|Can you image writing a novel on this?|
|Public Domain Picture, wikimediacommons.org|
This article, which appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 2008, describes the cell phone novel phenomenon in Japan, otherwise known as keitai shosetso, how it was developed, and how it has impacted literature and culture in Japan. The sub-title accurately sums up the key demographic for the cell phone novel, “Young women develop a genre for the cellular age”.
It is purported that the cell phone novel is the, “first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age” and is derived from mostly autobiographical situations. Like other forms of literature aimed at women, keitai shosetso revolve around true love and the obstacles which hinder true love. Because these novels are written by and read, for the most part, by Japanese women, they offer insight into how young women feel in Japanese culture.
Goodyear spends a significant amount of time discussing the importance of anonymity for the writers of these novels. This is complementary to the avatar culture which pervades Japanese Internet use and deeper roots in Japanese culture. The quote from page 64 which states, “In Japan, conflict is not celebrated – consensus is celebrated…The Internet lets you speak your mind without upsetting the social apple cart” reflects the desire for anonymity the authors seek.
The article takes an interesting turn when the connections between traditional Japanese literature and the cell phone novel are explored. Due to the difficulties of writing in Japanese, novel writing was reserved for those who could eloquently write using the correct script. However, as cell phones and unlimited texting plans became popular in Japan, more access to text developed. This also caused changes in formatting of script for the medium, all maintained when the novels were eventually printed on paper. Parallels to the classic Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji, written by a woman of the imperial court nearly a thousand years ago, explored love triangles, jilted women, and unexpected pregnancies, illustrates similarities to the cell phone novels of today. One of the translators of The Tale of Genji, 86 year old Jakucho Setouchi, even confessed to participating in the cell phone novel phenomenon.
Goodyear utilizes first hand interviews for this article. Two themes emerged; first, there was an alarmist attitude towards these novels akin to eBooks. Some viewed the cell phone novel as the end of Japanese literature while others saw it as an offspring of an oral tradition originating in the Edo-period (p. 65). Also, the cell phone phenomenon seems to have parallel roots to other production based literature, such as Zines. Even though many of the authors in this article seemed to have regrets about writing the novels, they seemed to find the act of production more important than the final product.
Cell phone novels are not just a phenomenon in Japan. They are cropping up in other countries like South Africa (BBC article from 2009 here). However, the utilization of various forms of technology to create literature is changing. Twitter now hosts fiction writing contests (LA Time article from 2012 here) which impose another set of parameters (word limits) to the story. The revitalization of serialized fiction and online publishing (NPR interview with Margaret Atwood from 2012 here) shows the many changes outside of the traditional eBook which are taking place in fictional and semi-autobiographical literature.