The Virtual and The Real
One feels equally comfortable in the world we label real and the one we designate as virtual. For we have always inhabited both areas and have always skillfully crossed their borders. Ultimately, human dimension has always constituted of both of them, with all the technical innovations having changed nothing essentially. On the contrary, they simply articulate this dimension in a more distinct way. These innovations eliminate the dark zones of the Virtual, turning it into an element of many people’s consciousness. And what is more, they postulate the existence of boundaries between the Real and the Virtual; they relocate them - and why not? - by adding new arguments they questioning the concept of reality itself.
Reading and Writing
Is it possible that, in this situation, literature, one of the aspects of the so called "inherited", well-known virtual reality, turns out to be threatened by the technically facilitated generation of virtual reality by means of a computer or the Internet? In principle, in its pre-digital existence, mankind was never familiar with such excessiveness of writing and reading as the one the Global Network imposes nowadays. For Johann Gutenberg’s galaxy, no matter how immense it seems to those devoted to it, has never been more than an island to man, fundamentally important, though. On the other hand, information society overfills human consciousness with multimedia products, and no matter how much their qualities increase, they will never be able to radically or unidirectionally change the interrelation between text, image and sound, the three of them being biologically preconditioned. The same goes for the correlation between reading and speaking or writing and listening. Technical innovations, such as network telephones and voice robots, can only rediscover the established balance between them.
If we have grounds to speak about a kind of renaissance in reading and writing az such - after all we live in an information society - what are our grounds, and are there any at all, to make us to talk about at least about carrying on the tradition of creating literature -- fiction and non-fiction.
If the process of reading literary texts is not endangered by the Internet, but simply changed, it does not necessarily mean that reading fictional and non-fictional texts may not be endangered, either. The problem here is that not only reading but also, and above all, writing of literary texts has changed, as well as the texts themselves.
Reading of literary texts is not related to the opportunity to select a text from a private or public library, or a bookshop, but from a massive cultural and literary fund -- product of a civilization several thousand years old The proportion of the time-restricted human resources to the unlimited amount of literary texts available at any moment is overwhelming. The solution of the problem is based on the experience of virtual reality people have gathered long before the appearance of the Internet. Ultimately, after reading a fictional or non-fictional text, it functions in the human consciousness and sub-consciousness through definite essential components: title, author, concept, genre, mood, subject matter, etc. Searching for the intersection point and adapting itself to the changing communication environment of the text, Internet literature stimulates the shorter genres, collage compositions, abrupt transitions by means of the hypertext, genre bacchanalia, author’s anonymity, role-play simulations, etc.
Text and Size
Big text opuses on the Internet do not attract readers, which does not mean that they do not belong there. Web-surfing could be stopped for a moment, in order for the reader to get enough information on the literature, get familiar with a text and put it aside for better times - it is exactly the same reaction as the one when we buy more books than we are really able to read until the next time we go book-shopping. Provided that a consumer likes a text, it can be put aside and read later - saved on the computer clipboard, printed out, ordered as a single copy to an Internet Bookstore, purchased on the Net as a book or a CD, or, why not, bought from an ordinary bookshop in order to be read in the well-known to humanity solitude in front of the text. Nevertheless, a net-writer will more and more rarely create voluminous texts, or linear-oriented-and-ready-to-be-printed texts, or literary products which do not contain various computer techniques.
Readers Or Web-surfers
It is obvious that all the literature and culture important to our civilization or to an individual will have its digital future, and what matters here is how and what we read on the Internet when actively communicating via e-mail, or ICQ or something similar, being all the time in close contact with many, thematically-different windows on the PC monitor. Jumping through them may include a hop into a literary texts zone, resulting in a literary web-surfing. But it may also take a web-surfer to a porno site or a casino. Undoubtedly, an aggressive commercial geared with flashing banners and sound effects, constantly disrupts any web-surfer’s concentration and reduces the concentration for reading, although the more experience one gains on the Network, the more capable he/she becomes of navigating in it. However, anyone can arrange for him/herself time and place for reading - by isolating themselves in one window only, by playing music which activates the reading process, by putting in offline position the programs for communication with other surfers.
Nevertheless, as you may have noticed, we are not speaking of a reader, but a web-surfer - the web-surfing reader - two notions quite different in terms of their kinetic status. Statics versus Dynamics: characteristics which will turn out to be the vanguard of a new type of literature and culture, in contrast with the attitudes we have assumed so far. It is the multimedia implementations that will stir the literary text and will launch the computer game in its different varieties as a part not only of entertainment strategies but also of literary and educational ones educational strategies, reintegrating non-readers into the community of readers. For the birth of a reader does not only result from the inevitable encounter with huge amounts of instructive texts, nor does it result from the communication imperative of the Internet socializing, nor from the existential aloneness of the virtual individual.
Reading, Competence, Mediators
However, it still takes specific competence to read literature. Who will set up and offer the reading criteria? What will happen to those acting as mediators? Teachers, critics. In the beginning of the new millennium literary education changes its perimeters - it is dominated by self-education. Education itself is provided in both real and virtual classrooms, not only face to face, but from a distance as well. Entirely new requirements are set to the teacher in literature and to the educational institutions that provide him/her with computer programs rather than with textbooks.
The possibility to communicate with the author not by means of the text, not before or after the reading but at the moment of the reading of the artifact or even at the moment of its creation also sets aside the familiar status quo. New functions that used to be visible to the reader from the paratext of the book or sometimes from arranged meetings with the author and known as peculiar to mediators (critics, advertising agents, publishers, editors, correctors) have a new possessor - the author. Internet communication however, enables the reader to literally participate in the creation, not only through reading, but through writing and asking a writer or other readers questions, thus increasingly changing the role and status of the mediator-critic. Moreover, readers (that is, web-surfers who, during “the break”, indulge in an “I Am The Author”-game), have created more and more texts, restraining the influence of the writers institution as well as our notion of lotting into zones and roles. In this respect, the Internet multiplies the number of people eager to write, probably because of the easy way of publishing and advertising of what is written and not because of the creative impulse inborn, supposedly, in every person.
Writing As An Act Of Reading
The Global Network has designed quite a different pattern aiming at the so-called reading-writing activities on the part of the consumer. But not only this. The act of reading in the Internet era has reached a balance in comparison with what has been written. The act of writing has, in turn, adopted part of the potential of reading, it has both foreseen and inserted it into itself. Written speech has abandoned what we call linearization and materiality; it has become hypertextual, temporary and mobile, and has acquired part of the consciousness processes - choice, producing or crossing out of variants, lack of text borders, as well asa new attitude towards time and space and a new correlation between them...The so-called reading-writing process radically changes its perimeters just because it is hyperadaptable and this is the reason why it remains away from the foretold Apocalypse.
Coca-Cola and Virtuality
In the era of the Internet, the new media and advanced communication systems, the reading and writing of literary texts will continue, but neither they nor those reading or writing them will be the same. And if our concern over the future of literature and culture is relevant -aimed, its relevance springs from the vast commercialization, and the Coca-Cola culture, which invades both the real and the virtual. The direction in which the world (virtual and real) we inhabit is heading is not a secret to anyone. It is dominated by the leading civilization project - the American one. Pragmatization of the virtual (no matter how absurd a phrase this is) is in progress. One of the dimension becomes a measure for the other, and the commercialization is turns both of them into a transcontinental market for goods and services with invisible transitions in-between. This problem is common for all dimensions inhabited by people, both real and virtual, namely, how can art, as a human creative activity, be retained and multiplied, with the same significance for mankind during the new millennium? The Internet technology definitely does not do any harm in this respect. On the contrary, it has potential which certainly may stimulate all cultural processes.
Freedom and the Internet
The main factor in this respect is the new level of freedom, which is present on the Network by definition. The question, however, is who takes advantage of it and whether we are ready to face its challenges. Freedom - of information and movement - is a category related much more to the virtual, rather than the real. Recognizing this apparentness causes a counteraction on the part of pragmatics, who target at the confinement of freedom and cultivation of data sources, the latter much more likely to be manipulated.
Bearing in mind this apparentness, humanitarians lessen their resistance towards the just-mentioned tendency, because they feed vain hopes for omnipresence of freedom on the Global Network. The Network labyrinths, made, as the saying goes, not with money but with much money, increasingly duplicate the so-called ‘Real World’ without depriving the virtual from its own ways of being present. Both recognizing and mastering them rather than adopting a wait-and-see policy will protect the humanitarian community from a marginalization in space - an event, which taken alone, is in challenging proximity. We should overcome the traditional hostility towards technological and technical innovations, the conservatism and inertness, the self-absorbed contemplation upon the classical pre-digital art and literature. For the world, the world of art and literature is no more the same.
© Georgi Chobanov, 2000