Sat, Aug 24, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Imagining the future of literature

What will literature be like 30 years from now? Writer Ewan Morrison looks into his crystal ball and finds it is bad news for ebooks, the West — and anyone who cares about verifiable history

By Ewan Morrison  /  The Guardian, LONDON


Fiction in 2043 is leaner, but more alive than ever. Through careful use of digital technology, it is now part of the fabric of life. In 2043, people no longer see titles as individual products (free or otherwise): They see fiction as a stream of content, as an alternative living world that unfolds in many media alongside their own lives. They check in to see how a story is developing. Characters are well maintained, original and credible — and authored by teams of specialists raised and nurtured by state-run publishing houses.

Fiction exists in 2043 as a series of alternative realities: Fictional characters “live” and go about daily activities, with updates available by the minute. While the reusing of characters from previous eras is frowned upon (due to the rapid burn-up of content), it is not uncommon to still find a stray Winston Smith or Madame Bovary passing through the same virtual village, alongside new characters who have, for the first time in half a century, been allowed to live and grow in the years of hope and progress that followed the dark days of the digital revolution.


There is, however, one major problem in the new post-digital peace: the verification of historical facts. To rescue true history from the digital morass of mashed-up facts, humankind must sift through trillions of files of textual mess created by the digital revolution (and by those who attempted to make money from corrupting the lives of historical figures). In 2043, there are no professional critics or specialists left to judge what is real history: Academia has had to change to become profitable and serious journalism, sadly, did not survive.

The digital revolutionaries burned books in the last days of their battle, seeing historians as dated and elitist, and replacing dusty paperbook tomes with what they thought were exciting, constantly updated, hive-mind Wiki-texts.

Thus the people of 2043 will never know if it is true that the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima a century ago. The facts have been changed too many times by pranksters, the politically motivated, and those who sought to create scandal so they could be “liked” and “shared.”

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