These are the notes I wrote for my introduction to this excellent seminar in Norwich, aimed at literature organisations and hosted by the New Writing Partnership - discussed below. They're notes still, heavy on the CAPITALS, and only nearly make sense, but I hope this clumsy manifesto may be of interest. I had a stinking cold that day, so opened by saying:
Sorry about the cold. If only we were in Second Life and I could be replaced by a young, fit, hunky superhero. Sadly you’re stuck with spluttering me.
Technology hasn’t cured the common cold BUT what has been and will be the impact of technology on reading and writing?
THE IMPACT FOR READERS
In libraries in the 1980s we began to talk about CREATIVE READING
Look at all those date stamps in library books – what if we could get those people together to talk!?
And we put up a WRITE BACK notice board in community libraries where local people could post their writing, putting their words amongst the collection of global literature and culture.
NOW creative reading is a day to day activity – every site wants feedback, readers can seek each other out across the globe via social networks and applications like Shelfari, Librarything...
ANYONE can ‘publish’ their work for free in the public domain – and promote it, gradually, virally, by word of mouth..
either on their own blogs or websites OR in online journals, fanfiction or sites like AUTHONOMY and youwriteon.com, which turn the old slush pile into a socially sifted league table of talent.
(LIBRARIES which not long ago thought of themselves as local stores of content desperately in need of better content, now need to see their future as hubs for REAL social networking - the perfect place to meet your local social network.)
AND OF COURSE this year READERS can now buy a new kind of screen to read books on. Actually an excellent means to read text, but it only points the way to much more interesting experiments in transliterate reading, on mobiles and laptops, at live events and gatherings, on books printed on demand…
THE IMPACT FOR WRITERS
The keyboard now includes SOUND, PICTURE, SPACE FOR READER INTERACTION AND COLLABORATION WITH other writers
COMPUTER GAMES AND ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES
NEW MEDIA WRITING using blogs, wikis…
do literature organisations know enough about them??
And meanwhile PAGE BASED writers with a reputation don’t need to rely on publishers to distribute their work.
Build a community of followers and you can talk to them - and sell to them – directly.
I recently met a novelist whose site includes ‘deleted scenes’ - to the horror of her publisher and editor.
Another prizewinner talks jokingly about selling holidays to the setting of their hit novel.
Plenty do talk to their fans about their events and ideas.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT OF THE DIGITAL ON LITERATURE ORGANISATIONS??
FOR READ:WRITE, written with Mary Harrington, we talked to dozens of them. For all, the landscape around their activities is changing radically. Whether they’d noticed it or not, their roles were being turned inside out.
THE LONGSTANDING ORGANISATION with building, publications and website, finds its site is the core of itself in the public’s mind if not its own.
A longstanding PROVIDER of information may receive less hits than a blog written for fun by one enthusiast,
THE LITERATURE FESTIVAL puts podcasts on their site – when do they become a BROADCASTING COMPANY whose studios are tents in a field?
THE AGENCY for new writers which once offered ACCESS TO A SHOWCASE
Now finds that everyone can show their work for free, what people want is A CURATOR with a REPUTATION FOR QUALITY and a certain brand.
AND when does a PROJECT become a PUBLICATION?
This is an EXCITING AREA. A scheme like the Lottery funded Poetry Places, run at the Poetry Society in 1998 and involving lots of commissions, workshops and interaction between poets and people, could now be designed to grow into a networked anthology rather than a documented report.
When Mary and I wrote the READ:WRITE report for Arts Council England earlier this year, we worked very well together, but on some things we disagreed:
I like to think Lit Orgs are ideally placed to seize the digital initiative:
Passionate about communication, light on our feet, used to a kind of gift economy, operating in a mixed economy of subsidy and selling
Mary was more inclined to feel there was no need anymore for what could be seen as a patronising mediation between literary culture and popular engagement.
And we both saw exampls of citing digital innovations AND clunky old thinking
- for instance long term strategies to introduce web services that could now take 5 minutes to set up with easy to use free services like skype.com, ning.com, blurb.com etc. And if these sites mean nothing to you, then now's the time to find out more about them.
There's an alarming lack of understanding on both sides.
LIT ORGS need to PROVE THEIR SKILLS AS CURATORS OF ACTIVITY BETWEEN READERS AND WRITERS, MAKERS OF NEW KINDS OF PUBLISHING, TAKING THE RISKS THAT PUBLISHERS WONT
OR…. OTHERS WILL RUSH IN – writers, digital makers, publishers…
SINCE WE WROTE READ:WRITE, THE RECESSION HAS HIT
Actually the recession may give us a break – as other industries retreat into their comfort zones, we can be bold!
SEIZE THE TIME or we’ll be swept away
be made redundant.
In which case we’ll still find we can read:write for as long as we can afford wi-fi and a laptop. Being out of work no longer slams the door on participation. There is at least that digital reason to be cheerful.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO prepare us for this challenge?
WE DON’T NEED LOTS OF NEW MONEY OR KIT.
WE NEED TO MAP OUT where our activities sit in THE REAL WORLD – which is thoroughly digital.
WE NEED Training, conversation – we don’t need too much technical support, though of course we need some; we need the skills which give us the IMAGINATION & VISION to think beyond the digital divide.