Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why the novel has never been more important: The Saturday Evening Blog Post, Edition #16.

We live in a day and age where the evolution of language and words is driven more by social media than books and novels. As both a social media user and a lover of literature old and new, I have mixed feelings about this trend. There is something about the speed of social media which alarms me. Consider this: Edgar Poe, who created the thriller, died broke and without any acclaim, and yet his works are now considered to be masterpieces. Contrast this to the blitzkrieg world of social media where someone who uploads a cat video can become an icon in a single day--or less.

Good or bad? Probably both, but allow me to point out the latter. Poe had substance. Sometimes it takes time for substance to be appreciated. In Poe's case, a hundred years. It takes deep substance to endure a 100 years. Do you think a glitzy cat video has that kind of staying power? Or do you--like me--think it will be forgotten in ten minutes, to be replaced by a meme featuring an aardvark?

The point I am trying to make is that there is a danger here: A very real danger. Please don't get the idea that I am one of those people, you know the kind that think Facebook and Twitter are the ruination of the world. Because I am not, and I believe that Facebook/Twitter/Social Media have many upsides and are, in general, wonderful tools of expression, language, and connectivity. But like anything else, they have a dark side as well, a dark side which has been well-documented. Missing from this list of cons, however--at least that I have seen--is the effect of Social Media on language.

There is a stress to Social Media, an urgency, that seeps into the language. I mean, when you r racing to be the first person to post or tweet something, you keep it short and simple. And because you are doing this again and again, you start using the same abbreviations again and again and eventually u use the abbreviation all the time and evolution has occurred. And yes--as I have stated before--the 140 character limit teaches us to be concise and to the point, but there is still plenty of occasion: to be detailed; to expound; to have layers of meaning; to be rich and complex.

And that, my friends, is why we need the novel more than ever. Social media is not going away--nor should it--but it needs a counterbalance. Twitter hits quick and hard, the novel is slow and insidious(Can you hear Liz, my literary agent yelling; Not that slow, Peter! Speed it up, Peter!) Facebook is over-the-top, Facebook is sensational. The novel is under-the-surface, the novel is meaningful and lasting. Pinterest is visual. the novel is literary. SnapChat is transient (by design) the novel is permanent.

The problem, of course, is that it's a lot easier to whip off a quick tweet about #theoscars (Stop using so many adverbs! Outstandingly talented? Liz would have fits editing these speeches.) than it is to construct a 500,000 character work that is deep and rich and complex and permanent.

But it has never been more important.