- Teaching Literatures in the Age of Digital Media
The web and digital technology have revolutionized our lives in many ways. Probably the most important change in the last fifteen years is the ubiquitous use of the Internet, smartphones, and social media, which has enabled instantaneous sharing of information and images, and communication between people in different geographical locations. The rise of Web 2.0 and digital technology have enabled more and more ordinary people to participate in the creation and distribution of media (Turner). This digital technology, which has facilitated connections between family, friends, and organizations from near and far through social media, has led to different ways of reading texts such as e-readers and online access to research material, but has also created new problems for youth such as cyberbullying and public shaming. This paper explores various ways in which the Internet and digital technology have reshaped and diversified literature as we know it, and offer a number of examples of how authors and readers have taken advantage of digital tools to produce, share, and consume literature.
Digital technology has influenced literature and literary studies in a number of ways. First, the participatory potential of Web 2.0 has redefined and broadened our notions of authors and authorship; for example, selfie culture focuses on stories of the ordinary subject. Second, digital media have promoted an increase in the use of visual imagery, which has been accompanied by a decrease in the consumption of traditional printed material (Alter). Web 2.0 is usually associated with user-generated content and participation, and platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia have all been "lauded for their capacity to harness people's creativity and knowledge, and for their potential to challenge traditional hierarchies in politics, science, and media" (Wyatt et al. 153). Whether these sites actually democratize knowledge, still rely on existing hierarchies, or help proliferate fake news is controversial. [End Page 213] However, social media, particularly blogs and fan fiction, do provide spaces for authors to write and be read. Many works distributed via social media are short pieces such as op-eds, anecdotes, recipes, travelogues, journal entries, how-to articles, meditative essays, or reviews, in addition to the aforementioned blogs and fan fiction. Writing is no longer the purview of specialists or authorities, but is rather part of a shared body of knowledge. Some well-known works that originated in this kind of writing include E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) and its two sequels, which began as a response to Stephenie Meyer's YA vampire series Twilight. Writing fan fiction and publishing her novels as Kindle books inspired James to write her romance bestsellers. Another author who began on the Internet, Julie Powell, started a blog chronicling her attempts to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As the blog gained a large following, she signed a book deal which resulted in Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, which further inspired the film Julie and Julia.
In addition to online fiction and blogs, another form of new literature engendered by digital technology can be found on Instagram. The popular smartphone app takes advantage of digital photography to allow users to share media with their followers. Instead of text-based interaction such as Messages, Twitter, or email, "the core of Instagram is the image stream and the strong connection between any image and an individual's profile wherever it might eventually end up" (Fallon 57). Kris Fallon argues that the Instagram feed can be read as a kind of "narrative autobiography": "Instagram's emphasis on the photo stream, and its 'instant' appearance on other social media timelines bind it more firmly with a traditional notion of individual identity, temporal linearity and serial progression" (57-58). Rather than posting manipulated images and hashtags, Instagram poets fit lines of poetry into the cropped square, which "takes talent and an understanding of what will resonate quickly with readers in a short amount of time" (Teen Vogue). They use the platform as a kind of inspirational messaging through art.
One well-known Instagram poet is Atticus, who has approximately 334...