Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rival Genres of Reading

From Sam Anderson's reflection on how reading and novels changed in the last decade:

The DFW generation’s primary technological bugaboo was TV, a rival narrative engine that both attracted and repelled. (See Wallace’s classic essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” in which he calls TV “both medicine and poison.”) Novelists in the aughts, however, had to contend with a very different bugaboo. The technology that infinitely distracted us this decade, sometimes even to the point of death—the entertainment that tore us away from work and family and prevented us from immersing ourselves in complex meganovels from the noble old-timey decades of yore—was not a passive, cartridge-based viewing experience but largely a new form of reading: the massive archive of linked documents known as the World Wide Web. TV, in comparison, looks like a fairly simple adversary: Its flickering images lure readers away from books altogether. The Internet, on the other hand, invades literature on its home turf. It has created, in the last ten years, all kinds of new and potent rival genres of reading—the blog, the chat, the tweet, the comment thread—genres that seem not only to siphon our attention but to change the way our brains process text.

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