Vox: Ashley Capes
This is a tough question and I hope I can add something relevant here. My first reaction was to ask myself if the e-form was entertaining – which has been and can be something of a ‘charge’ to be levelled at the novel, rather than a simple descriptor. Many art forms survive based on the answer to this question (and sometimes in spite of it) and I’d argue that the novel does live and die on its entertainment value.
And so I wondered if the e-form, if it isn’t always entertaining, is it at least fulfilling some need in society? The blog is useful in a sense of providing information quickly. There, it is surely King, and must be a key artefact. And while the blog is a great communicative tool, it’s not always the best tool to present writing. Consider reading the text of a poem with a mess of distractions, images, colours, layouts, links, pop-ups and so on. All of these factors alter the way a poem is received. Compare that to a clean, white page and there’s something different going on.
But – if the poem being read on that blog was hypertextual or more hybrid in nature (combining text, sound, image etc) then the blog is perfect. Powerful in its flexibility.
Of course, the blog also has the great boon (and great curse some would say) of the internet’s participatory nature. A text presented on a blog alters the Public and Private modes of reading. Reading on a blog can be public (via comments) and you can ‘be seen’ to read certain pieces/poets. At home, with a book, it is only public when you travel with it (bus, train) or write about it. With a blog, you write and read about it at home, in the private sphere (though that division has certainly blurred.)
Switching to the idea of the e-book, I suppose that any e-form needs a cheap, simple device to really take off. For Literature and the novel, I don’t feel like the Kindle or other e-readers can do it yet. Not fully. In fact, there a few steps to be taken. One thing that holds me back from grabbing an e-reader (aside from price), is the question of durability. They just seem more fragile. Drop one enough, step on it, expose it to extreme temperatures, have it stolen, and you won’t be happy. Drop a paper book for instance, and it will be fine, if scuffed. A stolen book might be under ten dollars to replace. A stolen kindle with hundreds of purchased books inside? Now, durability could use a deeper discussion (obviously a digital file has a longer lifespan than paper), but if the e-form becomes part of a new literary standard, it might have to wait until the delivery technology seems as indispensible to the content, the way paper, glue ink and card do for physical books.
At this stage, the e-readers replicate the shell of a physical and traditional book, limited in part by what is digitised by publishers. Because many writers (myself certainly included) don’t always take advantage of affordable digital technology to create fully multimedia texts, the e-reader becomes less than a computer, but more than single book (because it can store so many of them.) In that sense, it’s a hard drive with a screen. Although, perhaps when readers want multi-form pieces of literature, then a piece of portable technology will appear that combines the best features of the computer and the old school book.
All that said, in the grand scheme of the history of the way language is presented, e-forms are so new, that I don’t have the insight to predict much. But I am looking forward to the missteps and triumphs, as both will be pretty damn interesting.