumstances.
Great comments all around. I keep thinking that a Kindle or Nook or whatever would be great for traveling light (or living light)--for a sort of basic library that doesn't weigh hundreds of pounds (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.) and doesn't require being connected to the Internet all the time. Or load a dozen novels or whatever up before getting on the cruise ship. I don't have any of them, but ponder them. I love books--I love holding books, looking at the artistry in the way they are made and so forth--but I don't like having them pile up around me because I try not to have too many things that I have to care for.
Cooper is right on that. If I had a job that required travel (or just travel frequently enough to need more than one book around), an ereader would be my best friend.
I love books, love holding them, but a mass market paperback doesn't mean so much to me that I would forgo electronic reading. What would be neat is if when you bought a physical book, you automagically also got the ebook. I'd probably pay an extra dollar on top of the price to have access in both formats.
The Brooklyn-based writer, Jim Hanas, recently wrote an interesting blog post questioning why e-books tend to be marketed as though they had the same physical presence as print books...
"Do E-Books Dream of Rectangular Cover Art?"
Great comments and great link, Edward. Meg pointed out the access to literary communities, which I am so grateful for. And, I'm with Ben in terms of what I read. I read more, but it tends to be shorter. I think that would change if I had an iPhone or Kindle. I wonder about archiving digital culture, dead & missing links and so on. What gets saved and how.
I have a Kindle and I love it. It makes traveling much easier. I like to travel with several books and now I can take any number of books with me. I love the annotation feature, for passages I find interesting. It is the perfect reading device for the gym. I set it on the tray on the treadmill and you can increase the font size so it is easy to read. For me, the Kindle also does a good job of imitating the act of reading. It only took me about five minutes to forget I was reading an electronic device.
I believe in the book as artifact (and I continue to buy physical books that aren't available on the Kindle or that demand to be held) but sometimes I think we are too attached to those artifacts. Most of the time, we're reading for the words. The package in which those words are delivered is mutable.
Of course, there are many issues that complicate the awesomeness of the Kindle. There are issues of accessibility both in terms of economics and physical limitations. Owning a Kindle is a huge privilege and if our society were to move to e-books entirely, a great many people would not have access to books. The very idea of E-books implies that only certain groups of people deserve to read. That's unacceptable. I also think the Kindle is largely functional only for able-bodied people. There is the voice feature and you can increase font size but if you don't have the use of your arms, how do you operate the device?
Electronic devices also break. My Kindle had a petite crise the other day wherein it just stopped working. I was very sad. Amazon sent me a new Kindle overnight but still...a book never just stops working.
Very interesting discussion, all around.
We're an online literary journal that publishes works of short, indeterminate prose and accompanying criticism. We feature one author every posting period (every two weeks). Every so often a question related to the form and function of fiction will be posted here for discussion.http://www.matchbooklitmag.com