I've been thinking a lot about different mediums of narrative storytelling, and after seeing this video and thinking about the future of virtual reality, I've got to admit it's making me a bit anxious:
Staring at text and reading a novel is basically like staring at a sequence of symbols and vividly hallucinating. One one level it's miraculous, but on another level, how could it possibly compete with the form of multisensory perception that the future of Virtual Reality holds? Particularly interactive virtual reality? Attention is the scarce commodity in the era of the smartphone and other rapidly advancing technology.
Perhaps, then, the surprising fact isn't that novels will die out in the future, it's the fact that they haven't died out yet. And as a person deeply committed to the novel as a specific form of storytelling, its possible future irrelevance concerns me. Should I spend decades mastering a craft that will eventually go the way of the blacksmiths? Surely there will still be niches that find it appealing but the power of a novel to shake the zeitgeist's core will be gone entirely.
For many years, plays were the medium through which the masses experienced narrative, and now they've been usurped by film. Narrative, and by extension, writing, will always be with us. Maybe the future of narrative storytelling will be through the medium of virtual reality games - as opposed to virtual reality films which are, by design, not interactive. I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want to spend time learning a craft that's going the way of the dinosaurs. I've been deeply moved by novels, films, and even some video games, so on one level, as an artist, I have to be agnostic about mediums and let go of whatever literary elitism exists inside of me (to wit, I haven't even earned it!).
Art is art, I suppose, and in life, nothing is certain. Making a bet on the future is unavoidable.
Film, more than any other art forms, comes closest to the pure nature of THOUGHT because the mind by default thinks in the montage of moving images and sounds rather than in words. Film is the medium of the mind, and when we watch a film, it is like one mind meeting another. This is also why film serves as the vehicle for propaganda. Nothing washes over your brain and captives your mind and emotions and changes the way you think more than films do. In fact, the image making process as a whole is analogous to the cognitive process of thinking. The film projector is your brain, the light that emits from the machine is your consciousness, and the pictures that the light reflected on is your mind.
I don't always "get" Frank Yang's particular iteration of YouTube performance art, but I'm always entertained by it.
A lot of writers are upset about the apparent decline in reading among adults (although I think if you correct for eBooks there isn't really a decline), but if this does represent a real trend, it's understandable. Film is just a much more accessible medium for the average person, and not just because it requires less cognitive effort to experience.
Think about your most precious memories, and you'll think in images - in pictures, in a moving montage that, in many ways, parallels film. You're not thinking in words, in lines of scrolling text.
There's a reason film has the mass appeal and the power that it does. Now, with VR technology about to hit the mass market, the way we tell stories is going to change once again. As a writer I can't help but be a little saddened by this (probably just an ego thing), but evolution is what it is. If anything, I should be excited about the stories that we can tell with VR that we couldn't tell with film alone. Maybe we'll even be able to capture moments with three dimensional cameras and visit these memories decades later, like travelling into the past.
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Bret Easton Ellis