Studying literature, you learn that, historically speaking, eras of existence have been defined by terms such as Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Gothicism, and so forth. Each literary movement brought forth a wave of ideologies inspired from the time in which they were written.
For example, the Romantic Era was, in part, brought forth by the industrial revolution. As society began to feel enclosed by an ever-growing concrete jungle, people began to long for the natural world, romanticizing, once again, the glory and beauty of nature.
In this way, literature is fascinating because it acts as a time machine, providing a glimpse into the collective consciousness of a society in a certain period of time, thoughts preserved in a looking glass for all generations to experience and relate to.
Keeping this in mind, I find myself constantly wondering what literary era are we living in currently? What will be the term that encapsulates the age of technology? What will the future “classic” literature express thematically?
I’ve read about postmodernist thought and found aspects of it relatable. The idea of skepticism of prevalent ideologies and social constructs is something I observe more and more in the digital age. With so much access to information at our fingertips, people often find it challenging to accept one solution to any given question, causing it to be hard to identify with labels. Although, I digress, there are those who find just the sects of the internet to support a tunnel-vision worldview.
Here are some themes I foresee this literary era representing:
1. Lamenting a place in time and space where humans actually understood how to relate to one another without a screen between them.
As a high school teacher, it scares me to see how much social interaction takes place in the palm of one’s hand, rather than the heart. If my students ever had any free time, the classroom went silent as cell phones emerged and students plugged in their veins to the matrix. It’s chilling, really – other human beings, the same friends to whom they send these snapchats, are right next to them, but all interaction is occurring in an invisible world. Consequently, my students are finding it hard to connect. They have more online friends, while having less real, true friends.
2. Fear of the world devolving into a dystopia
This is especially prevalent in our media and literature right now. Think of the big titles – The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, A Handmaiden’s Tale – the list goes on. Writers seem to be expressing an inherent fear of the modern world ceasing to exist, technology collapsing, complete government control. I admit this isn’t entirely specific to our literary era; dystopian literature has been written for a long time. But – the rate at which we are seeing it right now reflects the atmosphere of the modern global consciousness. For example, many have speculated that the zombie craze is the manifestation of either a drugged population aimlessly wandering the earth or symbolic of the effect technology has had on our lives. Whatever the story, it’s clear that our culture is feeling the lack of feeling.
3. Collapse of generational social structures
Whatever side of the fence you straddle, there is no question that we are living in a shifting paradigm right now. Human rights movements appear each way you turn. There is a real changing of the tide towards acceptance of ideals that were treated as taboos throughout the generations. The aforementioned book/TV show, The Handmaiden’s Tale, exemplifies this concept by exploring what it would be like if our world and women’s rights were taken away and a theocracy were to, again, retain total government control. It’s captivates me to consider that we live in an age where this dystopia appalls us as we watch, but women have (and still do) live in parallel situations, historically. Modern attitudes are consistently evolving.
I even noticed it this week in the news. (Al right, where are my closet Bachelor in Paradise fans at?) Apparently, after heavily dosing two adults with alcohol and encouraging them to get together, the two drunkenly fooled around in a pool. A producer was uncomfortable with this, realizing that alcohol rendered the woman unable to give her consent. As a result of this, filming is suspended, outraged citizens are sharpening their pitchforks, and the media is having a field day. Just a few years ago, this was commonplace. How many people have watched reality stars have sex whilst highly intoxicated on The Real World or Jersey Shore, while people ate their popcorn, laughed and gaped at them without care. But now, we live in a world where the term rape culture has evolved from the negative effects of our incessant partying, and reality television is having to reconsider what they are advocating.
Whatever themes memorialize the attitudes of our era, there is no doubt in my mind that these three will, in some way, be reflected in the subconscious thoughts of people alive today. Our age of existence will go down in history as some sort of new-age enlightenment period. Assuming the end of the world is not, actually, nigh, the time machine of literature will transport future civilizations back to our day and age, and it won’t just be through books, articles, and letters, but also tweets, texts, and blogs. (I suppose I should wave at you all from today, June 13th, 2017. Hello from history!)