Posts Tagged ‘the Internet’

The Future of the Book: An Introduction

June 14, 2014

This is my first entry on a subject that I want to address: the future of the book. It’s something that matters to me very much, of course. Many internet enthusiasts maintain that the book is dying, which I think is naive. The book is suffering right now, but it’s not going to die. The internet will die before the book ever does. I’ll go into why I think that’s true in future posts. For this first post, I want to look at a brief exchange in an interview with the poet and ecology activist Gary Snyder that I saw on YouTube. This extract confirms a hunch I’ve had about one of the beliefs of cyber-intellectuals, a belief they tend to keep in the background. I’ve put into italics the specific point that I’m referring to.

Interviewer: Do you think that there is any literary vocation, in the largest sense of the word—literary, not poetical—one that may be assumed by so-called prose writers?

Gary Snyder: Maybe. I don’t know. The publishing business is falling apart. Books are not selling. Bookstores are closing. Everybody is saying the Internet is the new thing. What do you think? It’s your generation. What do you think is going to happen?

Interviewer: I think we will still need literature for some reasons.

Gary Snyder: By literature, you mean books or do you mean writing?

Interviewer: Writing.

Gary Snyder: Is it okay for writing to be online?

Interviewer: Honestly, I do think so.

Gary Snyder: Do you think writers should be paid?

Interviewer: Um… Well, that’s a difficult issue.

Gary Snyder: Well, you can’t be a writer if you can’t make a living.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s true. Um…

Gary Snyder: Unless you want to be an academic, but that’s not a real writer.

Interviewer: But would you say it’s just to write for a living? To earn money?

Gary Snyder: Whatever you do you have to earn enough money to feed your family.

Interviewer: Okay. So you’re a pragmatist.

Gary Snyder: Of course I’m a pragmatist. I’m a grown up. You know? I’m an adult. I know that I have to feed a family.

The interviewer is around 20 years old, a student in Krakow, Poland. I’ve looked into him a little. He’s an urban technofile. I’ve long had the sense that the real attitude of these people toward writers, musicians and other “content providers” is that they should be doing their work for free in their spare time, that to make a living doing creative work is elitist. I feel that my hunch has been confirmed here — “Well, that’s a difficult issue.” For cyber-intellectuals, the internet fanatics, the most vital aspect of the digital lifestyle is gadgetry. You need content to give the gadgets something to do, but that’s secondary. This is another example of form over content — the medium is the message — which is backwards. We live in a backward, or an upside down, era. (I’ll do a future post on Marshall McLuhan, of whom I used to be a big fan.) Listening to the interview, when the interviewer agrees with Snyder’s assertion that you can’t be a writer if you can’t make a living at it, he’s not being sincere. It’s merely a tactical retreat. A grown man has challenged him over something he has not thought through, so he backs off. But his real attitude, which he’s not willing to push too hard here, is one of the most widespread that those who write books, make films, take photos, or make music have to deal with nowadays: Your work should be free, and if you’re not willing to give it to us, then we’ll simply take it from you. Can someone offer support for this idea? I’d be interested in hearing from you.

You can watch the entire 25-minute interview here.


Agreeing with Gates

November 3, 2013

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Bill Gates. I think there was a time when he was striving to be the richest man in the world and he was incredibly arrogant then. But he seems to have let go of that. I see that in a recent interview with the Financial Times he said:

“PCs are not, in the hierarchy of human needs, in the first five rungs.”

That takes my breath away. I’m so pleased that someone like him can see that and say it. And then there was this:

When asked by the Financial Times whether Internet connectivity is more important than, say, finding a vaccination for malaria, Gates responded: “As a priority? It’s a joke.”

“If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” he added.


“I certainly love the IT thing. But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.”

I think this should all be obvious by now. I’ve seen life before computers and life after computers, and I much preferred life before computers. I still don’t have a cellphone and I am perfectly content without one. Their centrality in people’s lives is a temporary thing. It has to be.

I’ll return to this topic again in the future and with a deeper perspective. This blog is so distant from my mind these days. The book has a strangle hold on my brain right now. Not a bad thing, of course.

A-Bloggin’ and A-Rantin’

November 8, 2008

I’ve been somewhat hostile toward blogs and blogging. It has seemed faddish to me, I guess. I tend not to like made-up words, like blog and vegan. I’m doing this for a bunch of reasons. One of them is that I don’t hear many people saying what I want to hear said. So I have to say it myself. As I begin this, I don’t feel that I’ve found the right voice. I feel stiff. Although I’ve never been enthusiastic about the Internet, due to my work as a writer, I use it every day. I’m currently learning HTML and CSS, and I use Photoshop and Word. But I tend to believe that, overall, the Internet and computers have done more harm than good. More and more people are abandoning the real world and real community for a vicarious life of sitting in front of a monitor. How can that be good? I can’t imagine anyone writing poetry on a computer. One of my goals for the future is to be in a position where I have no computer and no telephone—just a regular old mailbox. I read an article in the New York Times about a writer in Maine, Carolyn Chute, who lives at the end of an unpaved road with no phone, no fax, and no computer. I admire her. Technological development is not the purpose of life. I don’t have a cell phone, and I never will. I think they’re intrusive, and nobody has ever convinced me that they aren’t a danger to your health. I wish they would go away.

End of rant.