Monday, 12 October 2009

Read 'em their Writes - or how the new literature media only saves time by depriving us of the richness of our senses

I've got a techie mate who swears by podcasts. Assimilating his techie product journals while in his car makes perfect time management sense, seeing as he has an autistic child and twin daughters making inordinate demands on his attention back home. But he tells me he also exclusively consumes his beloved SciFi literature in this manner as well. It may well suit to pick out and memorise the key techie items in order to research them further online once out of his car, but the potential narrative fracturing of his SciFi by events outside his windscreen worries me. (Any meta time travel storyline not withstanding).

(His potential thoughts in bold) "The polyp-like craft exuded colours that shredded the known spectrum as it regally lowered itself towards the ground-" Oh blast, there's a sign saying 'parking bay suspended'.

"Okay guys, jet-packs on, we've a civilisation to save from extinction at the hands of-'Would you believe it, that speed camera just flashed me?'

"For all her seaweed-like recrudescences, he could still see the inner beauty radiating out. He was drawn to her like a Geiger counter to polonium 210-" Did that guy just give me the finger? Cut you up? I'll bloody show you cutting somebody up pal! (okay my mate probably wouldn't say this in real life as he is mild mannered and, well a techie).

Now shift our enclosed vista to a train or bus. You are reading a book, a pleasant and maybe stimulating way to pass the bromide of a commute in to work. Your attention wavers periodically. Maybe an aesthetically pleasing person sits down in the seat opposite you, or they have a musk that hooks your nostrils and forces you to look up from the printed page. Maybe on spotting somebody else engaged in reading, you idly crane your neck to see the title of their book to compare and contrast. Perhaps you are fully ensconced in your book, when a snatch of conversation from the passenger next to you spookily echoes the very words your eyes were scanning on the page... All minor events that distract you from the text, but you have the ability to revisit the words and give them your full concentration.

Of course you can equally press rewind on a podcast or scroll back in an e-book. But if you've clotted your ears with headphones, you are less likely to overhear the synchronicity from next to you. You may spot the other reader on the train, but how are you going to laser your comparative 'I've got Stephen Fry voicing Jeeves on my i-Pod', or 'I've got Sartre's "Being And Nothingness" downloaded to my phone' to your erstwhile compatriot in reading? Your nose may well still get hooked, but earphones in place, or poring over your IPhone, are unlikely to secure you eye contact from the Looker in the seat opposite since that's what every other punter on the train is likely to be doing.

These technologies, designed for convenience, for immediacy, actually end up serving the same function as the free newspapers given out to commuters. They wall us off from our fellow travellers. They lock us into our own senses, involve us with our own minds, but without the possibility of someone from outside breaking through to make contact with us, however cursory. It was actually David Blunkett who predicted a version of this back in the mid-1980s, when he highlighted how all these home entertainment centres (remember those?) of video, hi-fi stacks and computer (and now games console and Internet) were likely to reduce us more and more into barricading ourselves into our Englishmen's castles and entertain ourselves, rather than interact in social milieus. A modern day Tiresias, shame he failed to demonstrate such analytical perspicacity when casting sightless eyes over our culture on ascending to power. Commuters will not be satisfied until they have a data stream blocking up every one of their sense outlets (including smells, so bye bye musks and bouquets hooking you). Then they will truly be inviolable.

These devices are sold as time-saving. What they also skimp on is the quality of processing our brains do with the function formerly known as reading. The rush to put visual content into literature, vooks and the like, means people are now being asked to use whole different interpretive languages in order to 'read' literature. Picture the scene, sat at your laptop imbibing a book online. Because you lack the weft and weight of a tome in your hand, well then the devil can make work for those unemployed fingers. I bet you're reading, or should I say skimming, while you've got your e-mail/Twitter alerts pinging and dragging you to heed their siren calls. You've probably got some i-Tunes burbling away in the background. Someone's just tipped you off to an exclusive pop video on YouTube or some hilarious stunt gone wrong that you just gotta check out. Computers faciliate us multi-tasking. The antithesis of the demands made by reading a book. Can you lose yourself in a good file share?

My next post will attempt to go even further into these issues. I want to consider the evolutionary implications of our rush for more rapid assimilation of data and input. I just need to film a video and upload it, hopefully this week. It will present visual treatment of two extended (literary) metaphors and since I will also post the script for the video, you'll have the opportunity to decide which medium, video or written word, delivers the material with greatest impact and clarity.

Till then, lean over and ask the Looker what their scent is. Lean over and tell the other reader on the carriage that you loved that book, have they read ... Lean over and show the person next to you that their selfsame words have magically coalesced within not only your mind, but that of the writer who set them down in their book in the first instance...


Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Oh but don't you just have to pinch yourself to avoid saying that maybe if the dear departed Blunkers had spent more time barricading himself away in his home entertainment system and less time letting his senses out on the prowl, things might have been so different...

Sulci Collective said...

When hew was head of Sheffield Council and charging people just 2p to travel by bus, he came to the Uni Left group to speak and was very insightful. Can only assume it is both the frustrations and then idle corruptions of power that did for his 'vision'

jenn to the t said...

Are you seriously asking me to choose which art-medium is more compelling? Dude, that's like asking me to choose whether I like The Clash live or on recording.

I respect the experiment. But do it to prove a point that art is effective delivered via multiple platforms. And with the technology and creativity available today, all the better. If you could deliver The Clash to me intravenously, I'd take that, too.


Sulci Collective said...

No, more a gentle plea to preserve the cultural value of literacy which potentially is under threat from the new technologies and der yute's propensities for faster data streams... Us novelists may be turkeys voting for Christmas on this one.

I'd like to oblige re the Clash, but Joe Strummer RIP.

Virtual friend of mine has written intriguing story based on just 2 lines from "Man In Hammersmith Palais"