Questions rather than answers dominated this panel, titled The New Media Revolution in Writing. How has social media changed authors’ interaction with their readers? Is it a new media revolution or is it simply evolution? How does the Internet and new media affect writing, research and style? What do you call a book with interactive digital enhancements? And, what exactly is a vook?
The panellists, Matina Jewell, Benjamin Law and Jesse Blackadder, along with the sardonically convivial chair Simon Groth, offered opinions and experience across different types of new media yet definite answers weren’t offered or wanted. The understanding of new media and the effect it has on writing is still a work in progress and one in constant flux.
Interestingly, the three writers favour different types of new media and are at different stages of embracing technology. The crowd audibly gasped as Jewell explained the apps literally embedded within the pages of her book. It was a mind-expanding moment, as if she had just said the earth is round, not flat. In an Australian first, her memoir Caught in the Crossfire fuses traditional book publishing with technology that allows readers to click, using a smart or iPhone, over chips within the pages that take the reader to video footage illustrating that particular section of text. No one, including Jewell, could give this new type of publishing a name but it was clear is that the audience were excited by the possibilities it brings.
Author and journalist Benjamin Law is, as he confessed, on Facebook and Twitter “a lot”. I know this is true because aside from a ‘real life’ friendship, I am his Facebook friend. What amazes me about Ben though, is not his frequency but his speed. For example, we had dinner together on Thursday night and before I had taken my shoes off after arriving home, Ben had already posted about our dinner and stimulated a lively discussion, which, to be honest, I happily joined. In Law’s world things move from real-time to Facebook-time in under 20 minutes.
Jesse Blackadder on the other hand is slowly integrating new media into her life. She said she has three Facebook friends, bought an iPad but hates it (which Ben offers to buy) and still uses traditional research methods of books and libraries. Although she says she’s hamming up her luddite-ness a bit, Jesse said she sees the benefit of new media but, for her, it’s like a certain shampoo company says: it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. In the meantime, she’s content doing things her way, even if it takes her six years to handwrite a novel.
As Ben spoke about the vitalness of having an online portfolio and profile via a website, I shrunk slightly in my chair and made an iPhone note to ‘get my s**t together’. My work as a writer is currently spread, in the form of newspapers and magazines, from Byron Bay to Melbourne. I have every intention of putting all my articles in the one place online and even got so far as letting a boyfriend buy me a domain name and hosting. That was over six months ago though and the page currently remains untouched and the password forgotten.
Perhaps the explanation for my half in/half out approach to new media is Ben’s point about being born on the cusp of Gen X and Y. Like Ben, I don’t know which one I belong to. I was born in 1980 and spent a good chunk of my life Internet free. I played Super Mario Brothers not Guitar Hero. My friends were Care Bears and Alf dolls, not usernames and profiles. Yet I have a lot of characteristics of technologically savvy Gen Yers in that I cannot live, or work, without the Internet. I blog, my iPhone is always within arms’ reach and handwriting makes my wrist ache. I guess, like the panel, I’m not interested in concrete answers; I’m just trying to figure out who I am within the larger context of changing technology. Ben’s description of himself could definitely apply to me: “I have the cynicism of Gen X and the ADHD of Gen Y”.
The session ended with an audience member, somewhere between the ages of 50 and 60, standing up to reassure Jesse that she’ll make it. Her message? “You’re probably half my age Jesse, don’t lose heart! I go to bed with my iPhone and my husband!” She then launched into a passionate diatribe about the virtues of modern technology, rattling off names of gadgets and apps like a spruiker at a stocktake sale. Jesse’s response to this avalanche of enthusiasm was to ask the lady: “Would you like to be my fourth Facebook friend?”.