What's down the road?

Where writing is, odds are cyberspace is in reach. And where there is writing, there will be literature, always and ever evolving. Cyberspace-connected computers are now unequivocally a part of the daily fabric of modern life. Robert Coover's words written in 1992 are still true: "Hypertext is truly a new and unique environment. Artists who work there must be read there. And they will probably be judged there as well: criticism, like fiction, is moving off the page and on line, and it is itself susceptible to continuous changes of mind and text."

We are at the beginning of this new medium for literary expression, the technology of cyberspace changing almost before our eyes. "Eventually however the skills required to produce exciting work that might gain a large audience on the net may become unreachable to all but the lucky or technically dedicated," noted Dreaming Method's Andy Campbell at a TrAce Conference back in 2002, underscoring the ever-evolving complexity of cyberspace. "The internet will undoubtedly transform into a world somewhere between CD Roms and interactive television," Campbell (2002) the visionary creative genius prophesied, and added: "Standard HTML pages with black text and blue links are already becoming the online equivalent of silent movies." (To which I would add, considering I'm advocating HTML being a good place to start, that everyone needs to start somewhere even when making movies. And the simpler the better, until we all morph into creative geniuses as well.)

And what of predictions about cyberspace itself? Robert Kendall suggested it is "Publishing's Awakening Giant," the title of his Poets & Writers article on the topic. The Web is the "most important development we've had in writing/publishing since Gutenberg," Alt-X's Mark America said, and the development is moving faster all the time. "Predictions about the future size...speed, and function of the Internet are futile. The same goes for writing a book about today's digital medium. By the time the book gets copy-edited, typeset, printed, and shipped, the subject matter isn't so emerging anymore," quipped Edward Picot in a Slope article entitled "Hyperliterature: the Apotheosis of Self-Publishing."

This then is the most dramatic difference between what was before and what will come after in the world of words. Print lit has remained essentially the same for hundreds of years, and now, suddenly, with the advances of Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPhone and iPad, it now offers up its books digitally in seconds, all on screen, for a price. The future has arrived for e-books. But what will cyberlit become in the face of such matter-of-fact dual print/digital publishing? The only answer is that it will continue to morph along with each technological advance. So it will be when today's technologies are old and a future researcher stumbles upon this site only to judge its information out of date yet mildly of historical value. Meanwhile, Marshall McLuhan's "insurgent technologies" will continue to "give rise to new structures of feeling and thought, new manners of perception" (Griscom, "McLuhan's Message").

And the "consensual hallucination" that William Gibson called "cyberspace" will grow to be as common as the city library (and perhaps it already has). (1) Some, though, like Campbell, will see this flooding sea of change as a challenge and create new visions to fit it:

As the increasing speed and popularity of broadband pumps more and more quality and versatility into full motion video on the web, Dreaming Methods-Digital Fiction clings onto words and language in the hope of telling stories, 'exploring narratives', without completely becoming film. It's a vision that tries to discover the future for writers who do not wish to produce straightforward novels or scripts, but who want to hold on to the power and possibility of their own words and sentences, and whatever might manifest around them.
(See Campbell's article Writing Isn't What It Used To Be for broader thoughts on the subject of the future.)

Will there be a change in the cyber-literary process itself, that is, its freedoms, its copyright issues, its mercantile dimension? No doubt. The works read and discussed here have been given over to the prevailing consensual cyberlit-mentality, that is their being offered via free access to the world-wide web or via an on-line publishing concern that conducts business in either the "free" model, or the "mercantile" model. However, many of the "free" publishing concerns are now experimenting with ways for readers to pay for the cyberlit experiences. It is all in flux; stay tuned; such is the technological age we live in.

What about cyberliterature itself? As Marshall McLuhan noted in "The agenbite of outwit," "The new media...are not toys; they can be entrusted only to new artists."

With every generation more comfortable with the magic of this consensual hallucination and its creative potential, its literature will grow, even have its own literary geniuses, even perhaps its own satirists. As cyberpoet Brian Kim Stefans anticipated in his UbuWeb essay "Reflections on Cyberpoetry": "We only need the coming of a Satirist—no one of genius is rarer—to prove that the cyberpoem can have much the same edge that Dryden and Pope laid down."

For the rest of us, including all future cyberwriters, hypermedia poet David Knoebel (1996) offered this reminder and challenge:

"The English language includes more than 250,000 words.
Good combinations are still available."

RoadSite: references/ linkography