What does emerging technology mean for writing and reading literature?
I sat in a bar a while ago talking with an old friend over a cold beer. As an engineer, his viewpoint on the various topics we talked about was rather different to my own. Whilst discussing widely publicised environmental issues his response was always that ‘technology would find the answer’. My standpoint was rather less definitive on the subject. Yes, I agreed, technology could play a key role, but it’s down to our choices – individually and collectively – to make any change a significant and lasting one.
My, perhaps tenuous point, here is that we’re at a real tipping point with technology in relation to how we consume literature and media in general. Technology revolutionises, it refines, it redraws traditional lines of consumption, disrupts our historical patterns of behaviour, it finds a way of improving the situation in whatever aspect of our lives that it touches, but only if we embrace it.
We can see so many recent examples of how Internet and communications technology has fundamentally altered how and when we interact with our friends (real and virtual), connect to the world, find and listen to music, and we’re beginning to see this rebirth happen with how we discover, purchase, and consume literature in every genre.
With the proliferation of devices capable of viewing and downloading content wherever we are – such as smart-phones, tablets, and dedicated eReader platforms – the wind very much appears in the sails for a generational change in how we buy and consume books, how we experience literature in general. This is now reaching a point of market integration when it can no longer be considered in its infancy. The people are speaking and it’s now time to embrace the change.
Alas, I have to admit that I will miss the touch, smell, and sense of paper and print. My personal opinion is that there will always be a place for it, and writers may always want to see their hard work in a physical form. However, progress happens for a reason. Usually, this is to provide an improved, refined, simpler or richer experience for the people accessing the content.
So, what does the future look like?
I wouldn’t perhaps feel qualified at this stage to foresee what the endgame looks like for publishing, as the shift is still only just beginning to take hold. However, there is little doubt that it will have to adapt and revolutionise into something that we can’t quite predict just yet. Whilst this change is undoubtedly underway, it is still currently ether wafting around the world wide web, a twinkle in the eye of ours and upcoming generations, with only whispers about what the future may bring.
I read an interesting article recently about Digital Natives – those who have grown up never knowing a world without the Internet – and their expectation about what they can do online. The way they look at the world, through real and virtual goggles, the way that they want to communicate and consume media of all kinds is fundamentally different as a result of technology. Whilst those of us who still remember Dial-up tones are perhaps grappling with this, the Digital Natives will expect to have flexible, interactive experiences using the Internet; and this certainly will not be any different for how they will want to consume their literature.
What excites me about what could happen next is perhaps more important right now. Writers and readers at this point in history, this particular moment in time, have an opportunity unlike any other generation of people in love with the written word since humanity began the mass printing of books all those hundreds of years ago.
As writers and readers we – through our actions, our purchasing decisions, the places and devices we use to consume books, our words both traditionally published and indie published (electronic and printed), through our blogs and myriad social media interactions with people around the globe – truly have an opportunity to make the whole process of what becomes a successful story or novel more democratic, more personal, more social. People Power in its most positive form. I can see a rise in niche literature – work that wouldn’t be considered commercial by publishers – that will sell thousands rather than millions but still have something very worthwhile to say, and will inevitably, through technology, find an enthusiastic audience to enjoy it out there in the world.
I’m not an industry insider, I’m not versed in the old ways of doing things, and I’m not predicting anything in particular here that isn‘t starting to happen already. What I am, however, is in my late twenties, a voracious reader, an unpublished writer and a keen technophile. I know what I want from my literature, I know how easily I want to access exciting new ideas and stories, how wide and varied a choice I also would like. I also know that I would like a more interactive way of finding new writers and stories to entertain and inspire me.
One thing plays at the back of my mind when thinking about this topic. It is that I sincerely hope it will be a democratic – rather than autocratic – change. It’s really down to all of us to enable this to happen.
I’ve clearly bought front row tickets for the revolution, I guess what happens next is down to everyone who has yet to decide, and the next generation of book lovers. Whilst you’re thinking about it have a look at our new website, it would be great to see you there.
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