Networked Life

I just read this amazing essay about the narrative possibilities of our current networked lives, and it got me thinking about our discussions of Lady Audley’s Secret. We are very different from the Victorians in many ways — perhaps we’re hyper-Victorian — but one thing that I see in common between the sensation novel of the 1860s and the contemporary fiction discussed in the essay I just referred to is the difficulty of writing about the networked lives of one’s given time period. The big question about the 21st century is, how do I write fiction about characters who text and communicate by social media? In a similar way, the big question for the sensation novelists of the 1860s is, how do I write fiction about characters who are constantly riding the rails and communicating by telegraph? It seems to me that our current story-telling dilemmas are a kind of echo or return of the same concerns the Victorians were having about their own revolutionary advancements in communications and transportation.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Networked Life

  1. I wonder, is it any different than describing someone talking on the telephone? Texting is pretty well an extension of phone conversation, but I agree with you… it seems much more problematic in writing than in visual media. For example, If anyone has watched “House of Cards” or other series, more and more I am seeing them incorporate texting right into their scenes. A blurb will pop up with the message being written by the character in the seen, and the audience make read it just like it were their own text conversation, on the television screen.

    In literature and other forms of writing, it does seem more difficult to incorporate texting. Although the argument can be made that it just slightly different than letter writing, like in “Lady Audeley’s Secret” it still presents some challenges because of the TIMING. Texting, has made communicating so efficient and so quick. Instead of waiting for a response – as with a letter – you can have a response within minutes and/or seconds, so it does present a very different challenge.

    How will you incorporate text into a book without being boring/losing your readers’ attention? Additionally, text has its own rules for grammar and slang… (“C U L8ter”). This creates another problem as certain readers may not be familiar with EVERY acronym used.

    Maybe text message will become the next diary-style or epistolary novels?


  2. Also, anyone who wants to see an example of a Powerpoint presentation being used in a novel (that’s right, it’s an entire chapter in a novel) you can check out Jennifer Eagan’s book “A Visit from the Goon Squad”.
    (ps. its not possible for me to underline the book title because there is no italics or underline available when you write comments! aha)


  3. As a creative writer, the question, “How do I write fiction about characters who text and communicated by social media?” is more a matter of excess: so much content and information exchange exists on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, Pintrest, Weebly, and other social media sites (too many to name here) that I could likely spend the rest of my life researching this material and its medium and not even get around to writing anything that could adequately convey the quantity and speed of information age in which we currently live.

    The question also extends to issues concerning digital archiving. In an article published last year by the LA Review of Books, Jeremy Schmidt and Jacquelyn Ardam discuss the merits of the recently digitally archived life of Susan Sontag and consider:

    how much can we glean from her computer’s small music library (which, for the record, is heavy on the Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel)? Or, to pose this question more drastically: is there anything of value in the article on the “low carb craze” forwarded to Sontag by her son in August 2004? Was Sontag perhaps flirting with an Atkins diet? Does it matter? How much information is just too much information? What are we to do with this overmuchness, this “plenitude,” the “sheer crowdedness” that is Sontag’s digital life? (

    The digital age is a time of plenty, and both archivists and writers face the challenge of considering more material and form in their work than ever before. Perhaps the best way to consider this material in the same manner one has when setting out to write an academic paper: to limit one’s research to a very specific set of material and form which exists in a specific time.


  4. I agree with Kristina in that ultimately the writer hs to decide what is relevent to include. Whether it be a short telegram or a text message, does the content matter to the piece? If not, saying that they received such message may be enough to bring the setting in time to bear, but if the content is relevant, then it must be included somehow. Characters reading such things out loud or showing them to friends are good ways to reinforce that these mediums are ultimately about communication. They are not isolated snippets of information, but serve as tools of communication.

    An epistolary novels may or may not work in our modern age, because emails are not as lengthy as letters, usually, but that is mostly because the communication is instant. Because of the time it takes from a letter to get to one place or another, so much has happened and so much can be told, but with an email the things one feels compelled to write about may be minimal. We live in a culture or instant gratification, however, a little unlike the Victorians, and perhaps that would explain why I would suggest giving the bare minimum with regards to necessary content. The story has to keep rolling, keep being relevant, in our modern age, while the Victorians may have used the time in between receiving responses to create an atmosphere of suspense because they must wait–even if only a little longer than us. Even this lack of instant gratification delays the story, it can be made relevant so that the story does not go stale.

    The Victorians had to adapt to their situation, and did so effectively. We in the modern age can, too, but we might need slightly different tactics.


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