First Published in my web journal, October 26, 1996:
Well, maybe it is just ready to evolve into something new. For those who love it, as well as for those of us who are devoting our lives to it, I want to toss out a few ideas for discussion and to present a very rough draft of an attempt to sketch what might follow the novel. It must necessarily be rough because, quite frankly, I don’t know what I’m doing.
The pressures that will change the novel are both technological and social. The technological pressures should be obvious to anyone reading this, anyone sophisticated enough to browse in cyberspace. Information has become electronic and holographic. The print medium, once paramount, has dwindled to one facet of the multimedia experience. Text is hypertext today and tomorrow it may be virtual reality. Change feeds on itself and, perversely, even manages to nourish itself. The camera became the movie; the movie became the video; and the video is becoming . . . what?
The novel has remained a relatively static string of marks on paper for almost three hundred years. It was revolutionary once–a story told in prose that replaced long and often obscure poems, collections of sermons, travelogues, and the rest of what constituted literature before the 18th century. It gained prominence because it satisfied people, but those were Gutenberg people. Linear minds living linear lives. Society is changing. We no longer live a single history, tied to one family, one nation. That comfort is gone and the art form that mirrored it is going too. Who watches television without the clicker? Channel surfing is a way of life, of viewing life, and our attention spans are as short as a video on MTV, no longer than a two hour movie. The novel, a two-day or two-week experience, can’t compete.
What will replace it? I don’t know. Words are part of the future; only they can carry the heavy weight of thought, of ideas and relationships. Music stirs emotion and memory, but it is no precise language. Graphics also carry emotional cargo, supplement it with a concept, an irony or two, but what moves in the viewer’s head when he looks at a picture? Words. The stuff that built novels. Words will survive. They are too powerful a tool to be thrown away. The question is how they will be married to the other tools our technology is giving us.