Yesterday, I attended the National Association for Literature Development’s (NALD) annual conference, airily titled ‘The Space Between Us’ . The ‘us’ in this context is writer and reader, with one speaker going so far as to say that ‘audience’ is a degrading term that should be abolished in favour of ‘participant observer’. Whatever.
Wanky terminology aside, NALD did a fine job of assembling some interesting folks with stimulating ideas. Perhaps not surprisingly, the conference was very tech-heavy…as in, if you’re not heavy into tech in some way, you are in the process of missing the proverbial boat where the future of literature is concerned. There were differences of opinion aplenty, which made for lively discussion. Uber-prolific writer-gamer Naomi Alderman offered that technology was yet another way for writers to explore “the possibility space” while Mercy director Nathan Jones worried that a world of writers focused on pimping their work on every available tech and media platform could give rise to the “auteurmaton” (my personal favourite neologism du jour) who is less intent on creating good writing than good marketing.
What everyone agreed on is that no one really knows where the writing and publishing world is going…or if, indeed, there’s a destination at all, as opposed to a confused eternity of rapid, wrenching evolution. Industry veteran Ian Daley probably came closest to the nub of the zeitgeist when he noted that “discovery is the central problem of the book business,” a point surely confirmed by the presentation about Movellas, whose alternative moniker might have been Sticky Noodles; as in, throw enough ideas out there and some are bound to catch interest.
If no one knows exactly how writers might best reach the ‘participant observers’ they want, it is clear that there are more walls at which to fling our sticky literary noodles than have ever existed before. Writer/coder/maker James Bridle whizzed through a number of fascinating projects that stretch the definition and boundaries of literature, in a great way. Culture and technology pundit Bill Thompson added that “experimenting with non-linearity” was closely linked to the idea that writers and readers “work together to co-create meaning.”
For all the fun and (literally) games, there was little discussion about the potential for the writer, as a ‘live’ presence, to enhance the literary experience: there is so much still to play for here, and that is very exciting for us at The ReAuthoring Project. We absolutely believe that modern technology is an essential part of the 21st century writing and publishing experience…how could it be otherwise? But when it comes to literature, the medium isn’t the message. At least not yet.