There's lots of interesting things being written lately about the nature of reading online, whether it counts as "reading," whether all the technology is making us dumber, and whether kids - who increasingly choose to sit in front of their computers instead of picking up a book - will suffer the consequences of all the non-linear jumping around they do online.
The New York Times published today "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?," an article that explores the differences between reading a book and reading on the web, from both sides. In this month's issue of The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr responds to "the uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with [his] brain," by asking "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" And Sven Birkerts recently wrote "Lost in the blogosphere: why literary blogging won't save our literary culture" for the Boston Globe, where he argues that the blogosphere is "exciting" as a "supplement," but "is too fluid in its nature ever to focus our widely diverging cultural energies." Fascinating reading, all of it.
In an email interview I'm working on for another blog, I've been asked the question: "What prompted your decision to create an HFR blog?" The immediate answer, to echo Birkerts, is that we thought it would be a way to supplement the work of our printed issues, a place to talk to our contributors and learn more about their work. We wanted to both deepen our readers' experiences with what we publish, and broaden the reach of our contributors. And since our mission is to support emerging artists, the blog would give us a chance to do more of that: to talk about writing and visual art more. The implication is that the reach of the printed copies of HFR is limited. This is, of course, true. We are not only limited by our ability to find our readers out in the world, but also by the number of copies we can afford to print. The blog, ideally, helps us find more readers for our printed issues, and furthers the whole of our mission.
I was also recently asked, "What is the difference between print and online journals? Why do you keep printing when so much is changing?" It is a complicated question, to be sure. The primary answer (one that doesn't exactly address the question) is that is what we've always done. It is, still, the preferred format of most literary journals. In order to get the work to agents, to be considered by editors of anthologies and contests, we need a physical journal. That's a fact. Online journals struggle for the same legitimacy as print ones (see this post, this Utne article). Whether that is "right" is certainly debatable, and may be changing. But for now, we continue. Another answer is that we conceive of each issue as a work of art, a thing to be held in physical space, an object whose order is defined (in other words, linear), not a series of links. We are readers who prefer this method of reading. It is the same reason you pick up a book rather than a Kindle (Um, or do you pick up your Kindle?). For all of those reasons that the articles above describe, the printed story is approached differently than a block of text online. I can say, personally, that it is hard for me to read a story on the web. My attention wanders more easily, I lose concentration. A personal failing? Perhaps, but true.
Also, consider this complication: Print journals can't take anything back, even a mistake. Once the printed stuff is out in the world, it's gone forever. That can obviously be a bad thing. But online journals and blogs must deal with another problem. What if a writer changes his/her mind about what s/he said last year? What if s/he is applying for a new job, and wants a story or poem removed from a website's archives? What's more important - the writer's well-being, or the integrity and preservation of the literature created? And if we know we can - at least to a certain extent - take back or delete what we've put forth online, does it change the seriousness with which we submit it?
To blog or not to blog, that is the question.