The boom of video, emojis, memes and references has relegated the written word to a simple medium – there is little space for prose in the digital world. This downturn of interest has lead me to a discussion at a literary festival on the gloomy ‘Future of the Written Word’, could you choose a more foreboding subject? Driven to obsolescence by other media better at grabbing our interest, and stories better shaped to fit the spare moments in our lives – stand-alone writing seems on the ropes. Even as journalism faces greater criticism and change than ever before, new opportunities are opening for writers in digital spaces.
Hosted in the Deakin Edge theatre the ‘Future of the Written’ word discussion cut a dark and gloomy train of thought through the Melbourne Writers Festival; designed to celebrate the potential directions and forces pushing the writing sphere. Opening with marketing experts Adam Pugh and Ben Birchall we mourned the written word as falling into disrepair and disregard. A desire for content munching and clicks having relegated it to a functional role easily replaceable by the cacophony of other stories and advertising we are expected to consume and connect with. Adam Pugh in particular bemoaned the explosion of free content that is driving writers and newspapers alike out of business, and queried the value of it given that “19/20 pieces of content go largely ignored”.
Hope for the written word was not forlorned though – freelance journalist Michael Green described his own experience with voice-to-text transcription software as exemplary of technology making writing more accessible. Writer Amy Gray also took exception, citing her experience of encountering a book she wishes she’d written. Her experience of the written word as the “most dependable way to interact with information” and how, “like radio, the medium will evolve to fill a need”.
After some well-moderated debate each panellist clearly believed in the potential of written media to return to prominence, but the road for writers is rough – especially for those looking to maintain the “sanctity of reading”. Instead, an era of digital accessibility offers potential far beyond flagging ebook sales.
Online groups have formed around mediums such as the interactive fiction community (a severe evolution of sorts from the choose-your-own-adventure novels), where tools such as Inform have significantly eased the technical learning curve. Online frameworks such as Twine have inspired highly creative, non-linear works from creative studios such as crowscrowscrows. Visual novels and accessible stories populate app stores, often bringing clever mechanics too, and experiments like SBNation’s incredible ‘17776: The Future of Football’ or Vox’s card stacks are able to surprise and inspire.
Perhaps creative stories just need the creative mediums that are right for them more than ever.