When reading an article over at Straight from Hel I began pondering some of the ways the advent of the digital age can impact us. I’m not talking about how it will shape the publishing industry, not really, but more in the far reaching implications of constantly improving technology. Given the high speed way in which technology spawns a smaller, faster, better working whatever does this not encourage having the latest and greatest? But how does one keep up? Does this mean always looking forward to what’s coming down the road, aiming for that, then purchasing it knowing that in another year it will be old hat? How can one not consider new developments into their daily lives? Long gone are the days where one purchases something utilitarian with the expectation of it being a commitment which will span many years. I’m not talking couches, although there are some decorating inclined individuals out there who do this as well, but things like computers – everyday things that now die off and become outdated almost immediately after the purchase and acclimation to the new thing is achieved.
Books seem to have come under this category as well. The eReader encourages consumption of books through a digital medium and, while this does cut down on the clutter of having to maintain many books and the rather large headache that can result from trying to organize them (the “green” factor is also not lost on me), it also seems to encourage more mindless spending and accumulation of digital bytes. After all, everything’s importance is now transient, yes? In my opinion as long as we continue on a path where speedy consumption becomes the bastion of economic security it is purported to be then the mainstays of the industry are going to be those who produce vast quantities in short periods. This gives a sense that these things are to be digested with no more than a cursory response to the stimuli provided, reread when one needs a pick me up, and possibly discarded. The seeking out of the “next” is there in our bodies and minds and becomes an oppressive force whilst we wait for and pursue something new. Commitment is now something we’ve learned to not be vital while making works that requires one considered not priorities. Goals of becoming the next Orwell, Huxley, Lawrence or Bronte are greeted with derision in some circles (a comment thread on an agent’s blog opened my eyes to this and, quite frankly, chilled my blood) while notions of being the next Meyer, King or Rowling is viewed as the highest thing one could and should aspire to. Democratically, success is now defined in terms of commercial popularity and thus rests upon pleasing the most amount of people regardless of the grounds upon which was built upon for that satisfaction to have taken place.
I am not, in any way, negating the value of having these forms of entertainment. Years ago there were dime novels and YA mysteries that encouraged a love of reading and use of imagination. But what would the environment have been if a book is always considered disposable? Would all mainstays of literature become more like a type of soma a la Huxley (forgetting for a moment that people were discouraged to read in Brave New World)? The notion that reading gets people to think has become a misnomer in our society anyway, one has only to look at the best sellers to ascertain this, but does this move the notion of reading for enlightenment into the category of an outlier in the statistical analysis? The world moves quickly now, this is seen in the decreasing attention spans of people as they commit more and more of their lives to time at a computer (are we as bloggers not recommended to break up a post with pictures to keep it entertaining? To keep them reading? To not intimidate with big walls of text?), and as information is fed into the world at a neck breaking speed it seems as though the sense of timelessness, of relevance of a work for decades to come, and importance becomes extinct. It is but one sheet of text to be found on a hard drive somewhere that can be discarded to find room for the next megabyte laden release; all to be lost when the next newest technology is available. Unless there’s an intervention, this unseen effect of Id satisfaction (pleasure, immediate want) could very well lead to an underground literary environment, making those gems of words harder to find.
EDIT: While I do wonder at all of the above one of the further implications of going completely digital is the issues of censorship and the veritable ease in which it would be able to occur. There are other concerns, of course, about the lack of impetus in considering quality when it comes to publishing as there is little/no cost risk when it comes to the digital medium. Admittedly that bit seems to be based upon a false premise that quality is what is sought after now and not simply the marketability – the commercial turn around and possibilities of each work. Certainly something I’ll be pondering more in the future.
What are your thoughts? Do you think this changes anything in the industry?