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How The Internet Broke Everything, In One Paragraph

Bruce "I made kids cry at SXSWi" Sterling:

I know this sounds opaque, but I heard British novelist M John Harrison yesterday describing how the construction of identity is changing because "culture," the factors that acculturate people, have been smeared all over the planet by the Internet. And he sees this is as a challenge for novelists because literature is a description of how people are; it’s about structures of meaning and feeling. And the structure of literary language needs to respond to, or even *lead,* new structures of meaning and feeling.

Published in researchmaterial


  1. Or perhaps ‘literature’, and ‘literary language’ and even a good chunk of the worthy ‘novelists’ need to stop acting like horse and buggy manufacturers when space flight came along. 100,000 words per pop on a 2-3 year production cycle is probably not the best use of anyone’s time anymore…



  2. Were they still making buggies when spaceflight came along? I think the automobile might’ve arrived in the interim.

    In 2007 five of the ten top sellers in Japan were SMS novels. They were written and distributed in 160-character chunks over mobile phones, then collected into the same old hardcover format, some of which went on to sell 400,000+ copies.

    I haven’t read any of them, so maybe they’re all dreadful (it seems that they’re mostly romance novels). And at least one cellphone novelist (Yokomori) has been arrested on suspicion of molesting a high school-aged fan. But! Jakucho Setouchi, an 80-something Buddhist nun and something of a Japanese celebrity (nunlebrity?) has also written a cellphone novel.

    So: they’ve got molesters and nuns writing romance novels in 160 character increments which end up being distributed as old-fashioned hardbacks, suggesting that immediate serialization doesn’t preclude traditional collection and redistribution (see: Dickens, Charles). Downloading tracks doesn’t preclude the eventual purchase (or theft, whatever) of an entire album, either, and this might be a related phenomenon, but with more nuns.

    I wouldn’t bury the novel form with the buggies just yet.

  3. JimtheFool JimtheFool

    It is fun (and damned easy) to blame things on the Intrawebs. The problem, however, with saying that the internet is dissolving traditional “cultures” – “smearing” them – is that it is not the internet that is even doing that; the internet “cultures” (and they are certainly present) are not built on fractured beliefs, but are rather a amalgamation of them (if only in the most basic sense…).
    The real “problem” is not the internet, but the thing that it represents in contrast to traditionally defined cultures, is the idea of globalization – an idea which has existed for several hundred years, and has been noted and commented on by numerous scifi writers, comic writers (wink wink, nudge nudge), and philosphers. Again, what is coming is not neseccarily an end to geographic, ethnic, religious, or hitorical cultures, but a combination of cultures (if only a particularly “western one”, and watered-down, at that).
    The internet is not a bad thing, nor has it hurt human culture; at the same time, it is most certainly NOT a good thing (god only knows…). Like most things, I guess, it just IS.
    Oh well.

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