Friday, July 08, 2011

Craftsmanship vs Mass Production: Literature in the Digital Age

Lately, I can't seem to stop thinking about this question of the digital revolution and its effects on writing, writers and literature. Most recently, I found myself wondering how the new age of blogs and e-publishing impacted the quality of written work.

It seems to me that the digital revolution is to the world of ideas and stories what the industrial revolution was to furniture and other such material goods. We are entering an age of mass-production of ideas. The printing press enabled mass-production of the concrete items that contained the ideas, the messengers, i.e. books. But now, the ideas themselves can flow forth at an unprecedented rate from anyone and everyone, with minimal effort, risk or sense of commitment.

When the industrial age allowed the mass production of items such as clothing and furniture, many would argue that a reduction in quality followed close behind and craftsmanship was lost. "They don't make 'em like they used to." Will we find this same thing to be true with stories and ideas in the digital age? Will craftsmanship fall by the wayside in favor of "increased traffic"? After all, we've all heard that the more frequently you post on your blog, the better your traffic.

Call me a luddite if you will. Or perhaps this is simply another in a series of warning signs that I am becoming an old curmudgeon. But maybe it's a call to arms, a reminder not to compromise quality in the face of quantity and the rush to deliver.

For an interesting conversation about this topic, from a different perspective, check out the post
"Tsunami of Crap" at The Newbie's Guide to Publishing.


  1. I think that the percentage of good writing to bad will probably stay something like constant from the pre-digital era through the evolving periods of the digital one. We've gone from penny dreadfuls and yellow journalism broadsheets to blogs.

    I think there's just more of everything now, good and bad, and it's easier than ever to find both. What young readers and writers need to learn is how to tell the difference, but again, that's always been the problem.

  2. I say we just continue to do our best and let our readers sort it out. The difference may be now that more of us actually HAVE readers.

  3. Thanks for your comments, David and Sandra. The more I explore, the more this topic seems to be on the minds of writers. The Fiction Writers Guild on Linked In currently has a raging debate about this question. Perhaps, since writers are thinkers, we are functioning as a kind of gatekeepers in this new age simply by virtue of our need to debate these questions.


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