When you go to liberal arts college in Chicago or anywhere for that matter, you’re bound to do quite a bit of reading. That’s why you’re here after all, because reading is one of your treasured pastimes. But both the act of reading and the way in which literature is produced has changed quite a bit over the last few years. And no one knows better than liberal arts students how literary production both influences and reflects the state of society at large!
Here are three 21st century trends to watch:
Digital Platforms Get Personal
First, there were books. They took up space but in compensation, offered readers the tactile pleasure of touching actual paper, jotting notes in the margins, marking a favorite passage, sketching a doodle inside the back cover, and in short - making the book one’s own.
Several centuries later came the tablet and the smartphone. They took up much less space, but lacked some of the personalized engagement we’d come to know and love from the paper experience.
Now, that’s changing. For the past few years, developers have been trying to capture the sights, sounds and even the feel of turning pages in a good old book, and applying them to digital platforms.
It seems consumers want the feel of reading a “real” book without the hassle of lugging it around - or finding extra room in the bookcase. It looks like 21st century reading will be characterized by a compromise between convenience and authenticity. Imagine, one day you may get your liberal arts bachelor degree sent as a PDF, but you’d better believe that it will look like it was printed on parchment - and somehow you’ll be able to feel the seal stand out with your fingers.
Even More Mobility
As if being able to carry hundreds of books in the palm of your hand wasn’t enough, Google Glass is about to launch commercially on a mass scale. You’ll be able to walk down the street and read without using your hands at all (tip: stop reading when crossing the street or driving, please).
If the trend in increased literary mobility does in fact go hand in hand with a desire for the sensory feeling of reading a book, how then do we satisfy that need with this new platform? Rob Salkowitz of Publishers Weekly has an idea: people can get a blank book, and then use their Google Glass to superimpose the text over it. But we have to ask, doesn’t this defeat the purpose?
Democratization of Authorship
Back in the day, only a small selection of works got published by an even more selective group of publishers. Today, the internet makes it possible for anyone to get their work seen - bypassing publishers altogether. Some might argue that this represents a dilution of the quality of literature available, while others herald the trend as the democratization of authorship.
Historically, only authors with patrons or the right contacts got published. It’s quite possible that because of inaccessibility, some of the greatest pieces of literature - texts that really should be part of any liberal arts education today - were only read by some poor writer’s spouse, immediate family and a couple of friends.
The other side of the coin is that the internet is now flooded with self-published, sub-par content. But it’s important to note that just because this content is out there, doesn’t mean anyone will read it.
Maybe the aftermath of this trend will be that only the best will be remembered.
What do you think about the changing ways we interact with and produce the written word? Is literature getting refined - or is it on the decline?