In Print is Dead, one of Jeff Gomez’s arguments in the chapter “On Demand Everything” struck me as peculiar.
The weakness in his concept of “snippet culture” in this part of the book, I think, stems from his belief that we consume multimedia the same way we consume books. After demonstrating that “Generation Upload” has forced vendors to offer real-time “on-demand environments” (i.e. iTunes), he writes on page 110:
There will also be an impressive market for smaller parts of entire books. The same consumers who buy one song at a time on iTunes, or else one episode of a TV show, may want to purchase just a chapter or even a few pages of certain kinds of books […] While this would be rarer for novels—after all, no one’s clamoring to buy half a movie—the rise of YouTube and ‘clip culture’ has shown that consumers are increasingly looking for non-linear, bite-sized bits of entertainments. ‘Snippet culture’ may not be far behind.
Just “Rarer for novels”? That’s an understatement. While I can imagine a professor putting together a piecemeal textbook by picking and choosing selections from other textbooks so that her teaching aid is perfectly suited for her class, I can’t imagine a former YouTube consumer deciding to herself at random: “Hey, I’ve always wanted to read the last fifteen pages of Running with Scissors, why don’t I go online and buy a snippet?”
Novels aren’t YouTube videos. Buying random chunks from a novel is analogous to buying pixels from a jpeg, or fourteen seconds from an mp3, or the middle forty-thousand frames of a music video. In other words, the novel is greater than the sum of its parts, and to consume a novel in disparate “bite-sized bits” is not to experience the novel the author wrote, but merely to read its meaningless parts.
I don’t think, however, that the novel will never be amenable to Jeff Gomez’s conception of “snippet culture.” Out of left field, all kinds of new forms for the genre may appear as technology changes the way we interact with narrative text (as well as the way we interact with each other). Japanese cell-phone novelists are one example. I guess the emergence of a new literary form (or the evolution of an old literary form into a new one) depends upon the standardization of a technology that will enable its delivery en mass. The bound book was the novel’s technology. What will be the next?