The Return of Fiction in the Google-era

When the towers came down in New York innocence was lost in North America, they say. People wanted only to read about news and features – they wanted facts, facts, facts…When was the next calamity going to happen, and where? Were we heading towards the end of days, and when? And whenever escape became an emotional necessity, it was sought in worlds far beyond (and therefore safe from) the present one – how about Hogwarts School for starters, or the dark and mysterious Vatican with those Da Vincian codes, or those dread•lands populated by vampires and werewolves, or a juicy murder mystery in distant Scandinavia? Mainstream fiction got sidestepped, because life had become stranger and more frightening than make•believe of the literary kind.

And now, several years on, we are drowning in facts. We Google “facts” and they are arrayed before us, from umpteen sources, with varying degrees of accuracy and bias. There is comfort in knowing that if we need the facts, they are always available, 24/7, at the click of a button. Welcome to the Factual Age, in which we get the facts, the whole facts and nothing but the facts. Boring…

I am more interested in that other world, the lost one: the one in which facts or pseudo•facts were re•arranged to fit a coherent dramatic trajectory, unleashing a moral, providing meaning and hope, allowing for triumph over adversity however trivial. A world where lies were conjured in order to illuminate a higher truth. A world that was delivered in beautiful lyrical prose conjuring imagery from life, giving us hues ranging from blue to gold, shadings from dark to light, perspectives from vulnerable to sympathetic, and action from heroic to barbaric.

The relentless onslaught of the Factual Age is similar to us being bombarded with still photographs of life, to the point that we are once more hungry for paintings to re•engage our moribund faculties, replete with the artist’s slant, bias, perspective, character, flaws, and opinion. And the artists too have gathered outside the gates with piles of their wares accumulated over the lean years since 9/11, during which output was limited to the very few, who made their handlers lots of cash by dabbling in predictable genres.

I think the pendulum will swing back now that the thirst for facts and information has been satisfied by the powerful search engines of today. I believe we will be looking for ways to convert these facts into stories that attempt to make sense out of an increasingly meaningless life rushing along at an even faster pace. I believe that those gates will soon be shoved open and that the artists will come rushing in, even giving away their wares as gifts, because sharing will have become more important to them than selling. And a grateful audience will embrace these stories again, the lost books, lost from the day the developed world lost its innocence.