It has come to my attention that there is something called the "Internet" out there and, for some reason, people seem to think that it is somehow important. Well, I have been perusing the "Internet" thing over the past couple days and I have come to a few conclusions about the state of the Internet and its effects on literature and writing. Not one to leave a good chance at spilling out words unfulfilled, I will share my thoughts with my readers. Both of you. Yes, I am one of them.
Well, duh. If I didn't think this, I wouldn't be writing, now would I? This is, of course, the central point of my arguments and I have a few things to say about this.
Literature is being changed by the Internet simply because it is changing the way that people look at writing. Fiction does not do very well on the Internet for reasons that are hard to describe. Of course, the words are the same no matter what, but the context in which they are read is entirely changed.
Instead of curling up with a book, people sit down in front of a monitor and read a few pages of text on their screen. This inherently changes the reading and the reader from someone who is reading in a comfortable spot to someone who is staring at a bright screen until their eyes hurt. As well, they are usually sitting in a straight-back chair with arms on the side as their right shoulder gets sore from moving a mouse around. This has an effect on people and their reading.
People reading a website are impatient. They want their information in only a few mouse-clicks. They want to see a nice, big scrollbar over on the right side of the screen, because it lets them feel like they are getting somewhere. They do not want to go through page after page of text just to get through text that seems to go on forever. Longwinded people are not welcome on the Internet, which is why nobody will ever read anything I have to say. I write a lot and that does not bode well for me.
Thus, writing is considerably shortened by the Internet. Edgar Allen Poe's ideal of writing is now achievable. For those who don't know, Edgar said that any work should be readable in one sitting. Of course, one sitting is a pretty short span of time, so Edgar idealized short stories. This means that today's Internet is a place where Mr. Poe would be quite welcome. Except for one thing.
The Internet is also a place for nonfiction. The reasons for this are completely incomprehensible, but they are still there. People still turn to the Internet for information rather than stories. It is as though the original design of the Internet is still programmed into the thing. Nonfiction works a lot better than fiction because people want facts from their computers, not imagination. Unless, of course, they turn to computer games, but that is an essay for another time.
Having established a few tenets of the Internet and literature, let us look further into the phenomenon and examine other ways in which this information source is transforming the written word.
Since writing on the 'net is a mostly nonfiction realm, there should not be anything to separate one web page from another. After all, facts are facts, and there is nothing you can do about it. The only difference is the amount and depth of information available. Ha, ha! That's cute…
The fact is that writing is not the simple act of typing words. Yes, Stephen King may think so, but nobody pays much attention to him any more. Writing page after page of boring prose will not get you very far in the electronic world; you have to turn to Thomas Hardy for that sort of thing. Instead, electronic literature will be defined by two things: substance and style.
There is no replacement for substance. When a person writes, they'd darn well better have a lot of worthwhile things to say. It doesn't matter if it's funny or interesting or controversial or just famous. Yes, the latter doesn't make any real sense, but fame is a funny thing. It is more than willing to land somewhere it doesn't necessarily belong. However, let's not worry about that right now.
There must be substance in a website. Who cares what it is, it simply needs to be there. The more content the better and the better the content the better. Anybody can put up a website explaining that that there are stereo speakers for sale somewhere, but a good site will tell you all about a hundred or so different types of speakers and rate them. More content and better content makes the difference.
A good writer will actually be able to keep an audience's attention. This is key and it is the essence of style. Once again, I can type word after word of prose, but if it isn't interesting to read, I'm going nowhere. I need to write something in a style that is actually going to keep people glued to their screens. They have to want to read the next word. If they don't want to read the next word, they won't. If they get bored, they'll just go to some other site with more interesting content. Like Catholic school girls in prison or something…
What is style? Who the hell knows. It just is. I could give you my definition of style and describe what I think goes into good style but it will be false. Everyone likes something different. Some people like stiff, formal tones, some people like light conversational tones. And as soon as one style becomes popular, another style will come along to replace it. Big hairy deal. Writers either got it or they don't and, if they don't have it, they'd better start getting some.
Now then, with these central points established, let us look at how the Internet is going to affect literature.