Ten Reasons Why I Hate Digital Literature

Like many writers, I have a love-hate relationship with my work. Some days, it’s smooth sailing with clear skies right up to the horizon. And other days, it’s a gale, with the compass off kilter and the water swamping over the gunwales. It’s on the bad days that I hate what I do, and wish for sudden death or, at least, to drink myself into a coma….

So in an act of exorcism, I list them here….

TEN REASONS WHY I HATE DIGITAL LITERATURE!

(1) I hate having to explain what I do to people who have never heard of digital literature. That would be most people, maybe 99.9%. This includes, well, instead of listing 99.9% of all the people in the world, I’ll mention the ones who don’t need an explanation: digital writers.

Do I exaggerate? Try this test. Go into any bar, restaurant, museum, or any other place you choose (except a digital writers’ conference), and ask, “Who knows what digital literature is?”

No one will raise their hand….

(2) I hate that you need a computer to make digital literature. And with a computer (and its variety of applications) comes a learning curve, and lots and lots and lots and lots of time spent in a chair staring at a screen. It’s not wasted time. Oh, no, my time isn’t wasted because every minute I sit at my computer is one less minute before my death. And death is my release from digital fiction (there’s no computers in the afterlife)…

The point of all that work is to (3) create what some people think are beautiful Net objects. But I can’t appreciate them. In fact, I hate them. I’m my own worst critic, never satisfied with what I’ve done, always looking to make it better. I have edited stories to death, tweaked and twiddled with them until all the naturalness was squeezed out of them, leaving them dry and lifeless. And even then, I don’t stop. I edit some more, until I’m back where I began…

I can’t help it–I’m a perfectionist, so much so, I create imperfect works every chance I get.

(4) I hate being a slave to my work. It’s not fair. I could be riding a carousel, drinking in a neighbor’s garden, watching a movie, eating ice cream, reading a book, smelling the flowers, eating lunch, or dinner, or fishing, but instead, I’m glued to my computer. It’s my boss, my hump, my god, my crutch, my friend, my enemy, my brother, sister, mother, father… I’m lost without it, and lost with it. Either way, I can’t shake it loose…

Which brings me to (5) The typo. The typo in traditional text is just that: a typo. As long as you catch it before the story is printed, your work is done. And even if one squeaks by, it’s not your fault, it was the editor who missed it, or the publishers (not you)….

But in digital literature, the typo is your fault, a fault that everyone sees at once. There’s no grace period, no “book coming out in the fall.” It’s right there, on the web, instantaneously published in its typo glory for all the world to see.

I hate that typo. It’s embarrassing, and it’s all digital literature’s fault. If only technology was not so efficient, not so immediate, that typo would just gi away.

And there’s more (there’s always more) because (6) I hate there’s so little of digital literature on the web. And lots of that so little is good, and worth a look, but lots isn’t…

I search hard, tempted by every link, only to find not what could be called digital literature but something else. Maybe it’s static text and image, or video, or just bare text, and it’s all digital, sure, but the web is a multimedia environment, groping toward its full potential, so multimedia digital literature is what I’m looking for.

I move on, looking for more, and in the future, it may be less when (7) what I make today, because of evolving technologies, could be gone tomorrow, unplayable in the newest browsers. I worry about everything, so this newest worry makes me lose sleep at night, and I have dreams like this one…

…I’m walking among a crowd of admirers. My clothes are touch screen monitors, heavy as armor and clanking with every step. People touch them as I walk by. Each touch triggers a Flash event as their fingers navigate my body. Suddenly, the monitors flicker out, the metal and plastic melt away, and I am left naked in the crowd. Their oohs and aahs turn to laughs of derision, and I cover my shame…

I wake bathed in sweat. A pen and a piece of paper are on the bedside table. Their technology is quaint , like a butter churn, or a horse and buggy…

Here, take my money because (8) I’m going broke making digital literature. Well, not exactly broke, but certainly losing cash, and I don’t like it (who would?).

It’s not just the basic hardware of computer, monitor, and mouse, but the applications (at $1,000 a pop), audio equipment, high-speed internet, still and video cameras. Then there’s postage for grants and gallery submissions, BIG dollars for gallery displays, and more money to attend festivals and conferences. Add to this the incidentals of CDs, CD covers, envelopes, gas for the car (to get to the post office), and so on, and so forth, until your pockets run dry…

All this money spent, for what? To share your digital stories in any way you can…

It’s a pity, mostly, a sign of the Art Form (and another peeve) that (9) No one knows what to call it. Depending on the hour of the day, and the season, it’s hypertext literature, new media literature, Net Art, computer literature, elit, eliterature, electronic literature, digital literature, digilit, bitworks (or byteworks), generated text, hypermedia, hyperliterature, web art, web-specific literature, and the list goes on…

If something does not have a name, does it exist?

And finally (10) I hate that the last thing I hate about digital literature is that I have ten reasons why I hate digital literature…

Why couldn’t it be nine, or eight, or none?

(February 2, 2011)