Back From the Summit With a Vision of the Nonfiction Future
I hope some or all of you caught the blogs or twitters that came directly from the Summit over the weekend. I was there, listening to Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse www.ypulse.com/about/, Scott Traylor of 360kid www.360kid.com/, and various publishers (Scholastic, Capstone, Rosen were especially in evidence, Nancy Fersten of National Geographic was on my panel about print and the digital age). And I was stuck by how we are at a moment that might be best described by elementary physics.
Anastasia, in a typically high-speed talk spoken in the cadence of teen-talk (the rising question end of a sentence, the quick glance to the latest in terminology, fashion, up-to-the-second favorite (or disfavored) site) gave a sense of the horizontality of teenage life. That is, they are ever more connected, right now, at once, to a widening spectrum of friends, classmates, events, news (gossip, media updates, location of party in half an hour). This sounded just like teenage as I knew it, but exponentially amplified by devices that take that natural teenage obsession with peers and offer it myriad, immediate, and overlapping feeds. The horizontal horizon, the now, keeps filling in. It has two forms of interest — updates on stuff teenagers already care about, and the fact of being teenagers’ own form of connectivity and communication. Anastasia’s picture skewed female– which reached a height of absurdity when she said there are only two teenage magazines left, and showed two teen fashion magazines, as if sports and cars did not exist (see sports.espn.go.com/highschool/rise/index, www.highschoolfootballmagazine.com/ for the booming area of high school sports magazines). And she made a few bows to awareness of haves and have not in the digital universe. But surely boys are gaming and social networking in ways that are parallel enough to take her vision of the Teenage Digital Now as broadly useful.
In my panel I made the argument that the spread of digital resources challenges those of us who write trade books to be exceptional. We cannot be merely informative, since information is widely available. What we have to do is filter that flood of possible resources, decoct it to find its essence, and craft it into a compelling, personal expression. In other words, what the author of nonfiction offers is the axis that is completely at right angles to the horizontal now, he or she brings height and depth.
The challenge ahead — for authors, for publishers, for reviewers, for teachers, for librarians, for parents, is how we bring together these two axes, the horizontal and the vertical. Together, they constitute a field of knowledge and experience. How do we link the book with social network, the immediate experienced now with the foundation of before and sense of consequence, the after? Our challenge, here in this blog, in our schools, in our libraries, in our homes, is to map that field, that area, that volume. We get nowhere in worshiping the teenage now — it is both theirs and ephemeral. We get nowhere insisting on our adult depth — useless to them if we do not connect. But together, what a powerful headspace.