read on Gizmodo yesterday made me wince.Call me a purist, call me stubborn, call me antediluvian, but I cringe whenever I see Internet chat, emails, or text messages that contain more acronyms, numbers, and symbols than actual words. Certainly some web acronyms have made there way into my regular online vernacular (brb and lol come to mind), and I'm am a closet fan of the smiley face emoticon, but by and large I have avoided the trend toward replacing our language with a series of sometimes incomprehensible strings of letters and numbers. I'll even admit that the title for this post is hyperbole (or at least a gross over generalization), but something I
Keitai shousetsu are novels composed for and on mobile phones, and they're big in Japan right now. I mean, really big. Of the 10 best selling novels in Japan over the first half of 2007, 5 were originally composed on cellular phones and they sold an average of 400,000 copies each. One of the best selling was "Koizora" (Love Sky), by a woman whose nom-de-plume is Mika. Koizora follows the rather twisted story of a high school girl who is raped and becomes pregnant, has sold 1.2 million copies in the past 14 months, and was recently made into a movie.
To put that in perspective, US Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's book "Leadership," for which he received a $3 million advance, has sold just 836,000 copies since 2002.
Amazingly, though many of these novels are released in serialized form for free via a mobile web site called "Maho no i-rando" (Magic Island), which provides tools for people to write their own mobile phone novels, Japanese youths are still buying them in record numbers when they're published in traditional paper bound form. The reason, speculates one editor at Goma Books, which publishes a number of keitai shousetsu, is that many readers send suggestions and critiques to authors by email while the story is unfolding and end up feeling as if they had a hand in helping craft the novel. For readers, purchasing a hard copy provides a physical keepsake of the work they were so emotionally invested in.
The "novels" being churned out in the mobile phone style are summed up this way in a recent Sydney Morning Herald story:
"Usually they are written by first-time writers, using one-name pseudonyms, for an audience of young female readers - who, in Japan especially, consult their mobile phones so regularly that the habit could be mistaken for a tic. The stories traverse teen romance, sex, drugs and other adolescent terrain in a succession of clipped one-liners, emoticons and spaces (used to show that a character is thinking), all of which can be read easily on a mobile phone interface. Scene and character development are notably missing."
Emoticons? Spaces? Clipped one-liners? Forgive me for my grimace. Some Japanese scholars have attempted to explain the mobile phone fad as the "evolution of language." Um...
"The size of the screen also necessitates that [authors] use short, simple sentences with basic words. If that's how you measure the quality of literature, then yes, the prevalence of writing like this will water down Japanese literature," said Toru Ishikawa, a professor of Japanese literature at Tokyo's Keio University. "But it could also encourage writers to be inventive with language in new ways. Language must always evolve."
I think I'm more likely to side with Gizmodo, who suggest that perhaps "this is, in fact, the sign of a civilization in decline." Maybe Doris Lessing has a point...