The Future Is…

I’ve been threatening you with this post for a week. Yes, at long last, it’s the much-delayed Curmudgeonly Rant You Can Blame On Lior.  (Say it with me: Thanks, Lior!)

I bet you thought I was going to delay it again so I could give you the scoop on Apple’s “A Lot To Cover” event. Much to my surprise, though, every single tech blog on the planet is planning to cover Apple’s announcements, many of them with live posts from on-site. Since Apple seems to have neglected to send me an invitation, why should I even try to compete with the rest of the world? I’ll let you get your up-to-the minute news from the anointed outlets, and save my usual snarky commentary for Thursday’s post. Deal?

OK, on with the rant.

Lior and I have been talking about the intersection of the Web and writing, specifically the possibilities for doing fiction using blogs and other social media. And then he found this.

Let me save you the pain of reading it. “The Future of Storytelling: Phase 1” is the first part of Latitude 42s’ vision of the inevitable next stage in the evolution of fiction. According to this manifesto, today’s readers don’t want to be passive consumers. They want their fiction to tell them what else is going on in the world while the story is happening. They want to take control of the story. They want the story to spread across all of their electronics. And they want it to inspire them to do something in their real life.

OK, what?

Maybe some examples would help. These were taken directly from the document, so don’t blame me for making anything up. “What else was going on in the world when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were falling in love?” “I want to really friend Bond, and have him call me by name and listen to my advice.” “I’d love to be a part of a real-word game, whereby, citywide, everyone is reading the same book.” “While reading Cinderella, I’d like if actions and recipes for the perfect scrubbing of floors or green window-washing could be accessed.”

Is it just me, or does this seem like it boils down to “Entertain me, and sell me stuff. Oh, and let me tell you how the story should go!”

Exqueege me? If you don’t like the story I’m telling, how about you tell your own story instead of co-opting mine? Want to know what else is going on, do a little research — I did, that’s why I know the background. But you can’t include everything, or every short story would be buried in 900 pages of “meanwhiles”. Like the sculptor removing all of the stone that isn’t an elephant, it’s the author’s job to cut out everything that isn’t part of the story.

Ooh, here’s a good one. “It would be amazing if my e-reader kept track of days I read and days I didn’t. For example, if I had just read a part of Ender’s Game where Ender was about to engage in a big battle, and then I stopped for a few days, it would send me a ‘news’ email telling me about the victory—or about the loss.”

Are you out of your flipping mind? Look, if I stop reading a book, it’s for one of two reasons: either I hated it and want nothing more to do with it, or I’m too busy with something else and I’ll get back to it. In either case, why would I want to be interrupted with spoilers? And that doesn’t even consider the implications of a third party knowing what I was reading down to the specific sentence where I stopped.

Look, if you take inspiration from something I write, that’s great. Whether it’s inspiration to write something of your own, to learn about something going on in the world, or even to buy some floor wax, I’m glad to know I touched your life. But if you insist that everything I write has to provide you with “your perfect glass slipper (read: high end shoe)”, I’m not going to be inspiring you, I’m going to be advertising to you.

Oh, wait.

Let’s take a look at Phase 2 of Latitude’s magnum opus. If you’re really feeling brave, you can find it with a quick web search. I’m not going to spoil your adventure by giving you the URL.

Again, I quote: “At Latitude, we work with some of the foremost companies in media, technology, and advertising, helping them to grow their audiences through great storytelling. As the landscape evolves, we’ve been exploring possibilities for next-gen narratives—including how technology is enabling more immersive and interactive experiences with content and brands.”

Yup. The future of storytelling is advertising, folks. Forget those antiquated ideas of entertainment and teaching. In the Wonderful World of the Future, it’s all about selling. Their entire study population is smartphone owners, more than half of whom are also tablet owners, and all of whom are TV watchers to the tune of “at least six hours a week”). Clearly this is not a biased group, nor one that has any need for non-commercial storytelling…

Think I’m exaggerating? Page 8 is dominated by an infographic (don’t you just love that word?) titled “Which elements should next-gen advertising include?” The text assures us that the public is demanding “innovative advertising” and that “Stories could be one-click storefronts”.

Not my stories, thank you. I’ll stick with my advertising-free tales, even if that does seriously curtail my audience.

Latitude’s idea isn’t new. I invite anyone who thinks it is to read Pohl and Kornbluth’s “The Space Merchants” from 1952. There is literally nothing in Latitude’s documents that wasn’t covered in the book.

One final ironic note: That infographic (shudder) on page 8 gives percentages of their study group who agreed with various statements about kinds of advertisements that would engage them. The winner, with 47% of respondents agreeing was “I’d like to see more advertisements that feature a deal.” Yup. The best thing this company can do to help you improve your advertising is to tell you to offer a discount. Now that is interaction I can believe in.

4 thoughts on “The Future Is…

  1. Casey, what did you expect? When the medium that allows access to literature is the internet, you think they’re not going to try to figure out how to hustle every last buckinski and shekel they can from the situation?
    I have one word for you, my boy: paper.
    Books (there’s another). Literature, whether high or low, has always been, ultimately, a product, but when it’s published as a book, that’s it. They can advertise “tie-ins” and all sorts of publicity hustles, but, ultimately, it’s just the book and a reader and a quiet corner. When you submit it to the tender mercies of the internet scavengers, it becomes a gift that keeps on giving…. to them. They can do any damn thing they want with (and to) it, unless you have Godzilla for a lawyer. Agents, publishers, all the creatures to which the author is symbiotically connected, will always be with us and most of them will take what they can. The idea is to get your precious, pink, trembling work out of their hands and safely into the hands of the reader, who may or may not give it the love it needs, but that’s another matter. As long as it’s “out there”, somewhere, somebody will be figuring out a way to use your work, if it has any draw at all. Just one of the facets of the monster we’ve created.

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    • Oh, it’s quite what I expected. Curmudgeon, remember?

      Not that paper is safe, either. I’ve got some old SF paperbacks (60s and 70s, if memory serves) with tipped-in advertisements. Mostly for cigarettes. Once it leaves your desk, your ability to control it is severely limited. You may or may not have input on the cover, you have no control over how it’s marketed and where it’s sold, and even if you stick with paper only, you can’t stop it from being scanned, posted, and then folded, spindled, and mutilated.

      The real problem here isn’t the lightly concealed advertisement for advertising, it’s when authors begin to fall for it. Naming no names here, but I just recently saw a blog item from a well-known SFF author advising writers to do their world-building in a wiki so that the readers can pitch in to help create the world.

      Sorry, even when the participants are all professionals and vetted, sharing fails. (I’m open to being contradicted on this, but [case in point] can you name even one shared-world anthology series that didn’t either fold or turn into sludge when the nth new author came along and pushed it below the Sturgeon Line?)

      Put it another way: How is a book written by a committee any different than a widget designed by a focus group?

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  2. Fits in nicely with the developing trend to publish books via Kickstarter. Just a small step to the product-producer having to run his proposed merch past a committee of his investors.

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    • I suspect that first-time authors trying the crowd-source route are already feeling a lot of pressure to share the work in progress. I’d be interested to see what would happen if someone tried to cancel the charge because the author wasn’t producing chapters fast enough.

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