Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Are So Many Literary Writers Technophobic?

It seems like hardly a week goes by without one literary writer or another hyperbolically decrying the way we're all going to hell in an electronic handbasket.

First Jonathan Franzen argued that e-books are damaging society and suggested that all "serious" readers read print.

Last week Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan complained of social networking, "Who cares that we can connect? What’s the big deal? I think Facebook is colossally dull. I think it’s like everyone coming to live in a huge Soviet apartment block, [in] which everyone’s cell looks exactly the same."

Zadie Smith has written of Facebook: "When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned."

This of course comes on the heels of Ray Bradbury complaining in 2009: "They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’ It’s distracting. It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere."

And of course there's a long and storied history of writers eschewing technology and returning to nature, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I don't have any stats to prove this definitively, and to be fair, there are some modern literary writers who definitely embrace tech. Colson Whitehead is tremendous on Twitter and wrote reminded everyone that the Internet isn't the reason you haven't finished your novel. Susan Orlean, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood and others have embraced Twitter.

But doesn't it seem like there's some nexus between literary writers and technophobia? Are literary writers more likely to fear our coming robot overlords and proudly choose an old cell phone accordingly (if they have one at all)? Do they know something we don't?

Even when a writer really does use tech as either an artistic mode of expression or as a relentless self-promotion engine (or both), like Tao Lin, he's derided (or praised, depending on one's POV) as "a world-class perpetrator of gimmickry."

Have lit writers become our resident curmudgeons? Or are they just like any other cross-section of the population? Is it tied to deeper fear of the transition in the book business? Is it just not interesting to think new stuff is cool?

What do you make of this?


JCH said...

If your books aren't hand copied in Latin by an order or Benedictine Monks, you're just phoning it in.

Selena Robins said...

Great blog, Nathan. To answer your question, I think they are a tad cranky and will probably come around to the tech side of things. After all, I'm sure they all have cell phones, remote controls instead of antennas on their TV and probably even listen to I-tunes. LOL

clindsay said...

Wow, those are some cranky pants writers!

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban said...

I guess Gutenberg's press was high technology in his day.
And the internet is here to stay. How we use it is up to us.

F.T. Bradley: said...

Maybe it's just that writers are introverts by nature.

Maybe it's the loss of thoughtfulness that comes with technology?

Maybe it's because these authors don't have to join social networking--us newbies are required these days :-)

I embrace technology, but sigh when something new comes along (like Pininterest--come on, I just figured out how to work Facebook).

C-S Cheely said...

Ray Bradbury has since changed his mind.
People are always suspicious of the new thing. Just give them some time.

E.J. Wesley said...

They'd better all change their minds or accept being very poor in ten years.

Rin said...

I think age might have something to do with it. A lot of the younger writers have embraced the technology, while some of the older ones used to doing things in a certain way or manner of writing for years are more averse to change - until someone gets around to explaining the benefits to them.

Susan Dawson-Cook said...

For me, in person socializing is much better than "chatting" on Facebook and so is holding a bound book in my hand better than reading an e-book. Being on the computer feels more like work - interacting with a person or a book is relaxing at least for me.

Rick Daley said...

They are just bitter because they chipped their favorite quills on their monitors.

Heather said...

I still hold that college professors are the ones who are pushing back at technology. Refusing to use anything besides powerpoint, not sending out emails, etc.

But on the writer front, I'd say we're in transition. it's not that literary writers are completely averse to the idea of an online book world, but rather they are trying to get used to the idea. I mean, even the publishing world is still trying to adapt to the e-book. It'll just take some time for things to settle down again.

Matthew MacNish said...

I don't completely disagree with the notion that there is some evil in technology. Or at least that technology makes it easier for people to do evil things.

On the other hand, I completely disagree about Facebook. I mean sure, the company and some of its policies aren't perfect, but it allows me to stay in touch with friends who live across the country with more ease than any other tool in history.

What do you think of Google's new Word Verification, Nathan? Have you had to use it yet?

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

I think some of these writers believe that the users of internet technology are not in their target market.

I am sure they're still getting used to the whole thing.

Michael Johnston said...

As a grad student in literature who is also an aspiring science fiction/fantasy author, as well as a high school English teacher and a technophile, I have often thought that the majority of "literary" writers have tremendous sticks up their rear ends. I rarely read the sort of self-important pedantry from "genre" writers that I do from the so-called "important literary figures," with the obvious exceptions Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, who still eschews the Internet and types his stories, last I heard, on a manual typewriter.

I think it comes from their need to think their work is something more than storytelling. If they don't convince themselves that they're doing something important, they might realize they're no better than TV writers, and then what would they do with their smug sense of superiority?

This also ties into our society's need to seperate stories between "Important Work" and "Entertainment," as if the two can't be the same. People who buy into this forget that Shakespeare was the pop culture of his time, and would doubtless be writing (brilliant) television today.

Sean Roney said...

They're just chicken because they can see the end coming. Rather than dodge the knife coming for their neck like everyone else, they choose to stand firm and say "To hell with dodging. That's not real. Dodging isn't standing." Good riddance to all those dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

I love Franzen, but he writes a book a decade and laughs all the way to the bank. Who on earth has that kind of a sweet deal? If I were him, or John Iriving, or any other authors who've found a great thing and have milked it for years, I'd be against technology, too.

Tim Sunderland said...

When telephones first came out, there was a time that the boss did not dare use one. That was the work of his secretary. Twenty-five years ago I worked at a company where the CEO didn't have a computer, but everyone else did. Not his job.

With the evolution of each technology, the same comments were made. But there is an entire population out there that has never grown up without a cell phone or the internet. All of the books on my e-reader have saved at least one tree. I'd say that some say we're all going to have to wake up and small the Kindle, but by that time we'll probably start having books transmitted to the thought centers of our brain.

Elizabeth said...

This post made me think. Thank you.

I'm not sure the writers you've quoted here are all technophobes. They are specific in their comments and it is difficult to dismiss them out of hand even when one does embrace social networking as a medium for writers.

Facebook can be dull. And I found myself thinking about "looking owned" as Smith puts it. As for Franzen's comment about e-books, it is a larger question that he raises: taking the time to let work inhabit us as we read it. E-books don't necessarily preclude that but the idea that you have a battery life on the device you are using does, in fact, change the reading experience.

I see the same thing that these writers and that many commenters seem to acknowledge: when we embrace what is next, we have to consider if, when, and how to let go of what is. It may take a little time (as it did for Bradbury) or we may find ourselves looking at new kinds of writing that use the social media even as they use us. I think "420 Characters" by Lou Beach is a fine example of this, as is Margaret Atwood's use of Twitter.

I suspect that the real difference between "serious" writers who reject electronic media or appear to do so, is simply that they are more private people to begin with. And they have limited time. It helps all writers to consider how best to use that time and how best to connect.

Kathryn said...

Bradbury sounds like a delightful grumpy old man in the quote you provided. "[The internet]'s not real. It's in the air somewhere." That's just brilliant.

I don't know... I feel like things are always going to change. It seems a bit pretentious to state that serious readers read print. I prefer print books to ebooks right now, but I know I'm still reading the same story as someone with a Kindle. I think.

Bryan Russell said...

The internet is the home of mass consumption and mass culture - the common denominator (sometimes the lowest common denominator) is what makes it big on the internet.

And that is not (typically) literary fiction. It's more of a niche market, these days, and is somewhat reliant on traditional forums that support it as important culture.

I think literary writers are probably a little fearful of the literary free-for-all of the internet, of being a small fish in a really big media pond. There's no Amanda Hocking self-pub success stories among literary writers, at least that I've heard of (though I'm sure there's a few doing well in this new market).

I think the old system supported literary fiction, both in terms of exposure and financial support. It was assured a place at the table. The new system? Nothing is guaranteed. And that's probably pretty scare at a time when mass culture seems to be moving ever further away from literary fiction (at least in North America).

Anjali Mitter Duva said...

Spot on. I don't presume ever to rank among the likes of the literary authors you quote here, but my manuscript is getting a healthy bunch of rejections from editors for being "too literary." As a result, I'm starting to consider the ebook route, although making sure to get proper editing along the way. But then folks make me doubt my idea, like the well-established and straight-talking agent I ran into the other day who, having read a couple of chapters from said manuscript, said: "Don't do an ebook. Only as a last resort. Your book is too good." That's flattering and all, but I wonder, how long are "literary" and "e", or technology, going to continue to look at each other askance from across some divide?

Cheryl said...

In 50 years it won't be an argument at all, the ones arguing will mostly be dead or too old to argue or care. Times change whether we want it to or not. Arguing about the lack of merit in it isn't going to make it go away. Embrace it or don't, but it's going to thrive and grow and someday we'll have computers in contact lenses and data pumped directly into our brains. And in 50 years, they'll be talking about how it was so much better when we were on Facebook.

Sean Roney said...

Elizabeth, you bring up the point of battery life. Have you ever used an e-reader? Even with active reading and a lot of syncing, you will find it takes at least two weeks to drain their batteries. Normally the battery lifespan can be a month or more.

Heck, you'll usually change the batteries in your reading light far more often than that!

The batteries on e-readers don't in themselves mess with the reading experience.

Jaimie said...

What do I make of this? Facebook sucks. Smart people, some of whom are writers, recognize that. Twitter is much better, and smart people, some of whom are writers, recognize that. And as an unrelated note, some writers are iffy about ebooks.

I don't think I would lump all of this under "technophobic."

But seriously, Facebook is terrible. A terrible software, a terrible system.

Jory said...

I think there needs to be a balance. Sure, I love the convenience of e-books, but I still relish the smell and feel of a book in my hands.

And though some part of me agrees with with the comments made about social networking, I also have to note that if it weren't for Facebook and Twitter and the fact that everyone and their grandmother (literally) has quick access to publicly speak their mind, it has forced those of us who fancy ourselves clever to be that much cleverer.

As far as Colson Whitehead's comment about the internet keeping us from finishing our novels... I'm sorry, but I can find any numerous ways to distract myself from getting any writing done. But the internet did give me so I consider that a win.

Munk said...

Tao Lin is lin-tastic.
Go Knicks.

Shannon Dittemore said...

Of course lumping them all together is dangerous and unfair, but I'm going to go with fear. And I can only say that because as a new author with my very first book hitting shelves in May, I am slightly terrified of the e-book business myself. Not that I haven't embraced it. I love my Kindle, but I do wonder just where we authors will be when the cookie does crumble.

The Sasquatch said...

I think, for a lot of people, there comes a point in life where "New" becomes synonymous with "Bad." You get comfortable enough in life and suddenly those things that come along and change it are no longer opportunities but threats. The status quo is more important when you have somethign to lose. This is why older generations look back on the younger generations and say "Those Damn Kids!" even though their parent's generations said the same thing of them.

I don't think it has as much to do with the culture of literary writers, especially since most of the writers you included are exactly young. Franzen and Egan are in their 50s. Zadie Smith is almost 40 (old enough to remember life before the Internet). David Foster Wallace would turn 50 in a few days if he were still around (how's that make you feel?).

I think it has more to do with finding comfort, which often leads to complacency which, in turn, can lead to a protectionist mindset.

How many up-and-coming literary writers are anti-tech? Phillip Roth will continue to get his checks with or without Twitter. The unknowns...they're more likely to see the benefits.

Technology, the Internet, Social Media and other New Fangled Things(tm) are just tools. They aren't good. They aren't bad. They just are. It's how we use these tools that give birth to good and bad outcomes. Like anything else in life, its where we choose to put our efforts and our time that make the difference.

I'd love to hear the literary crowd talk about THAT.

Mira said...

Great post, Nathan! Appreciated that you talked about this. And loved that you pointed out that "new stuff is cool".

Because it is!! :)

I think Bryan Russell nailed it. It's anxiety.

The changes in the book world are probably scary for some Lit writers.

I think they may fear that the democratization of books will push literary fiction into a very small corner or make it disappear altogether.

I would argue that literary fiction is already in a very small corner.

E-books will expand the book world tremendously, but there will still be a place for literary fiction, with it's artistry and innovation. Those who love it and award prizes, like the Nobel prize, as a small example, will keep it alive and thriving.

Literary fiction writers may also reach new audiences with the e-book, and they might make more money, too, so, they may find that they like the new book world once they get used to it.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I agree with F.T. Bradley. Writers are introverts, most of us, and certainly the older ones among us have a fondness for the touch and feel and smell of paper, a love of bookbinding and design, a sense of connection to history through the books we handle. So even if we are willing, out of need or desire, to publish our book in ebook form (guilty), we still feel guilty about it, as if we have cheated on our old friend, the book made of paper.

At least I do.

Wendy said...

I haven’t read the articles you link to yet, but in response to this post I would point out that people who see themselves as intellectuals are often critical of what they see as popular--especially when, as in this case, the field from which they draw their identity is heading down a wildly popular but unpredictable path. All cultural shifts meet with derision, and even those of us who embrace certain changes might benefit from considering them with doubt as well as hopefulness. (After all, as things change, we always gain and lose.) But, when it comes down to it, the future happens no matter how comfortable we are in the present, and I believe those who choose to meet it with enthusiasm and cleverness despite their misgivings will be happier as it comes.

I work in a public library. Right now, at my branch, we’re seeing more patrons than ever, but I have no delusions about how the future decrease in the printing of both popular and literary books will challenge our library system. As long as librarians and library users value the role of the public library, though, I keep faith that it can live up to its value. It’s up to the public library community to figure out how to do so, even if we find ourselves uncomfortable.

And on an aside--If Franzen really means to assert that serious readers only read print, all I would say is that he seems to be great at sticking his foot in his mouth. Maybe he likes it that way, and I doubt it will lose him any readers. I still hope to read him one day, and I might even do it on my Kindle. :)

Courtney Price said...

Oh my holy crap.

I think people who write about how much they hate facebook are far more ruined & time-wasting than those of us who check in real quick (oh, look! my SIL had a baby!) and MOVE ON with our very real, very fulfilling LIVES :)

My point in a nutshell: writers, settle down.

Roger Floyd said...

I suspect there's several reasons for the criticism of social networking sites. One may have to do with the fact that it's something new, and authors are used to doing things their own way, so having to change how they market their books is difficult for them and requires their taking time to learn all about it. Second, authors are frequently solitary people, used to working alone most of the time, and now here they are, having to take time to interact with others which they may find difficult to do, and may take time from their writing. Third, it may stem from the fact that publishing houses are abandoning authors more and more and putting marketing and promotion duties on the author, and well-established authors like Franzen react angrily by denigrating the social networking sites, even though those aren't the real cause of their anger. As a new writer myself and not published in fiction, I'm appalled and disgusted at the way writers are treated by publishers. It's getting harder and harder to get published these days, but the social networking sites are not to blame. I'm probably older than any of the writers you mentioned, but I use and embrace Facebook (though not Twitter, I do think that's for the birds). After all, Facebook is how I get to your blog through the updates that come through my Facebook page.
Enough said.

Darley said...

If my 75 year old father can embrace the Internet then everyone can.

Gehayi said...

Much, I suspect, is due to people insisting that, say, print is dead and the books that they love are on their way out. No one likes to hear that something he or she loves is obsolete and needs to be thrown away, especially if he or she still sees value in it. I think that a lot would come around to the idea of "E-books/Kindles/social networking aren't THAT bad" if the technophiles would stop insisting that e-books and Kindles and such are not only valuable but the only possible future...indeed, the only future worth having.

No one likes to hear that the things that they love will cease to exist in a few years, and good riddance. Of course they're resistant to that attitude! It's human nature to cling to what you love and to fight to preserve it, especially if you feel that it's being threatened.

And, to be honest, social networking on places like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter is not very social. People post comments on Facebook (and on Blogger)--but there are no threads of comments; you can't have a conversation in writing with someone. I have seen no conversations on Tumblr; people post, people like the post and people re-blog the post. Twitter is limited to 150 characters. I think that a lot of writers see social networking, in many cases, not as promoting communication and thought but as curtailing both.

KNOTTER said...

The Allegory of the Cave comes to mind.

Jillian Stone said...

I am a debut author who is published in both print and e-book. When I first saw my debut title up on Amazon it was great thrill. I e-mailed all my friends and told them they could pre-order!!!

Then my release date came and I immediately made the rounds of all the local B&Ns. Discovered my book was on the New Releases shelf! Equally thrilling! I took a jpg of my book with my iPhone and posted it to my blog page on my website!

I think I love both high and low tech. Not sure that one without the other would be as wonderful.

AM Riley said...

The music and sound industries already went through this.

In 1994 a tape transfer house my production was using had a sign on their counter that read "The Future of Digital is Analogue".

Needless to say they are out of business.

Anonymous said...

Well, lit writers do tend to be big on tradition - paper over word processors,plots with cerebral rather than visceral entertainment (if it's meant to entertain at all)... but the Internet is about laughing at silly stuff, learning highly interesting but completely useless facts... we DON'T worry about the human condition. We have fun, and a great deal of it involves zero intelligence. Zero personality too, maybe, and lit writers fear that. Their issue is that so many of them completely dismiss the web - they refuse to wait around for the benefits. And I think that hurts their readership.

Anonymous said...


I've completed a manuscript, and I just wanted to know whether it would be okay to walk into a literary agent's office and query in person. I live in manhattan.

With my best,

Nathan Bransford said...


Strongly, strongly advise against it.

Anna said...

I'm an aspiring lit author and I'm on twitter. So are Lauren Groff (author of the gorgeous forthcoming Arcadia), Jami Attenberg, and the much-anthologized Sherman Alexie. It becomes more difficult to market yourself as a lit writer using online tools such as twitter and blogs because your audience isn't necessarily online, unlike, perhaps, YA, which has an established online community. Most of my preferred agents aren't on twitter, they don't have blogs. It's just a different community that has different expectations as to how to market your writing. For me, publication in a little mag will mean more than cultivating a following of thousands as far as my career goes. Do I think that lit writers should ignore the internet? No. But I don't think that Zadie Smith is entirely wrong in her assessment.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nathan. I'll go the conventional query route. It was tempting to walk in since these agents' offices are mere blocks from me haha.
Thanks again. It's a great resource you have here for would-be writers.

Alyson said...

In a slightly different vein, it also brings to mind the question as to whether established literary writers are willing or would be able to write convincingly about technology. We can't imagine 19th century literature without the epistolary device, but it's hard (for me) to imagine serious literary works involving social media sites, text messaging, or any reference to technology which might be dated in another two years.

Odo said...

On the matter of Facebook. Sorry, I don't make friends that easily. If Facebook allowed me to indicate "acquaintances", I'd be just fine with it.

On the matter of E-books. Battery life and readability of the screen have been solved. What hasn't been solved is how to do the equivalent of flipping the pages until you see something interesting and then reading from there. I just did that with a book. Started in the middle of a paragraph that caught my eye and an hour later I was still reading. That's really hard to do with any of the e-readers that I've seen. That's also how I determine if I'm going to buy a book at a bookstore, and again, you can't do that with an e-book. (Of course that plays merry hob with the author's intent, but that's just too bad.)

Sigal Tzoore said...

Funny that when I read your title I thought the blog was going to be about writers being afraid of technology, as in still using typewriters instead of the computer. It took me years to learn how to double space.
But afraid of technological advances -- considering the number of writers tweeting, blogging, publishing e-books, putting out there trailers of their books, and altogether using every ounce of technology that seems (to my amateur eyes at least) available today -- I don't know if I'd agree with that.
But I liked your quotes of the grumpy anti-tech writers anyways.

D.G. Hudson said...

Interesting points, Nathan.

I don't think all literary writers are technophobic, just the ones who make the headlines.

As for the social networks, they need more security and better blocking/screening ability.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Nathan, Nathan, just when I have a blog post all planned, you write something that makes me want to blog my response instead. Why do you keep doing this to me? ;-) Kidding.

Okay, seriously.

First, I really hate that everyone here seems to think that young people have embraced the digital world and it's only old curmudgeons who aren't really that into it. I'm 33, I've had a computer since I was eight, and I'm in the paper and ink camp. Just sayin'.

Part of it is time. We only have so much, and learning how to use all this stuff and use it effectively takes a whack of time. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels like just when I get the hang of something, everyone has moved on to something else. (Pinterest? REALLY? Come ON.) I'd rather be writing.

Plus, there's the fact that Twitter and Facebook and the Blogosphere are basically just electronic versions of High School, where the cool and witty kids have bazillions of followers and the rest of us struggle to rack up more than five. A lot of us chose writing so we could get away from those uber-cool people and feel successful at our own thing.

And I think there's something to Zadie Smith's comment. Sure, I can read your witty posts on Twitter. I can read and "Like" your Facebook page and comment on your blogs. But if I met you on the street and acted like I know you, you'd call the cops and take out a restraining order, because the fact is that I DON'T know you. I just know what you choose to post about. I only know about a tiny, tiny piece of the man named Nathan Bransford. And you only know about a teeny, tiny piece of me, the writer named Ishta Mercurio-Wentworth.

When I meet my writer friends in person, I get the whole person: the facial expressions that say that even though they're putting on a brave face, the waiting is really getting to them; the stories about kids and spouses that are too private for the Twitterverse; the banter and fast exchanges that stimulate ideas; the look of their notebook as they scribble in it. And they get the whole me.

I love email: it helps me keep in touch with my close friends in Seattle and Connecticut and Australia and England. I use Twitter: it lets me chat briefly with other writers about specific topics at pre-arranged times. And I blog, regularly. And I read blogs.

But whenever I leave my office and meet with other writers in person, I am reminded of this: the internet, for all its wonders, is less. The internet me is a lesser me. And I only want to spend a very limited time being a lesser me.

Krissy said...

Thank you for the very interesting article. Our writing world has changed so much with technology and will continue to change.

Mark H. said...

I don't think that's necessarily technophobia, that's critical thinking. What social media is doing to you, either good or bad, is something worth thinking about.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think if they're not accustomed to using things like Facebook and e-books, then they're more likely to be wary about it. On the other hand, like you said, there are people from older generations who have embraced technological advances.
I'm kind of divided on this issue. I don't use Facebook or Twitter because I think both would take up too much time; they seem like a lot of work. But I like blogging because I think it's good writing practice and it's a good way to meet other writers.

marion said...

Ray Bradbury is a shocker!

I think FB is a great way for a fiction writer to stay in touch with the day-to-day concerns of real people.

But I can also understand busy writers complaining about the amount of time eaten up by keeping up with FB friends.

HelenQP said...

Franzen is (in effect) telling poor writers not to shop at Walmart. He can afford to be snippy about ebooks. Without estories (short, not books) I might not be published at all. Without Facebook and Twitter, I'd have to grab strangers on the street and beg them to read my stuff.

Rowenna said...

Honestly? I think it's because most of these quoted writers are bad at social media so they disparage it. "You don't see me on Facebook or Twitter not because, god forbid, a genius like me doesn't *get* it, but because I *reject* it." I feel justified in saying this because I am bad at social media--at least in terms of connecting with potential readers. I'm not an extrovert, and I bet most lit writers aren't either. I've met plenty of writers (many YA writers) who are extroverts or otherwise self-promotion gifted, and they're *awesome* with social media. I appreciate that plenty of writers feel that way--but am self-aware enough to see that it's only the well-esatblished writers who can afford to reject social media in its entirety offhand--and that, in that old maxim "It's not you, social media--it's me."

I'd much rather connect with friends in person and save Facebook for stalking people to see who's gotten fat since high school...but I also recognize that the world is moving in different directions.

Tiffany said...

I am an aspiring literary novelist but I have to agree with what someone said above me- the professors, the MFA writers-in-residence, aren't helping the peaceful merger of lit writers and technology. I am a creative writing student and my prof is a self-proclaimed luddite- he has a feature cell phone and has just signed up for Facebook two years ago. He is 36 going on 37, so age isn't really a factor, I don't believe. I am 33 and have always embraced technology, am pushing my way through promoting my literary YA novel, etc. I'm not sure where the disconnect is for these writers, though they are the only ones, it seems making any money from their literary works. My professor is not.

As a lit writer I can tell you I don't think I am going to devote all my work to a strict literary formula. I want to make money at this. I want to do this for as long as I can. Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, etc is a step I must take to ensure, or at least tilt the odds .85 degrees in my favor.

Katie said...

I wonder if it has something to do with what they view the role of the writer is. With the advent of media, many commercial authors have embraced it as a tool to connect with fans, and they consider connecting with fans and creating communities for their writing an important part of their job. But literary authors are probably more likely to consider their job solely "writing"; why should they reach out to the people who read their writing?

Sue Harrison said...

The 2 F's. Fear and frustration.
Afraid of new things.
Afraid to leave the classic ways behind.
Afraid we can't learn new ways.

Frustration at the amount of time taken away from writing to master and use new media.
Frustration that the brain changes (it's documented)caused by using the shortcuts available via new media will mean beautiful writing no longer has a place in society.

Anonymous said...

I say, "To each their own." I love holding printed books, and I love getting an e-book in 30 seconds. My book is available in both formats, and the printed version is selling better, because people still visit bookstores. So yay! But friends who are on my Facebook, who didn't know I'd written a book until they saw a post, enjoyed downloading right away. So I'm for all of it--whatever works best for the book! ♥ K. L. Burrell

Amanda said...

What is a book but a box of many characters? And what is a computer/the internet but a box of many more characters? I don't understand how it can even be considered limiting or superficial, especially in comparison to a traditional book.

I think the technophobia derives from feeling slightly threatened... well-established authors around before the digital age may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the access people now have to fictional works - it ups the competition!

Wendy Bertsch said...

I believe what we're hearing is the fear of established writers that their exclusivity is disappearing with the power of the big publishers who have supported them, and whose power is vested in print.

Eva Ulian said...

This attitude reminds me much of Aesop's fable "The Sour Grapes"- which because the fox could not reach them dismissed the grapes as being sour. Likewise, those who haven't a clue how to master Internet say the same thing.

Tammy said...

I can see both sides. How's that for straddling the fence? My next gig will be politics. This conundrum reminds me of the setting of Fahrenheit 451. Yes, I will be that lady who goes up in flames for her books. I love to caress the pages, admire the art and care it took to create the actual book. Going deeper, I appreciate the actual experiences that lead to the stories I've enjoyed. A virtual adventure is never the equal of the real thing. How to describe the smells and sounds are tempered by what we've known in our past. Your past is not mine and vice versa. I appreciate technology for opening new worlds to me that I cannot afford or physically manage to visit. I appreciate the ease with which the internet makes possible for me to send my words out into the world. Like all things in life, there needs to be moderation. A melding of technology and experience, the virtual and the actual, is the best we can strive for. Afterall, the quill was once new technology.

Criticus said...

Sorry to disappoint, but I agree with them. How can anyone who loves words and the richness of the English language read Twitter without a sense of revulsion?

Nathan Bransford said...

"How can anyone who loves words and the richness of the English language read Twitter without a sense of revulsion?"

This sentence is less than 140 characters. Does it lack meaning and inspire revulsion?

A million poets would disagree with the notion that being brief necessarily means dull and meaningless.

Cheryl said...

"How can anyone who loves words and the richness of the English language read Twitter without a sense of revulsion? "

Well if that's your standard, how can you go anywhere without ear plugs or talking to anyone when the majority of the population butchers the language just by speaking daily without a sense of revulsion? Are you a hermit?

Twitter is not a genre of literature. It's social media. That means it's people talking. If you choose to avoid the global chit chat, that's a valid choice. Trying to compare it to literature, not so much.

*No offense to anyone writing their WIPs one status update at a time. There's no way to account for the artists. :)

Rachael said...

I'm late to this discussion, but I wanted to chime in because I'm a literary writer, I'm 25, and I don't think I could ever read a book on an e-reader.

I've tried. Many of my friends have e-readers, and I've attempted to read books on both Kindles and Nooks, but there was something about reading on a screen that made my mind wander, and I generally gave up after only 15 pages. In comparison, I can read print books for hours without falling prey to any distraction. I love the feeling of pages under my fingers.

So why the attention deficit? I think I'm enough of a digital native that my mind subconsciously links words on screens with reads that are supposed to be quick and easy -- I can't read a long article online; that's not what the Internet is for. When friends send me manuscripts over 5 or 10 pages long, I have to print them out.

This is not to say that I'm a technophobe; I use Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress, and I'm the social media specialist at my day job. But I can see why established literary writers are leery of the advance of e-books and other technology. The "death" of the print book is something that brings me great sadness, too. When I chose to become a writer, I did so partly because of the desire to one day see my name on the front of a print book, and I knew that getting my name on the front of said book would take years and years of effort and rejection and, ultimately, validation. While I know that e-books take hard work, too, seeing my name on a screen seems like a much easier job: all I have to do is open Microsoft Word and type my name. The concept of having a novel released only as an e-book isn't satisfactory; it doesn't connote effort to me in the same way that a print book would.

I have no idea if any of this made sense, but the transition from print books to e-books -- the general dissolution of physical connection in general -- bothers me a lot.

Criticus said...

"A million poets would disagree with the notion that being brief necessarily means dull and meaningless."

Brevity isn't the problem. It's the distortion of the language into unrecognizable gibberish such as this:

Great catch by @sullydish reader that Dr. George's objections to HHS regs =rejection of Cath principle of double effect

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meghan Ward said...

I'm late arriving to this conversation, but I thank you for posting about this. I see this all the time among both literary fiction writers and serious nonfiction writers. They're very resistant to social media. They see it as a time waster (maybe they're right). It's difficult to convince them of the benefits. I think Mieke was right in saying that literary fiction writers don't see people reading blogs as their target market. I say the more ways you can reach readers, the better. It can't hurt to try.

Literautas said...

I'm not sure if it's a generational issue or some writers don't realize that comunication has changed. It seems to me that they believe the internet is a cold and distant machine, or just a fad. But they forget that the internet is just a media behind which there are real people, and these people are their readers!! Readers waiting for the market to change, as our ways of comunication did. A spanish writer said in a great article about this subject that even the sold of carts stopped when Merzedes Benz invented the car! We must stop living in fear because of the future. It's not the future anymore, but the present.
Well, that's all I have to say about it :P
Congratulations for the article and the blog!

Katherine Hajer said...

There was a lot of material in there for so succinct a blog post... let's see.

I was surprised at the Bradbury quote from 2009, given that he was a guest speaker at an electronic writing conference I attended in Vancouver in 1995. To be fair, his main point during his keynote speech was that authors should worry first about whether their writing was any good, and second what medium was being used to publish with.

I agree that Facebook does suck, but not because it's technology or because it's social media. It sucks because it is a bad example of both those things and is a pain to use. I was on it regularly for a year, then gave up and deleted my account over a year ago. I am still in touch with all my friends and have never looked back.

Twitter, on the other hand, has been wonderful for me. I found out about this blog post from Twitter. People who criticise the 140 character limit forget that you can include links to longer, more detailed text in those 140 characters.

I am 41 years old, and have a teaching degree specialising in English literature and computer science. Because I've had to teach the history of the internet, I know that it is older than I am. The World Wide Web version of it will be twenty years old in three years' time. Calling it "technology", claiming to be a luddite, and then using things like typewriters, cars, and elevators is hypocritical at best.

At that conference back in 1995, there was a lot of discussion about the possibilites of the new web medium. Perhaps we should focus on building out some of those possibilities instead of complaining they don't exist yet.

Alison Hill said...

Is this the beginning of the end for book signings then? You can't really sign an e-book can you?
Just wondering... I like social media but I also love the tangible, and am starting to buy up as many books as possible so I'll have something to read in years to come. Reading more than two pages on a screen gives me a headache, and I agree that it feels like work! But then, on sites like Facebook authors can really connect directly with their readers, which is nice. The problem is that the internet is now saturated - everyone's an author, filmmaker or a writer, even Joe the Plumber suddenly became a journalist. Remember him? and it's so easy to get lost in that huge cyber slush pile. Yet it does give us all a chance...Hard one this, but ultimately I still love my real books thanks. I'll give you my copy of War and Peace when you pry it from my cold, dead hands! LOL

Mirka Breen said...

Remember Trivial Pursuits? That game was fun the first time, but quickly became banal. The Internet social sites can become Trivial Pursuits on steroids.
Judicial use can prevent burnout, and thoughtful blogging posts (of which you are top-of-the-heap, Nathan) can make for interesting coffee breaks. But the sheer size and hyperactivity deserve the literary folks’ ire. They are classical music to cyberspace MTV.

Caleb Powell said...

Free choice is pro-choice. Use social media, don't let it use you. But don't knock it.

Stephanie said...

I came across this blog post while researching for my own blog-response to Franzen's rant. ( The other comments here have me feeling some hope for humanity! Count me in as a literary writer who finds the sea-change in the publishing industry more exciting than scary.

Katherine Hajer said...


The Internet was created by people who are now in their 80s, and went commercial in 1995 -- when people like me were in their early 20s. I'm in my early 40s now. I've had e-mail since I was in my late teens, and I consider myself a late adopter amongst my peers.

So, with absolutely no sarcasm intended, I'm confused when you say you're writing for the young adults who created the web (it was created by people who were middle-aged at the time, and the time was the late 60s to early 90s).

I mean, if you're not into it, then you're not. But since your target demographic (young adults) tends to use it quite a bit, I respectfully suggest you at least learn its history. There are several excellent books on the subject if you prefer to stay off the medium itself. Research DARPA and Douglas Englebart to start. Then follow up with Tim Berners-Lee, then the growth of the web once it was opened to commercial businesses.

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