A new survey by the Pew Research Center has found that the 16–29 demographic in the United States reads books and patronizes libraries at rates higher than those exhibited by adults over 30. The results provide something of a counterbalance to the perennial hand-wringing over the alleged role of the internet in diminishing the audience for books or eviscerating the cherished public library. One of the study’s most striking findings is that although older Americans more heavily weight the role of the library in their community, they are slightly less likely than younger demographics to actually have been to the library.
Do you see the Alt Lit movement as anything less exclusionary, that doesn't hold itself in a regard higher than those unable to participate through lack of networking, than the movements the tradition of lit they're rallying against--where those that reach out are still being excluded rather than promoted by a group of individuals that create their own values by consolidating the highlights of their culture into their work in turn creating exclusionary literary conventions?DOes this? make sense?
I see Alt Lit as a more inclusive movement versus regular literary movements in several ways:
1. Much easier to move ahead: thanks to the internet I feel a lot of people who quickly moved towards getting their work out there, whether in book, chapbook, or even submission format. This is one of the biggest benefits to the Alt Lit movement. Before Alt Lit there seemed to be a lot more bitterness towards people who got ahead versus those who languished. While I certainly have seen some bitterness towards the more successful writers of Alt Lit I’d say it is an inevitably with any artistic movement. I also feel that a lot more bitterness exists within the regular literary community (see Jonathan Franzen for curmudgeon). Alt Lit tends to veer towards less angry or vengeful impulses due to the by necessity tight knit nature of the community.
2. Choose your own level of engagement: a writer can pick exactly how involved or not involved they want to be within the community. For some writers that means choosing what venues to read at, who to associate with, or how often to put out new work. There are plenty of members of Alt Lit who have regular, 9 to 5 kind of jobs. Others have managed to transform Alt Lit into a full-time career through either presses or writing or other methods. I like this flexibility though I will say this flexibility is not entirely unique to Alt Lit. Plenty of members of the literary community had other jobs before this, it is simply a bit easier to write and share small snippets of art during lunch or during some specific small moment. Before this would not have been a possibility. Levels of support encourage this sort of behavior with a well-defined network of blogs both traditional (Alt Lit’s inclusion into Vice Magazine, The New York Times, etc.) and nontraditional (Alt Lit Gossip, Banango Street, Beach Sloth, Pop Serial, etc.)
3. Social Media Focus: Alt Lit writers can pick YouTube, VIMEO, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Snapchat, G-chat, Email, Bandcamp, or many other variations. Some Alt Lit writers are almost entirely IRL with very little internet presence to speak of, while others go hard on the internet with their rare IRL presence. I like this flexibility and I think it differs greatly from the usual ‘book tour’ style that existed within the literary community before Alt Lit. Though there are Alt Lit writers who engage on book tours they do it in a fun way (Scott McClanahan and Steve Roggenbuck come to mind). Many members of the traditional literary community rally against social media or use it as a way of showing off their really shitty side (Bret Easton Ellis uses his Twitter account mostly to badmouth whoever’s name comes to mind).
4. Pick the Style: Multiple styles of Alt Lit exist. That means someone can choose to engage purely with Flarf, or another might go only for novels, or videos to name a few. I like the amount of styles that exist within Alt Lit. I am always happy to see some cross-referencing between Alt Lit and other art forms. A lot of musicians are involved in Alt Lit. Visual artists in Alt Lit go beyond video into GIFs, or the ever-popular Image Macros. Some of the styles of Alt Lit could only exist within the confines of the community. I very much doubt that GIFs will ever have their own book, as much as I can hope. Though Macros have a greater chance of being transformed into book form their best usage remains online for sharing. Alt Lit is heavy into sharing and I feel the styles used encourage such work.
5. Different Communities – Alt Lit varies between different communities. Some Alt Lit focuses on depressive thoughts from a humorous point of view. Other Alt Lit work is exclusively positive or more carpe diem (YOLO). Many artists within Alt Lit can shift between these styles focusing on both positive and negative aspects. These sorts of moves would not be encouraged in traditional literary community. It would be too jarring to the community to see Thomas Pynchon go from dense work into Image Macros. Meanwhile within Alt Lit there are constant shifts from meditative beauty into absolute silliness.
However even within these supposedly anti-literary community tendencies I still see aspects of more traditional literary community impulses. The inclination of Alt Lit towards more permanent structures (presses, libraries, events) indicates that the original literary community impulses are still strong. And while some Alt Lit writers go for a specific voice there are plenty that are heavily influenced by the traditional literary community. Indeed much of what is on Alt Lit sites often references traditional literary communities in terms of style and sometimes substance. For me the biggest difference between traditional literary communities and Alt Lit are the forms of distribution alongside more direct interaction with readers. Interaction is the biggest part of Alt Lit even for those proclaimed to be ‘distant’.
Phones Are Better Than People
You’ve likely already seen I Forgot My Phone, the short film by Charlene deGuzman that dramatizes our dependence on smartphones. It’s pulled in almost 20 million views and counting thanks to that magic social-media formula of saying something everyone pretty much agrees with: we’re all hopelessly and pathetically addicted to our devices, which makes us tragically unaware of the fragile beauty of real-life moments passing us by on gossamer butterfly wings of authenticity.
The message at the heart of the film is yet another argument that technology erodes our genuine relationships and makes us stupider and less empathetic. You’ve likely heard a variation of this before—cell phones, or the internet, or computers, or television, are making things worse. As usual, it’s wrong.
Granted, smartphone abuse is a real thing—according to one study, 72 percent of Americans said they’re within five feet of their mobile devices at all times, and 9 percent said they used their phone during sex. In another survey, 51 percent of UK residents said they experience “extreme tech anxiety” when they’re separated from their phones. And common activities like texting or using social media trigger our brains’ dopamine and opioid receptors in much the same way narcotics do, meaning you can really be “addicted” to Facebook. But while it’s certainly reasonable to argue that we should draw the line somewhere—tweeting while driving is clearly dangerous, for instance—it’s not clear where that line should be.
Consider some familiar scenarios, some of which crop up in deGuzman’s film: you’re at a concert, or a restaurant, or a sporting event, and you take your phone out to take a photo or a video or send out a Tweet or Facebook status. OH NO YOU ARE MISSING OUT ON THE WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE OF BEING WITH OTHER HUMANS!
Yeah, right—have you met most people? They’re boring as shit. More likely, you are avoiding an awkward or boring conversation by checking your phone, or you’re communicating with those you’d actually like to talk to. Before smartphones, people dealt with these situations by drinking too much, pretending to be interested in someone, or just staring at the clock until the party was over. We’re not missing much if we duck into our phones instead.
“Who cares about literary journals when a writer can publish work on their tumblr/blog, gain followers from being funny/weird, and spark conversation and interest that way? Does it make sense to spend hours researching print literary journals, submitting, waiting months to hear back? And if your story does get printed in the journal, does anyone read it?”