In times of rapid technological change, enthusiasts of the new often subscribe to the theory of “supersession,” the idea that newer technologies supersede or vanquish older ones. But as scholar of information Paul Duguid has observed, reality is mare interesting and complicated than that. In the 1950s, for instance, when television was becoming popular, there were widespread predictions of radio’s imminent demise. Yet here it is2015 and radio is not only very much a live but has thrown off vibrant digital doppelgängers of itself, in the form of internet radio stations and podcasts. So it goes for all of human culture: There is really no predicting where it will go next.
As the articles in this collection make clear, this is especially true of writing in our time, when old and new, on-line and off-line, are mixing, mashing up and recombining so prolifically, no single theory could ever explain it all, let alone foretell its evolution. So it’s fitting that what we have in this volume is not a collection of definitive, supersession-like answers, but a multiplicity of fascinating questions explored in depth. Are microblogs a new literary genre? What happens when Japanese haiku leap across cultures? Is writing inherently an act of individuality, as we tend to believe, or is that idea just “a fruit of modernity”? Such questions will swirl around us for decades to come, and to make our way forward we will need intellectual roadmaps with the wide-ranging curiosity, high aspirations and serious intent of this one.