Scholarship about "the digital generation" remains in its relative infancy, having only come into the purview of the academy in the last few decades. However, Writing and the Digital Generation enters this conversation with a host of voices, seeking to help expand and enrich the discussion. Editor Heather Urbanski prefaces the collection by tracing the book's evolution via her own personal journey as a "member" of this digital generation: from convention (2006 World Science Fiction Convention) to academic conference (2007 Popular Culture/American Culture Association’s National Conference) to edited collection. She then quickly moves to her introduction, where she contemplates the digital generation (is there one, and if so, what does it look like?) and offers up the overarching aims of this collection:
I hope this collection will be seen as presenting many aspects of a conversation, where real knowledge is made through the process of immersion, understanding, analysis, and even critique. Binaries such as new media versus “old” or avatars versus “real” people more often than not impoverish the conversation and as a scholar who has jumped among more communities and disciplines than I care to count, that approach seems myopic to me. (p. 7)
Urbanski and her collaborators choose to enter this conversation through an examination of fan culture in particular, a narrowing not necessarily apparent from the rather broad-sounding title. Each essay and profile offers analysis, argument, critique or explanation of some fannish behavior, text, or activity. Even with this somewhat limited scope, however, this collection puts forward the voices of dozens of different writers from varied fandoms and disciplines. Thus, with Urbanski and her own fan experience at the helm, the collection sets out on a quest to expand the conversation, to make it perhaps more complicated and a even little bit messy, but also to get closer to a more generative and usable discourse of new media.
Navigating the Book
The collection is divided into four sections, seemingly in an effort to ease the reader into the waters of fandom rather than tossing them off the proverbial deep end. The first three sections, then, gradually progress from what would be considered basic fan behaviors (I. React), to more active re-creation and textual interaction (II. Re-Mix), and finally to the most authoritative and digitally complex authorial activities in fandom (III. Re-Create). The fourth section (IV. Teaching the Digital Generation) follows up this progression with an attempted turn (back) toward the academy, addressing teaching and what that means (both formally in the writing classroom and informally in online fan communities and the like).
Particularly apparent in this collection is the role of the scholars themselves in fandom; many of the writers come to the discussion themselves immersed in the very fan cultures they examine. In each of the four sections, the critical essays are followed by a handful of profiles, mostly written from a first-person perspective. Although the profiles offer some insight into the perspective of the fan, this may quickly become problematic when we realize that these fans are also academics, or at least now print-published authors, and so their points-of-view may not be entirely representative of their respective fan cultures at large.