Monday, June 26, 2006

Future of the book, redux!

"Authors, if I understand present trends, will soon be like surrogate birth mothers, rented wombs in which a seed implanted by high-powered consultants is allowed to ripen and, after nine months, be dropped squalling into the marketplace."

The NYT Book Review reprinted a modified version of John Updike's address at the Book Expo, a bit of which I've quoted above. In this case, he is addressing an article by Wired's Kevin Kelley. It seems that what he said is "controversial" amongst people paying attention to such discussions (that probably runs into the hundreds!), and he'll probably be painted as some doddering old white dude writer who is scared of computers, and progress, and the godforsaken Internet. That, of course, is not his point. His point is much closer to the one I made earlier, only better articulated. Apparently some people don't get why us old curmudgeons are so appalled by Brave New World predictions of "universal books" and "link snippets." The problem isn't technology. I'm not going to cancel my Internet access, or forsake the convenience that comes with an online world--and neither is that old codger, Updike.

Refusal to join in such transports of delight over the wonders of hypertext is much more about our fear of being inundated by great waves of utter crap, which is precisely what one is likely to get from breaking down all the "barriers" of authorship, accountability, and that elusive thing--creative artistry. By having all "the great books" available in chunks and searchable, people will be much more able (and likely) to neglect the essential parts of those books, wrench words out of their proper context or-- most dangerously--ignore everything that doesn't fit with one's own narrow views and prejudices. (On the up side, middle schoolers can just skip to all the naughty parts by searching for "breasts" and "naked" without all the bother of randomly flipping pages, and perhaps, even mistakenly reading paragraphs not germane.)

So that's all we're saying. We don't want your bite-size, bowdlerized classics; your undigested chat-room commentary on Anna Karenina from Ted in Duluth who thinks the train represents the alien invasion of 19th century Russia; your multi-authored epics; or your Big Bang of hyperlinks. We're not afraid of the digital future, we just think it sucks.

1 comment:

L. Swafford said...

I laughed harder at this than I have laughed at anything in a very, very, long time. Thank you for a humorously well-made point.

(P.S. I knew you liked Updike.)