An Incredibly Brief Introduction to New Media Lit

This post by Matthew Burnside originally appeared on Ploughshares on 2/5/15.

Let us consider a form mired in its indefinability: new media lit. I’ve found that nothing – not even poetry – can alienate a reader more quickly than encountering it. Normally I would resist trying to encapsulate an entire genre into one shell of a definition, but because we don’t have a lot of time here and my purpose is simply to expose you to the very distant edge of what the genre has to offer (whether you choose to step further is up to you), let’s stick with a radically basic, extremely flawed definition: New media lit is any “literature” that appears online, utilizing the myriad tools of technology and often allowing a greater degree of reader interaction than does offline literature.

This stuff has been around for a while—since Michael Joyce first doled out a floppy disk to his peers bearing the first (arguably) hypertext story entitled “Afternoon, a Story” in the late ’80s—but only on the fringes of literature, existing more as a novelty than as a respectable form. Robert Coover hailed its potential more than anyone, seeing it as perhaps the natural evolution of literature—the product of emerging media and our increased connectedness to technology. At a certain point in the 1990s, for some, new media lit seemed to be the inevitable future.

It was a future that never came to pass. But today, as digital literacy and the capacity for multimodal thought processing increases light years with each new generation beyond the previous one, I think it’s worth dipping into the digital waters again, if only to challenge our notion of what literature is and consider what else it can, and might, one day be.


Read the full post, which includes links to some online New Media Lit, on Ploughshares.