10/3/2020 0 Comments
On writing and technology
I am having all my American literature students write blog posts, because although I like to write exams, I find out far more from the blog assignment about what my students are reading and thinking, more than I could ever have imagined from reading most of their exam answers. But, they tell me, no one has actually read a blog since 2010 – everyone now listens to podcasts, and scrolls through twitter and Instagram. We don’t have the attention for blogs, they said, though I would have thought a podcast took more attention than a blog (I am not very good at listening). I wonder whether it is really an audience shift, driven by a changing capacity for attention, or whether it is the writers (or presenters) who are directing the shift, by choosing to present their work on different platforms? It does feel as if our attention-capacity is changing, but what is changing it, if not our engagement with these different kinds of presentation? Is it really the change in available technology that is deciding how we communicate with each other? Does anyone write a diary anymore, for instance? For writers like Virginia Woolf – and later, Sarah Manguso – this was a daily necessity, a form of expression so compulsive that a day without writing in the diary felt for Woolf like “a tap left running,” with it being not the writing she imagined as a running tap but the day itself, as if writing somehow stemmed the flow of time. Could the diary really have become so important to so many writers just because paper was cheap, and ready-made exercise books were sold in stationery shops? And if writers began at some point, perhaps in the 1990s or 2000s, to stop writing diaries and start writing blogs, simply because of the availability of personal computers and the internet, how strange to think that a shift in technology could involve such a shift in audience, could really lead to the end of one kind of writing and its replacement with a completely different genre, with a completely different purpose, answering, surely, completely different needs, and maybe involving a different way even of imagining the self. Did the diary not so much answer a need for secret self-reflection, as create it? And then, if being able to publish blog-posts somehow replaced the need for secrecy with a need for an audience, what happened to the need for self-reflection and for memory-recording when the podcast took over from the blog as the genre audiences listen to, and Instagram took over as the platform people post on to? (And we haven’t even got our solar panels up and writing yet!) My own Instagramming still feels unfamiliar and strange to me, as I wonder who is going to look at these pictures, and why I am posting them out to people who aren’t here, and why I don’t send them to friends as part of an email correspondence, that would still be a conversation of sorts between two people. (But who would I email photos of squares to?) It isn’t just a shift in self-expression or even just a different form of communication, it creates a different and strange sort of relationship I think. But then, doesn’t also the novel, or the poem? There is hardly anything stranger than how well you can know a writer through a novel, or a collection of poems, and how diminished the relationship with them is in, for instance, the signing line at a book festival.
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These are paragraphs without essays or books to go in.