Eighteen Challenges in Contemporary Literature
By Bruce Sterling
May 30, 2009
1. Literature is language-based and national; contemporary society is globalizing and polyglot.
2. Vernacular means of everyday communication — cellphones, social networks, streaming video — are moving into areas where printed text cannot follow.
3. Intellectual property systems failing.
4. Means of book promotion, distribution and retail destabilized.
5. Ink-on-paper manufacturing is an outmoded, toxic industry with steeply rising costs.
6. Core demographic for printed media is aging faster than the general population. Failure of print and newspapers is disenfranching young apprentice writers.
7. Media conglomerates have poor business model; economically rationalized “culture industry” is actively hostile to vital aspects of humane culture.
8. Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation.
9. Digital public-domain transforms traditional literary heritage into a huge, cost-free, portable, searchable database, radically transforming the reader’s relationship to belle-lettres.
10. Contemporary literature not confronting issues of general urgency; dominant best-sellers are in former niche genres such as fantasies, romances and teen books.
11. Barriers to publication entry have crashed, enabling huge torrent of subliterary and/or nonliterary textual expression.
12. Algorithms and social media replacing work of editors and publishing houses; network socially-generated texts replacing individually-authored texts.
13. “Convergence culture” obliterating former distinctions between media; books becoming one minor aspect of huge tweet/ blog/ comics/ games / soundtrack/ television / cinema / ancillary-merchandise pro-fan franchises.
14. Unstable computer and cellphone interfaces becoming world’s primary means of cultural access. Compositor systems remake media in their own hybrid creole image.
15. Scholars steeped within the disciplines becoming cross-linked jack-of-all-trades virtual intelligentsia.
16. Academic education system suffering severe bubble-inflation.
17. Polarizing civil cold war is harmful to intellectual honesty.
18. The Gothic fate of poor slain Poetry is the specter at this dwindling feast.