The Art of Writing No. 50

I suspect that writing is changing and I don’t mean the usual changes that occur over time such as the treatment of taboo subjects or social observation or Joycean playfulness with words. The coming generations will not be wedded to the printed word or screen-based text in quite the way I was for most of my life. Their world is technologically different, they carry communication to the entire world in their pockets, they are receivers of visual stimuli constantly, they are interactive.
I remember running a research project many years ago (the book of the project is advertised on which was one of the earliest forays into the experience of children with video games and computers. Already there was the generational rift between the child and the luddite parent which these days is exacerbated by computer-based social media like Facebook and Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Friends Reunited. At the bottom end of the generational ladder users’ speed at managing the world of apps, fast tracks them beyond the ossifying brains of their elders. Now I am not up to date with any of it but I would still surmise that the plastic brain we all have (more amenable to learning the younger we are) is forming new ways of seeing and interpreting the world, influenced and even conditioned by these new technologies. Questions we dealt with on the British Board of Film Classification’s Children’s Advisory panel are even more relevant. Are people more likely to commit anti-social acts if they play video games constantly? Are the young finding it more difficult to distinguish the virtual from the real? Has everything got to be sound-byte size? What technology will be in our pockets or chip implanted brains in ten years?
For a long time a rattling good tale will still carry sway over readers BUT getting them to the book in the first place is the question. Even an e-book. Somehow we may need to be more innovative in our very presentation, syntax and lexicons to draw them in and appease their critical disinterest in the word. We may have to package how we write as well as what we write to fit the smart phone user. Some time ago Umberto Ecco made the point that people read in paragraphs now, hardly bothering to step heavily from sentence to sentence. Long books (Alas poor Azimuth!) may be too far off the radar of the young. They may need to be presented like a Dickens novel, in serial byte form though, I believe, various attempts to do this have met with mixed success. As writers we are in competition with so many media, vying for windows in the technological time of our customers.
Whilst I, as a novelist, try to be innovative, I can no longer stay at the bow wave of innovation (if I ever could!). All I can do is write more visually, borrow tricks from mould-breaking films and seek plotlines to illuminate the existential dilemmas that face oncoming generations as they grapple with human identity in a universe which conflates flesh and blood with pixilated other realities.

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