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Two Timely Questions: How do you Write the Digital Life? Are the Genre Wars Over?

It’s not just business models that are evolving. From the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper website today come two thoughtful pieces on changes in the creative challenges facing writers and in how literature is judged.

In a post titled, “How do you write about life when it’s lived on computers?” sci-fi author Damien Walter points out a reality that should resonate with anyone who remembers being advised by a writing teacher to develop an ear for dialogue by eavesdropping on strangers:

Walk in to any public space today, from a waiting room to a coffee shop, and note the disturbing absence of voices. We are there, and we are elsewhere. Our discussions are mediated via social networks, and conducted through touchscreen interfaces. Can we call them friends, this network of professional and social contacts we interact with through computers?

Journalist and chronicler of hacker culture Quinn Norton describes an aesthetic crisis in writing “(H)ow do we write emotionally of scenes involving computers? How do we make concrete, or at least reconstructable in the minds of our readers, the terrible, true passions that cross telephony lines?” In a digital world do falling in love, going to war and filling out tax forms all look the same? Do they all look like typing? And is capturing them on paper, as Robin Sloan claims, the great challenge for writers today?

In another post, “Is this the end of fiction’s genre wars?” Stuart Kelly wrestles with the question and concludes:

I don’t know of a single serious critic nowadays who would dismiss genre writing solely on the basis that it is genre writing. To that extent, the “genre wars” are over. Could more be done? Of course: book festivals, for example, still tend to pair up genre writers; publishers spend more time marketing already successful genre books than other novels….And, given that the Nobel Prize Committee is yet to recognise a writer such as Thomas Pynchon (who seems to revel in every genre), I won’t be holding my breath for Stephen King to get the call from Oslo.