The History of Literature: The Reader

This is a short historical breakdown of European readers as associated with the media that was available to them.

• The Noble Reader ( – 1640): Education was only available to the clergy and highest class of society by privilege or decree. Reading amongst the lower classes was frowned upon and sometimes punished. Limited to the bible, epic poetry, plays, philosophical codex, and literature (generally in the French language). Writing for the speaker (plays, speeches, etc.) was the main idea.

• The Revolutionary Reader (1640 – 1830): Education was available to those with the means, desire, or had shown the talent regardless of consent from the state or church. The development of the Gutenberg press allowed people to produce novels, pamphlets, local papers, and learning literature on top of other established literature. Books slowly became cost effective for the general population. These were traveled widely and gave individuals and families the ability to teach outside of the established church and university structure. People had access to the ideas of the common man and unbiased information (news) that had been previously rife with rumor or superstition as it was passed by word of mouth. Writing to convey information was the new formula for this period. The short poem was became widely popular, novel writing was developed, and philosophical texts changed long established social power roles.

• The Industrial Reader (1830 – 1900): Book series, serials, illustrated novels, magazines, and specialty newspapers gave more in-depth interest-based information. Manuals, technical writing, and text books were developed. This period was the beginning of the widening gap between the talented writer and those who wrote to the lowest common denominator. Literature was king of information with no other competition. Writing for the reader rather than the speaker was perfected.

• The Radio Reader (1900 – 1950): The radio was the first at-home competition to the book and acted as an alternative source for information. The radio was also accompanied closely by movies, where people could get visual news shorts without having to read a newspaper. This time also harkened the use of photographic magazines, catalogues, and newspapers. These new media distracted people and took up a portion of their time they may have dedicated to reading literary works. Newspapers and magazines grew to empiric proportions with a growing population and their use of sensationalism and great photographs to attracted audiences hungry for reality. Books and plays thrived, but writers in these genres were forced to step up their game. The radio drama and movies became a different genre writing for the speaker, sound, and visual.

• The Television Reader (1950 – 1995): The competition for people’s attention stepped up at this time. Radio was shoved into the car and the murder of radio drama was one mystery The Shadow couldn’t solve (t.v. did it). Newspapers raised their circulation with the further rise in population and the ability to transport the paper to a wider audience by jet airplane. Books were written ferociously according to deadline and were created by formula as according to their genre, i.e., drama, mystery, science fiction (the terms “fantasy” and “horror” came later in the period), romance, western, comedy, and auto/biography. Shock value was the theme and action was required. Every other chapter had to deliver or the television reader wouldn’t make it to the end. No more long ethical quandaries, contemplation into the human condition, or deep character studies. That was the movie industry’s job, which forced movie producers to raise their quality with the introduction of the made-for-television movie. Action, sex, and triumph in literature was back. The epic poem was back. It was less lyrical, culturally vacant, and generally lacked a moral message, but the entertainment value remained, which is what sold.

• The Internet Reader (1995 – ): The internet reader is ever developing. The television reader still remains (overlap is natural). What has changed is that both newspapers and radio have buckled under the pressure. 24 hour television news and news websites broke stories before newspapers could load the ink into the print machine. They tried to compensate by doing more in-depth journalism. Blogs covered the relevant details. The audience’s lack of time to read or care eliminated the need for truly in-depth journalism. There are newspapers that are still open as there are radio stations still open. Eye tracking has shown that, though people’s eyes still go directly to pictures right off, they also skim the relevant written information and go further if they feel as if the information has passed their scrutiny.

Written by Jeremy Cairns


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dan says:

    As you usually do, you set the gears into motion, but it just makes me ask that it be taken that much further. Which is to say, please continue!

    What, dear author, is it about each medium that lends itself to those applications? What novel feature of each makes it hard to go back? Will Ereaders change that more? Can the speed of news online drive the incessant chatter of the 24hr stations into the background? To force them to compete for depth and charm the way print has? Are there uses of each that seem to transcend? Or I guess in a universe where Lost beckons you online, or the Mythbusters makes home science kits, is the future the domain of things that simply have no bounds?

    1. jeremycairns says:

      Thank you Dan. This is just the beginning of the research and insight into the nature of what writing to the media mind is all about. Unlike many in our society today, I am not willing to ignore history and what it teaches us. Though the history I researched above covers print media (amongst others), I intend to focus more on literature.

      I will be elaborating on lots of different facets of literature. I’m glad you brought up Ereaders, because I will be studying and covering many different types of angles as to what, how, and where the new reader reads. I am still not convinced that the draw of holding a material book in your hands is dying…though that’s what many said about the newspaper and it seems the material newspaper’s time is ticking away into nostalgia.

      Keep in touch, I appreciate your input.

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