Can the digital fulfil our need for storytelling? Well yes, of course, no question. In many ways it already does. And yet, this is not to say that it will, can or even should replicate the experience of print books, to use that old apples vs oranges line of reasoning.
To get down to specifics: the impulse for storytelling may stretch over many mediums – the stage, the wireless, the page, the screen. All may be equally moving, culturally and aesthetically valuable and ‘literary’, but this does not mean they are the same experience. Indeed far from it. Form bends content, and content both slides and baulks against certain forms. So, just as a book may give you chills, the movie adaptation can fall flat if it doesn’t get that particular art of creative translation right. We all know that if a story is going to be told on screen, it has to make the most of that medium. Certain scenes may need to be cut, characters fleshed out, cinematography planned, a score written. The same can be said of the digital.
Blogs, and other forms of online storytelling (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, online gaming etc), are well and truly and phenomenally here. Social media updates are almost like reading a diary, blog entries are sometimes almost like a stream-of-consciousness narrative or literary journalism (with the heavy emphasis on the personal for example), but at the same time they are not and will never be those things. They filter down in real time, for one, and are multimedia entities in the sense that they are able to embed text with hyperlinks, images, avatars and so on. Even ebooks and short stories published online are always going to be slightly, minutely different from their static print counterparts. So, book ≠ blog, just as stage ≠ screen.
I do think that the digital has vast potential to be literary and creative. It’s easy to forget that we are only in the adolescent stages (remember those early computers that took up an entire room? We have only just begun to scratch the surface of what it means to publish online. Yet when we do dig our nails deeper, I would say that what we’ll end up with will not be what the print book was. (Indeed, the luddite in me likes to think that the print book will still exist until itself, like vinyl, like letterpress). E-forms and blogs will not necessarily replace the literary experience of a print book, but will most likely draw from it, deface it, and turn it into something else altogether.