Texting Harry Potter: The Absence of Digital Media in Popular Fiction
It’s no secret that we’re in the midst of a digital era. Our lives are consumed with technology, and we’re surrounded by digital natives—or what writer Marc Prensky defines in his article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, as a person born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies, and through interaction, has a greater understanding of its concepts. These digital natives spend most of their time fiddling with their iToys as they immerse themselves in forms of instantaneous communication. They are addicted to their gadgets, and are slaves to the conveniences of their smart phones, tablets, and social networking websites. Their devotion to technology is evident in the songs they listen to, and the movies they watch. It’s difficult to imagine, especially with so many sources encouraging our consumption of digital media, that there is a way for us to escape the pings, beeps and vibrations of our electronic lifelines. However, although digital technology is prevalent in our lives, there are some forms of entertainment that provide us with the opportunity to escape our digital leashes—forms of entertainment such as fantasy fiction.
As technology continues to evolve, it’s peculiar that our addictions have yet to trickle into the popular stories that dominate the shelves of our neighborhood Barnes & Noble. The fact that we turn off our HD televisions, silence our iPhones, and curl up on sofas with our Nooks and Kindles, so that we can read stories about magical realms, post-apocalyptic battle fields, and boys with lightning bolt scars, is intriguing. It seems it should be the digital immigrants—those born before the existence of digital technologies and have adopted it to some extent later in their life—that would willingly abandon their ties to technology in order to read a decent book. However, it’s peculiar that the digital natives that flock to the Apple store to stand in a four hour line so they can be the “first” to purchase a brand new device are some of the same individuals who gravitate to stories that exclude the types of technology heavily relied upon today. But why is this? Why are we unwilling to sever our ties with technology in our daily lives, but willing to dive head first into a fictional universe where these items don’t exist? Are we craving a world where we use carrier owls to relay messages? A world where we battle for our lives in an arena similar to the Thunderdome? A world where the only sources of communication are flashes in the sky, and messages attached to balloons? It’s unlikely that we want our world to mimic those of the popular protagonists that capture our attention through the pages of a well-written novel. So what’s the allure? Are we simply aware that digital media may be exciting in our personal lives, but in a book that is supposed to command our attention and entertain us—it would be downright boring?
Philosopher Edmund Husserl presented the idea of phenomenology in the early 1900s. According to Husserl, phenomenology supports the notion that “every mental phenomena or physiological act refers to a certain intentional object” (1). The literary critic Georges Poulet further expands on Husserl’s claims by submitting that readers develop a connection with a piece of literary text, and that this connection creates a relationship between the reader and the author. In addition, Poulet suggests that when a reader interprets a book, they conjure mental images that affect the overall experience—and allows a reader to become engrossed with the story (2). In phenomenology, the reader literally strives to lose themselves in a piece of text, therefore if an author incorporates elements into a story that will hinder this experience, it can leave a reader feeling dissatisfied.
As a teenager, I was an avid reader. I would ride my bike to the neighborhood library, and fill a paper bag with as many books as they would allow. After making my selections, I would wobble home on my bike, one hand on the handle bars, and one hand gripping the bag of books to my body. I adored reading, because books provided an outlet—they distracted me from the mundane normalcy of my life, and allowed me to visit imaginary lands where I could meet unique character—characters that were more exciting, more complex, more flawed than I was. During this time, there was nothing more fulfilling then watching a story unfold on the pages in front of me. As Husserl suggests, when we read we are giving life to the words on the page, and we foster a connection with what the author has written. Reading made me realize that the journey was what I loved, and I’ve come to recognize as I continue to read, that if something is introduced too soon that threatens to shorten the journey, or makes things easily obtainable, then it ruins the entire experience. Instantaneous communication, like texting, is absent from popular stories like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games because most readers want the characters to struggle. They want their favorite characters to fight their way to victory, that way the payoff is more satisfying. When the resolution is easily obtainable, it cheapens the story. An example of this is in the story of Romeo and Juliet. If Romeo could have just texted Juliet, then we wouldn’t have one of the greatest romantic tragedies ever written. Sometimes we have to be able to ignore common conveniences—all for the sake of the experience.
In his article titled “6 Technologies Conspicuously Absent from Sci-Fi Movies”, David Christopher Bell provides examples of ways we refrain from using obvious forms of technology, the main reason is to produce a complex story. As we continue to experiment within the realm of fantasy it becomes clear that we are less interested in discovering the quick fix, or the easy way out. We want our movies, and our stories, filled with characters that struggle. We want them to claw their way to the finish line, and if they’re bloody, battered, and feel defeated, then it’s even better. Readers yearn for this because it allows us to relish the rapture of victory—it makes it all worth it in the end. It makes the story worth reading. And if that means our beloved devices will not appear in our favorite fictional genres—then so be it. At the end of a book, few people are going to wonder why Hermione couldn’t just text or call Harry to warn him about Voldemort. Instead, we can appreciate the idea that technology doesn’t have to dominate every avenue of our lives to entertain us. We can simply enjoy a great story—minus the familiar pings, beeps, and vibrations.