Sunday, January 20, 2013

Are we moving away from the Enlightenment/Age of Literacy?

Now, don't get all hopped up by the title of my post. I'm just musing today on whether we are seeing a general shift away from the dominance of text to the dominance of other forms, such as video, pictures with captions, or hypertext.

The other day someone was talking about the new social media venue Pinterest. She was wondering what it's all about. Several people spoke up (okay, they were typing, but you know what I mean) to say that it was fun and interesting. I spoke up to question whether this is a trend away from long, analytical statements (using primarily text with illustrations as a helper) and back towards pictures and images alone as a way to communicate.

After all, haven't the last couple of generations grown up on video? On MTV and quick cuts and Short Attention Span Theater? Hasn't Twitter become a Must-Have (120 characters, as opposed to a page-long blog post)? Aren't we seeing lots of one-panel cartoons on Facebook instead of updates about people's personal lives?

I wonder. Perhaps with the move away from print books to e-readers and online texts, the form of *story* is changing. (Maybe even the very nature of story.) I don't believe that the human need for story (to explain the world and predict what people should and will do in various situations) will ever go away, but the FORM of story has shifted before. In fact, THE ILIAD/ODYSSEY and GILGAMESH were epic poems through the oral tradition. The oral tradition ended with the arrival of writing and later Gutenberg's printing press, and the print tradition became dominant. Are we in for another shift? A shift towards video and hypertext and e-texts with plenty of illustrations? Will we regress to a world of pictograms and one-liners?

I hope not, as the novel is one of my favorite forms of communication. We the authors of Oak Tree Press love novels, and OTP publishes a heck of a lot of good ones (you should try out some of our sample chapters on the Kindle today!) I fervently pray that the novel continues in SOME form or another.

What do you think? Do you see a shift coming? Has the ship already sailed? Am I, like the unicorns, doomed to be standing on the white cliffs staring at the sea saying, "Was that today?"

Or do you believe there's still room for all types and forms of STORY?


Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

Like yourself, I do hope that the demise of the paper novel is not in our future, though I fear that may be the case. Personally, I hesitated to buy my Kindle because I love paper books so much, but then I have grown to love it. However, when I want to keep a book or share it with someone, the paper versions become my favorites again. I fear that our age of electronic imaging is getting far afield and hope that we are able to preserve some of the more traditional ways of sharing novels.

Jackie Taylor Zortman
Author of "We Are Different Now"
Coming in 2013

Shalanna said...

Jackie--thanks for commenting! I do like my Kindle, as it is a library that I can carry with me to waiting rooms, boring meetings, and so forth, BUT I also find that my eyes get tired faster and not all the books/texts I would like to carry are available (or they're as expensive as print editions and I balk). I have a few visual infirmities, so that probably contributes. Still, if I love a book, like you, I have the print edition *and* probably a loaner copy. (Books tend not to come back!)

We are progressives in that we as a country/society tend to embrace whatever's the latest thing, but perhaps we toss aside the tried-and-true too soon. There's definitely a place for digital texts, but there is also a place for the old ways. Perhaps a story can be told in pictures, but it could be better told (more deeply) in prose. I don't want the world to throw away its rich literary goldmine. I hate to see people who brag that they don't read, but can tell you everything that has happened on "American Loser" or "Gory Medical Tales" over the past year. I think they are cheating themselves and making society poorer.

We'll be watching for your book! What's it about (if it's fiction)?

Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

We are exactly on the same wave length about our love of books. I used to own a bookstore and was surrounded by them all day and people would drag their kids who were screaming and crying because they wanted a book out of the store saying, "We'll buy a tee-shirt instead." I used to tell them that you cannot have too many books or too much good music.

My book is about losing my 21-year-old grandson, Pete, when he fell from a mountain ledge (we live in Colorado) to his death 100 feet below one dark night celebrating July 4th. He died in the wee hours of his mother's birthday on July 5th. I start with his death and go through the two years afterwards about all of the amazing people and events that have happened to his mother, my daughter, and the rest of us. Of course, it isn't fiction and I'm convinced that this is what Pete would have wanted me to do.


Shalanna said...

Jackie--What a horrifying experience to live through. I'm sure that as you wrote about it all, you re-lived it, but for the positive purpose of sharing the experience with others. I'm sure that Pete is looking down from Heaven and smiling, knowing that others who have suffered similar losses will grow and take comfort from your story. It sounds as if great things came out of this. So often, great things come out of great loss. I don't know why God allows this to happen, except that good things come out of apparent senseless tragedies . . . which, I guess, is the whole point.

We'll remain on the front lines of defense for print. They'll get our books when . . . well, NEVER. I'll be a Crazy Cat Lady and Crazy Book Broad. Bookshelves and windowsills covered with books and cats! LOL

Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

It has come to my attention that when I mention the word "death" in reference to my book, it rattles folks. Therefore, I'm going to have to come up with some clever way to verbally present what my book is about when speaking to others. This happened to me in person yesterday and the guy to whom I was speaking just looked mortified. This person knew my grandson and is also a cop. My husband was his chief for 22 years.

Hopefully, good books will never totally disappear from our world. As you said, we authors must work diligently to preserve what we love and have worked so hard and long creating. Only recently have I thought that the progression of digital world might just be getting a bit too far afield in some venues, as we watch one tradition after another fall to it and disappear. Yes, let's become crusaders for the preservation of the printed word, but allow e-books to ride alongside, as well. Can we call that a good compromise?

I love your monikers of Crazy Cat Lady (me, too) and Crazy Book Broad (also me). That line gave me the first and biggest smile of the morning...always a great way to begin one's day.

Shalanna said...

Jackie--perhaps people are in denial about our mortality and the possibility that "bad things" could happen to others they know. I wonder if I can come up with something you could say instead. "My grandson's passing" would probably still rattle them. Let me cogitate about this.

You write: "We watch one tradition after another fall"--YES! I think our society is too eager to discard what has worked in the past and go heedlessly into whatever "progress" says is the replacement. Before we throw something under the bus, we ought to be sure that's really a smart move.

We're getting buried under the new posts. Join me over on my blog at or at (my more informal personal blog) so we can continue to talk, if you'd like!

~Crazy Cat Lady In-Training

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Although we may be concerned that printed books are on the out and will be overshadowed by the electronic age, I am reminded that oral history is still very much alive. I belong to the National Storytelling Network, and they are an active bunch. Beryl