I’d like to discuss some of the comments from readers over the last couple of months. Let me just pause to delete the ones that start “Greetings, Web Admin”, and the ones with links to cut-rate fur-lined coffeemakers, and the ones that begin “I doing an investigation into”, and the ones that start “Thanks for to sharing this info”.
That’s what I thought. Nothing left but the ad from the Astro Toy Company. That one slipped past me because it begins “Astro Toy Company Ad”. If you’re going to baffle me with the truth, I won’t play with you at all.
I am glad, truly glad, tuna brittle, that digital communication is taking over from the mere printed book. Y’know, that old fifty cent paperback of Forever Amber may have had its appeal, but it just can’t compete with reading it online, between ads for cutrate envelopes from that last office supply place you ordered from and animated cartouches offering you a deal on 500 business cards. How on earth did Kathleen Winsor sell all those copies when at the bottom of each page you saw only a margin, and not a series of posts by people chatting about the text? (By the way, do ALL such threads wind up in name-calling contests because somebody made a remark about New York cheesecake or Sarah Palin’s grandmother?)
Yes, the poor old Stone Age printed page is doomed. It wasn’t interactive. All you had were words and your brain, and that’s hardly high-tech.
Actually, the interactiveness question goes back a long way. When cameras started to use film instead of glass plates, no less a photographer than Lewis Carroll complained that it took away from his participation in the technology. He much preferred the process of standing in a darkroom and painting the collodion onto a pane of glass to make his own negative. It took skill to do this kind of thing consistently and evenly. Any fool could put film in a camera. (Not entirely true, as I recall some of the pictures I took without remembering the camera was empty.)
The same argument went around as the world shifted from 78 rpm records to the long-playing 33s. Some people were thrilled that an entire symphony could be put on one disc, instead of a series of six. But other people cried nay. They enjoyed having to get up every five minutes to change records to continue the opera. They said it made them feel they were as much a part of the process as Caruso or Gall-Curci.
On the other hand, I heard from someone born well after my tenth high school reunion, who said, “How could anybody want vinyl nowadays when online music is so much more interactive? You can play the one song you like from one album, then the one song you like from another album, and you can change the order any time you like.” One or two of us, masters of the lost art of dropping the needle into the empty space in front of the vinyl track we wanted, tried to protest, but in vain. The latest generation (Generation Techs?) doesn’t know what space between tracks is.
(Another friend of mine was recently honored by a colleague at work, who said, “I have so much respect for those of you who had to work here in the 80s, when there wasn’t any technology.”)
And, getting back to literature, it works the other way, as well. I have a friend in the writing biz who noted recently that the computer has changed her output completely. She used to write a novel, two dozen short stories, and thirty or so poems every year, exclusive of essays and book reviews. “But there are SO many things you can do on a computer that you just can’t do on a computer,” she said. “Like play solitaire.” Nowadays, when she has writer’s block, she doesn’t need to get up to play music, or look something up in a book. She can do these selfsame things online. And, on the way, check through YouTube for sixteen different versions of Rondo alla Turca, or Google “tapioca meatloaf” just to see what turns up. She last wrote a novel in 2009, and produces about three short stories in a really good year.
Ah, if only Hemingway and Fitzgerald had had computers! High school lit classes would be shorter.