The story of literature is a long and well told one, as the written form used to produce it to some degree always transforms its definitions and defining characteristics at least incrementally. Each and every time a new novel, poem or article is put to press it changes what literature is to some degree, some more than others but still at least a small change each time. Yet, more recently a new written format is the source of the potential and real change associated with literature. Prior to the 20th century even the smallest written message, a short poem or just a sentence had to be written in some form on paper that was then only limitedly transferable, to allow for the dissemination of the message it developed. Yet, with the development of word processing, the World Wide Web and various other technologies came change. The question then becomes, will such formats as hypertext novels and electronic books change the notion of literature.
The most recent change is arguably a positive one, being that more and more people have available to them and are comfortable with the written word in electronic form. Expansion and some assume transformation of the form of literature was bound to ensue and it has. Electronic format information is not really new at all and on the Web is set up in what is called hypertext, where it is stored and accessible in a number of ways that are usually content driven, rather than linearly and possibly indexed in the back of a book. Now that same technology is being used to produce what are called hypertext novels, though similar content has been available before in written form, like the choose your own adventure books that were popular in the 80s and 90s yet, here in an electronic format the hypertext is so malleable that the message of the literature literally has thousands of outcomes, directions and possibilities of message.
One author of a hypertext who also happens to be an educator claims that such hypertext makes learning easier as children are highly adept to learning in a non-linear fashion. Yet he is also quick to express that such novels are not likely to replace linear models of literature as though they are fascinating and interesting his students at Vassar College at least are not "fragment junkies," and Joyce states plainly that there is very little chance that such a format will cause individuals to stop reading novels. ("Books or Bytes" E16)
Another model of literature formatted in a much more traditional manner to a linear novel is the electronic book or e-book, which mimics a book in almost every right, excluding that it is highly portable and accessible and must be viewed through an electronic device. The reality is that, even in the e-book industry which is a growth model (Watson 7) the publishing of an e-book is still modeled on the development of a traditional novel (Epstein 12). What this means is that the literature itself is likely written and developed in much the same manner as any other form of literature in the genre and then is made available in a digital form to be read on an interface device or even one's personal computer. (Harper 10) According to Epstein, "the assumption that because content can now be transmitted electronically most books hereafter will be read on screens overlooks such factors as cost, convenience, reliability, and human nature, as well as the peculiar nature of books." (12) Epstein stresses that just because a possibility, through technology exists does not make it likely that it will replace the lengthy history of literature in the written and printed form. Yet, it will likely change the notion of literature to some degree. In his 2008 article he demonstrates with all logic how the changes that electronic/digital books will have on the reader are minimal, as the devices used to "read" them are attempting to mimic the feel of a real page turning hard copy, which he finds humor in given that the printed book already provides this service to a perfection and with digital technology can be printed and distributed on demand. Interestingly, I have heard of e-books and even hypertext novels but I have not heard of the ATM like machines that Epstein uses as an example where a book can be cost effectively printed, trimmed and bound on demand by a reader in just a few minutes. This type of futuristic library seems as strange and the interface devices that cost a great deal but have gone down in price so much since their inception, with base models costing less than 1/4 of the original price tag of the devices in 2008, $400 for a new kindle Amazon's proprietary model in 2008 now $79.
The devices themselves have also expanded greatly and are produced now in many other forms by other companies with open format development of files and even devices that serve as multi-taskers rather than single task devices that just allow a user to download and read books and availability even in libraries has expanded to produce lending systems and other such models for distribution. (Watson 7) All these changes seemed strange and out of reach in 2008, but none more than the ATM devices that print, trim and bind an actual print copy of a book from a large selection of digital files. (Epstein 12)
Probably the most interesting transformation of the notion of literature in these new forms is simply the fact that individuals can easily and rapidly receive content anywhere that a wireless network exists. (Watson 7) The development of e-text is still very much a growth industry but then unless one spends a great deal of time at airports, upscale coffee shops or on college campuses it is they are unlikely to see a number of people in a week sitting on the bus, at the Laundromat or at the DMV reading a book in any other form than a printed paperback. To this end it is also not unheard of for technology to spread and develop in ways that are unexpected. For example just a few weeks ago an Indian company unveiled a tablet product that will sell to students for $35 dollars and $60 retail and will not only be able to download and read books but will be able to serve as a proxy pc. The change in availability of such technology has been vast and will likely continue to be astounding as more and more individuals and organizations seek to bridge what has long been called the digital divide, where only the wealthy have full access to technology. (Heater 1)
There is a sense that the face of literature is changing, as a result of its dissemination in different formats and yet at the same time one must stress that the formatting of most, though not all technologies and digital copies is such that it attempts to emulate the real physical book in every way. The pages look and "feel" like the actual pages of a book and the script is also what seems like a photograph of the real thing. Though Volokh attests to the idea that the transformation of literature is a profoundly possible outcome of all this new technology, the idea of literature has not changed in more than 500 years, except in the formats in which it has become available. There is a clear sense that the development of technology will change most profoundly with regard not precisely to literature, in the fiction or cultural sense of the word but in regard to information or reference books. Those books that we often skim, looking for just what we need rather than pursue and envelope…