The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: printed and digital. Photo: Tero Honkaniemi.

The Internet has changed the publishing industry, and it has also made its way into the lives of characters in novels—albeit with a little delay.

“Characters in today’s novels are more likely to surprise us if they don’t use social media,” writes author Olivia Sudjic in her article for the Guardian.

IN LATE 2020, Sudjic was reading a beautifully written debut novel—and was slightly ashamed to find herself feeling that something was missing in the story, which “was set in the present, and involved an often long-distance romance between two young people with phones.”

Then she realized what it was: there was “not one single reference to what by then I considered a hallmark of present-day humanity: mindless scrolling through social media.”

SUDJIC STATES that the digital colonization of the literary world has resulted not in its predicted death, but in an exciting evolution.

“In terms of form, social media has shaped contemporary fiction, even in novels that make scant mention of it. The dominant trend is to tell a story through fragments,” Sudjic writes.

“Each fragment possesses no obvious bearing on the next, juxtaposing random facts with news articles, a wry observation of a stranger on a commute followed by an unrelated emotional confession, in the manner of one individual’s Twitter timeline.”

The fragments are held together by the first-person voice, but the structure “also makes allowances for internet-eroded concentration spans, our inability to stick to linear paths of thought.”

THERE IS LITTLE meaningful distinction between “digital life” and “real life” any longer, but these concepts continue to exist in tension.

Digital life can be an elaborate lie, but we somehow seem to have forgotten that pretense has never been that uncommon in real life either.

“Our offline lives turn out to be just as much of a lie as our online ones,” Sudjic observes. Or, as Shakespeare put it, “Doubt truth to be a liar.”

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