From the desk of Will Kitson: A survival from the ages of litter - one book.
WILL KITSON is Managing Editor of Seymour Magazine.
Will holds a Masters in English Literature from King’s College London, prior to which he earned a BA in Creative Writing (with Honours) from the University of Greenwich. Previous to his post at Seymour Magazine, Will has worked as a Reviewer, Copy Editor and Editorial Assistant/Arts Administrator at A Younger Theatre, Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and Brand Literary Magazine, respectively.
“By her side, on the little reading desk, was a survival from the ages of litter- one book.”– E.M. Forster
I recently read an article about the death of the literary novel, about how said death has been creeping along slowly for the best part of a century, about how this particular art form is a zombie refusing to lie down.
There is, of course, much evidence to support this argument: the literary or ‘serious’ novel has fallen spectacularly out of fashion and, furthermore, the digitalisation of literature is less likely to be its savior than to be the Trojan horse burning the art form down from the inside. Why, you may ask, is it that e-books are so potentially fatal to the future of this princely art? According to the writer of the article, the crux of the argument rests upon one question: ‘If you accept that [in 20 years] the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer to this is no,’ the writer goes on to say, ‘then the death of the novel is sealed out of your own mouth.’
Is it true that 24/7 unrelenting connectivity is a self-evident prophecy? Have we accepted that our future will indeed be Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, and Blackberry (or whatever brave new technologies the future offers up in their stead)? If so, I feel like I’ve missed a trick. While one could argue that such a reality already exists today, people of all generations still disconnect themselves from the Internet in order to meet with friends, listen to music, watch a film, or even read a literary novel.
That said, the upward trend of connectivity is undeniable and based upon that the author’s projection is not at all an unreasonable one. However¸ my question is this: Where does it all end?
E. M. Forster was a particularly shrewd social observer and, in a rare tilt away from social realism, he wrote a short story, ‘The Machine Stops’. The story, published in 1909, is set in a futuristic world, where the surface of Earth has become uninhabitable and the humans – who are now hairless anaemic creatures – live underground in isolated cells, controlled by a ubiquitous omnipotent machine, constantly connected to the rest of the world via an instant messaging / video conferencing machine called the speaking apparatus … I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the parallels.
Forster’s universe is not at all the colourful playground that we might see in a Samsung commercial. It is grey, depressing, and, for all its connectivity, the inhabitants are socially awkward solitary creatures who are terrified and repulsed by the idea of actual physical human contact.
Of course, for all its remarkable prescience, ‘The Machine Stops’ is still a story, not necessarily an accurate foretelling of things to come. However, even if it is exaggerated, even if hyper-connectivity can be joyous and socially rewarding, do we really want to create a world where friends ‘hang out’ on Skype instead of in a park or at the pub?
My feeling is no. Already, in the prime infancy of the Internet, people complain about spending too much time online, some shy away from smartphones in order to escape the nagging of round-the-clock emails, we actively take breaks in order to disconnect. There is already a resistance against the ubiquitousness of hyper-connectivity.
I am, I should point out, not in any way a Luddite. I don’t demonise technology, I embrace it (I’m writing this article on a computer to be published on an online magazine); however, I believe that technology should be a tool used to aid mankind, not to encumber it.
Even if we regard the connectivity epoch as being started in the early 20th Century, it is still, in the grand scheme of things, in the stages of pupilage.
I remember being told an anecdote about the invention of the tape-recorder, this amazing creation that has since matured and gone on to change the world as we know it forever. But the first users of this incredible device had no idea what they could use it for; so, instead of immediately recording a symphony orchestra or the recitation of a poem, they burped into it and listened back with fascination.
My point is that while the Internet is an amazing gift full of potential that has irrevocably changed the world, and will continue to do so, perhaps we are still trying to grasp the enormity of it. And perhaps when we have fully comprehended this gift, we can better utilise it to suit our needs.
There is certainly a friction concerning connectivity, not just amongst those who are scared of change, but amongst those who treasure the natural desire for real face-to-face interaction and genuine solitary introspection. And while the future is undoubtedly lumbering towards us implacably, we are – in certain instances – the ones who can choose which direction it goes in; and if that be towards ubiquitous connectivity, then so be it. But next time you feel that you’re spending too much time online remember that you are in control of the off button. The future, and the present, is in your hands, literally.
Published: May 27th, 2014