To answer the question of how technology draws on and adapts early American literature, we first have to examine where modern culture is now when it comes to reading any form of text for pleasure.
According to a study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2004 roughly 28% of Americans age 15 or older read for pleasure. In 2017, this number dropped to about 19% and seems to be on a steady decline.
There could be a lot of reasons why this may be the case, but one of the most obvious is that due to the introduction of technology in our everyday lives, causing the attention span of the average American to drop.
According to Time, a group of researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 people and studied the brain activity of 112 others. Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. The article then goes onto show that the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds, which shows that we now have less of an attention span of a goldfish.
Where am I going with this? If our attention span is so low, why would we spend our precious time in reading early American literature if we didn’t have to? Movie culture has seem to have skyrocket, and it is up to Hollywood to show these story’s in new and creative ways. The most obvious of these examples, is the rise of superhero culture.
Avengers Endgame, the last of the franchise, took in a hefty 2.789 billion dollars in the box office, becoming the highest grossing film of all time. Endgame was the movie spectacle of 2019, the perfect blend of CGI and action, it captivated audiences world wide.
Let’s compare this to the historical drama Lincoln which was released in 2012, pulling in the messily sum of 275.3 million dollars. To compare it to a film reeled in the same year, The original Avengers was released and pulled in 1.519 billion dollars.
Out of these two movies, based on the trailers alone, which would you rather see? Personally, I would go with Avengers, probably along with the majority of people who read this blog. On the grand scale of things, what does this mean for American literature, if we won’t even go see the story of the man who abolished slavery? A majority of the budget for Lincoln went to filming the civil war battle scenes.
We also see this theme in the streaming services that dominate our everyday life. Netflix releases hit shows that then dominate social media, with memes and gifs, and all of these hits, are either comedies, or if it’s a drama, it needs to show an intense amount of action, sometimes even both. Ex. Stranger Things vs Peaky Blinders. More people know about the sci-fi thriller, Stranger Things then they know about the historical drama Peaky Blinders.
Today’s culture shows that we as a modern culture, do not care about true Early American literature, because in the end we don’t have the attention span to read or even watch films that show the themes that shaped who we are today and the only exposure of this is in a classroom. We clearly see this in the films that we go to see in the theaters. It says a lot about the people who have the attention span of a goldfish.
McSpadden, Kevin. “Science: You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish.” Time, Time, 14 May 2015, time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/.