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I think before I can tackle question 7, I need to propose my definition of literature; it exists on a sliding scale of interpretation. To me the word literature refers to books. The old-school practice of writing, or more commonly printing, words on paper of some kind for the enjoyment of those who enjoy both the physical, and mental pleasures of a well written work. There is nothing more satisfying than picking up a book, with the accompanying smell and tactile aspect of turning pages, and getting lost in the words. This brings up the first part of my answer, in regards to the ‘modernization’ of literature, that in the truest sense of the term, literature is on the decline. The world is becoming, no actually is almost completely mechanized. Computers replaced typewriters, and screens are replacing newspapers, with smartphones becoming the go to tool for access to information. Bookstores are closing by the handful, and handheld electronic devices are nearly everywhere.

Next time you’re on the bus, or walking down the street, or sitting in a restaurant, have a look around. The number of people zoned into these devices is startling. A large contributor to this phenomenon is social media, and the unprecedented access to information that it provides. It started, at least in the current sense, with Facebook. I know of older platforms, such as MySpace, but they never really had the widespread effect that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are having. This is also an interesting development in the ongoing struggle between literature and orality. In one sense, social media sites are based on words that are typed into one device, and read on another. This itself sounds a lot like literature, except that the hierarchy of the production of physical books is being completely superseded. Gone are the editors, the social filters, and the constraints that the outdated process of book publication supplied. It can be as easy as seeing some interesting articles on the internet, having an opinion, and voila publishing these thoughts and sharing them with the world. This often, as long as the work is interesting, then goes ‘viral’ and the exposure increases greatly. This is the crux of the age of information, but what effects is it having on society?

This electronic platform is blurring the lines between literature and orality. In a traditional sense, the art of conversation, and subsequently oral story telling is dying. On the other hand, it is being replaced by a new way of communication, the instant gratification that is supplied by social media posts. I would say that this is causing a real detriment to our ability to listen, and most notably our attention span. This on its own is having a great effect on our oral communication and listening skills. Like anything else, I believe there is a middle ground to be found, but where that is I don’t have an answer for.

The hyperlink is revolutionizing the ability to gain information, from multiple perspectives and sources, at lightning speed. It gives the reader instant access, at the moment that it is relevant, to jump between articles that allows for a potentially fuller understanding of the subject they are researching. From a strictly academic perspective, it saves time. Instead of completing the work, scanning the sources and attempting to seek them out access is provided instantly for the reader. This has saved me countless hours, and in many cases has improved the quality of my work through a richer pool of sources and opinions.

As a closing point, I think that technology is here to stay, but what the overall effect that will have on the oral capabilities of our society is yet to be decided.

8 Comments

  1. Hi Sean, thanks for the interesting read. I enjoyed going over your discussion on technology, mostly because my own opinion of it is so different. I’ve always thought of technology and digital media as having a positive relationship with literature. Just the idea that literature can be morphed into something “textual and aural and visual” (borrowed from lesson 1.2) feels like a positive shift in the relationship we have with stories.

    That sort of ties in to another point I wanted to bring up. It has to do with change. While I was getting to the end of your first paragraph and read that you say literature is on the decline, it reminded me of an article I read recently.

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/69896-canadian-print-book-sales-up-slightly-in-2015.html

    I remember being so shocked when I came across it – print sales are on the rise again! It’s something that I don’t think anyone really saw coming, but it speaks to that concept of change. It goes on to say that it’s mostly to do with the increasingly popular adult coloring books. According to Publisher’s weekly, art books saw an increase of 163% in it’s annual report on the Canadian book market. While I’m not trying to to say that coloring books are literature, I do think it speaks more so to evolution than decline.

  2. Hi Ashley, the statistic is interesting for sure. While the increase in print sales is initially uplifting, I must admit that the boost in adult colouring books is the reason a little disheartening. This by no means a judgement, as we all have passion and hobbies that are specific to each individual, but I am a reader and always will be. Please don’t misconstrue this response, as I certainly have bought in to the digital culture, but I feel the romantic in me is mourning the experience of reading a physical book. I also find it easier to focus on the work, specifically in light of the constant stimuli provided by electronic devices, when reading a book. That being said, technology is certainly a useful tool, and has completely evolved the practice of academia for the better.

  3. Hi Sean! Thanks for your insight.

    I enjoyed your thoughts on unmediated opinions/thoughts being published and becoming viral in, as you said, this “age of information.” I too wonder what effect this is having on society; my primary worry is that social media may allow unmediated information to go viral and gain authority too easily and too quickly. For example, a view that has been shared thousands of times on Facebook may gain authority in being something widely agreed upon. But my worry is that this contributes to a “hive mind” mentality… wherein people do not think individually or critically anymore. I think information that requires mediation is often filtered through levels of criticism, making it (maybe just seemingly?) more credible.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Victoria

    • Hi Victoria,

      I have seen the potential ramifications of unmediated access to information of varying degrees of credibility and otherwise. It is very easy to taylor the information you are seeking, and to achieve validation for your opinion, by specifying your search parameters. It is as if you almost need a university degree, or at least a reasonable period of post-secondary studies, to properly navigate the internet. I know this sounds elitist, but let me explain what I mean. One of the biggest skills I have learned at UBC is to be able to read multiple articles, from varying perspectives, and look for common threads to tie into a more diverse idea. It is very easy to lock into one idea or perspective, ignoring all others to the detriment of the ‘truth’. I think that this is even more dangerous in light of the increase, over the last 10 or so years, in open conflict between Eastern and Western ideologies. I believe the internet is a highly useful tool, but also has the potential to be a very effective, occasionally dangerous, propaganda machine. What makes it even trickier is the application of freedom of ‘speech’ rules being applied to it. Not only can you voice opinions you may not say in a face to face conversation, with the proper tools you can also do so nearly anonymously. I have seen one of the kindest hearted individuals nearly tank his career and reputation by locking into one of these biased, unmediated threads, and the particular train of logic he was following wasn’t even one he would normally buy-in to.

  4. Hi Sean,

    In your post you mention that, due to technology, the communication of stories orally is diminishing. I wonder if this is actually true when you consider digital platforms such as Youtube or Periscope where people are telling their stories orally but in a digital way. While it’s true technology has made it easier for us to spread our stories through text, I do not think this necessarily means there is no longer use for orally told stories, or that people have stopped telling their stories orally. I think they are simply being done in a different way now. What do you think?

    Cheers,
    Sylvia

    • Hi Sylvia,

      You bring up an interesting point, and I realize that I may have misrepresented my perspective. I do view online videos as stories, and their creators as story makers, in a sense, but much like ebooks are eliminating much of the tactile aspects of reading a book, online videos eliminate the ability for direct human interaction. It is a much fuller experience, in my opinion, to sit in a room with the story teller. There is room for interaction and dialogue, not to mention the activation of a larger group of senses. That being said, there is much benefit in the ability for story tellers to spread their works to larger audiences in a fast and efficient manner, but at what cost to the ‘art’ of story telling?

  5. Hi Sean!
    I enjoy reading your post and agree much on your point of the declination in literature. As you mentioned, social media is a lot similar to traditional literature though it neglected the production of physical books and the presence of publishers. However, I personally find physical books more fascinating and the quality of stories are more secured. I wonder what is your view on printed books and ebooks, and the role of publishers in this new age. Do you mind sharing your opinion on the future form of literature?

    Cheers,
    Christy

  6. Hi Christy,

    I will jump directly to answering your question. I am torn on the matter of ebook vs. traditional forms of literature. On one hand, as we both agree upon, the experience of reading a physical book is more complete, but from the other side, the practice of making books has a detrimental effect on the environment (deforestation etc.) I am completely torn here. As to the role of publishers, I think their jobs will remain relatively unchanged. It is true that one may now write and self-publish a book all on their own, but I believe there is still much benefit in the editing process of any composed work. The benefit to the final product, when edited by a neutral party, is extensive. A well edited work ascends from being an ‘interesting’ premise, to that of a spellbinding work of literature. In this way I think the role of publishers will likely decrease slightly, but the transformation from physical to digital will not spell the end of their profession.


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