So, there I am, a write eejit, feeling overwhelmed by the level of New Media I haven’t mastered, when a thought occurs to me: How would writers in the past have handled today’s plethora of media technology. Would they have passed the proverbial buck and remained scratching away with their goose quills, or clacking away at their typewriters? Or would they have embraced it wholeheartedly? Given that many of the most enduring writers were ahead of their time, it stands to reason that they would have been hanging ten on the New Media wave. I posed the question to my wonderful, tech savvy, and well-read teen, and we riffed mightily. Here are the conclusions we came to.
Samuel Beckett, who rose to the challenge of reducing his later work to its most simple form, would be Lord of the Tweet: All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Worstword Ho, 1983) His retweet stats would be legendary. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8mBogVritg
Oscar Wilde, master of the sassy one-liner, would have millions of followers on Twitter, and probably go mano-a-mano with Beckett in a twitter war: minimalism versus flamboyant provocatism: There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
Who can deny Shakespeare the title of King of the Sound Bite: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. (Twelfth Night)
Charles Dickens, a whizz-kid when it came to growing his audience, cornered the market on the serialized format, starting with The Pickwick Papers in 1836. “It’s always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.” “But suppose there are two mobs?” suggested Mr. Snodgrass. “Shout with the largest,” replied Mr. Pickwick. He’d write epic, multi-chapter fan fiction. And Thomas Hardy would write epic Charles Dickens fan fiction.
Wordsworth would go apeshit over Instagram.
Jane Austen, Fairy Godmother of the RomCom, would give Julian Fellowes a run for his money, optioning the movie rights to all her bestsellers. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other. (Letter to Mr. Clarke, librarian to the Prince Regent, 1815)
Mark Twain would have several Kickstarter projects running at once.
Mary Shelley would be tickled pink by the possibilities of CGI when bringing her ‘Modern Prometheus’ to life for the big screen, and insist on 3D. She and Ridley Scott would have long conversations about prosthetics. Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred. (Frankenstein, 1818)
Louisa May Alcott would be very active on Pinterest.
The Bronte sisters, well-known cat lovers, would, no doubt, find it impossible not to post cute kitty videos on YouTube.
Virginia Woolfe would make cryptic and overly personal Facebook updates. We have been to Rodmell, and as usual I come home depressed – for no reason. Merely moods. Have other people as many as I have? That I shall never now. And sometimes I suppose that even if I came to the end of my incessant search into what people are and feel I should know nothing still. (Diary entry, 1925)
Edgar Alan Poe, the big Emo, would post morose poetry, and black-and-white giffs of Bergman movies to his Tumblr account. But see, amid the mimic route A crawling shape intrude! A blood-red thing that writhes from out The scenic solitude! It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs The mimes become its food, And seraphs sob at vermin fangs In human gore imbued. (“The Conqueror Worm,” 1843)
James Joyce would embrace the challenge of writing a novel on his cell phone, and cause a minor scandal when his sexting with Nora accidentally goes public.
No doubt, these old dogs could teach us some new tricks.