I bookmarked this piece by Clive Thompson but didn’t get round to reading it until now, but it’s still worth reading for the sense of perspective he brings to the topic:
[Whenever…] I’m tempted to be a little too pessimistic about modern digital media, I spend some time leafing through the big media panics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, there was a new form of entertainment that was relentlessly blamed for driving society into the ditch. It was lurid, addictive, and mind-distorting. It turned young people into preening narcissists possessed of a delusional sense of grandiosity. It even made some kids into killers. Not least, it was a howling waste of time.
It was, of course, the novel. […]
The thing is (as Thompson concedes after having some fun ridiculing some of the wilder warnings about how the youth of the day were doomed to fall short of accepted standards of behaviour if they focussed on fiction delivered by the new medium) novels do change their readers:
Novels really do change you. They focus your attention on the deep interiority of the characters, letting you both empathize with human lives while also standing askance from them, studying them from a slightly alien perspective. They might make us more empathetic. They almost certainly attune us to the psychologies that propel everyday behavior.
Empathy. Dangerous stuff. Might give the proles all sorts of unrealistic ideas…