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individuals out there who do this as well, but things like computers – everyday things that now die off and become outdated almost immediately after the purchase and acclimation to the new thing is achieved.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?


15 responses to “Disposable

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  • martha drummond

    The technology revoloution continues and there and it is difficult to use alternate “rides” without seeming to be “out of it.” It is important that you realize that you are still free to “ride” when you want to and keep your imagination rolling- which you are.


  • laurelrainsnow

    Even though I appreciate new technological advances, I still cling to my computer that is five years old (because, at the moment, it is still working!); my fear about technology is not only that everything becomes outdated almost immediately, but that these things do break down and need repairs. The power goes out and the computer is useless for the moment. And with digital books, which don’t need that power source, they lack that essence of “bookishness” that I love about reading.

    Yes, there is an appeal about not having to “shelve” them, and I am running out of space; but I receive so much pleasure from looking at my books that surround me in every room and in my hallways. Other people see clutter, I see beauty. And the physical books are friends that never fail me.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I hear you about the space, Laurel-Rain! Actually, I pretty much agree with everything you said. The feel, the scent and the sight of a book are things that can not be replicated through a digital medium so as to be wholly satisfactory to me.

  • Carol Kilgore

    My opinion only – I do not know this to be fact – but I imagine that some of these same concerns existed when mass market paperbacks were born. And some years down the road people will bemoan the loss of the ereader to whatever next comes along. Good stories will always remain, no matter the form.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I’m sure you’re right, Carol. I find it difficult to not be concerned (keep in mind I *am* a worrier) given the speed with which things do and are encouraged to move at; attention spans shortening as a result. Each step seems to have gone down the path leading away from intellectual effort. When this happens it becomes about the showmanship and the drama, not necessarily the well thought out, more complex tale that is equally well written (in terms of prose).

  • Hart

    Great thought prods here, Kimberly. You know I hadn’t even thought about this until you hit peripherally… do you remember albums? 8-tracks? casettes? I wonder if generations of books will be lost to changing formats–I have boxes at home of books that belonged to my grandfather–they are a connection to him. Some were gifts and are inscribed to him inside. That is special to me. Is that connection going to disappear? Presumable a book purchased for a Kindle this year will be usable on next years’ Kindle or the year after, but for how many generations?

    And I would agree that FOR ME, I read differently when I have a book or printed page in my hand. I savor more. I attend more deeply. It is why I can’t edit on the screen (much) but instead have to have a hard copy in my hand. I can’t imagine paying enough attention to something electronic to get through… say War and Peace or Don Quixote. I loved both those books but they took every ounce of attention I had, and the screen doesn’t spare me enough.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Hart – Really good points. I tend to fade out on a screen after a certain amount of time; same goes for viewing things in an epub format on Adobe. A friend of mine crits all my work on printed pages because she hates doing it all on screen (she’s an English professor) partially because she won’t be as critical on the computer.

      I know Cormac McCarthy stated a while back how the long novel is gone; short and to the point is what will forever be the norm from here on out. To overlook the speed of information, the ever pressing demand of “I needed it yesterday” being able to be met within moments after its voiced, as well as the necessitated rapid fire attention would be to miss a very large component of what drives any commercial market.

      On a personal note: I’ve almost been saddened that there are some books I can get from my library only in epub format. Classics of all things. 😛

  • Jan

    Many books, like people are keepers and need to be treated as such. Something I suggest to my own clients is to wear either orange or yellow glasses while reading from a computer screen. Those colors block blue light. Blue light is responsible for eye fatigue, not to mention that it messes with our biological clocks!

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jan- Eink is very easy on the eyes. Really and truly. I think this is more about conditioning and how our attention is forever supposed to be insanely split amongst many things at any given time. When something requires effort and attention, time for absorption and thought, that schizophrenic type thought is prohibitive and limiting.

  • litlove

    Once again, I’m right on your wavelength. It’s the very disposability of everything that bothers me. We’ve been watching the old series of the A Team all summer and autumn (my son’s been into it) and every episode features the main characters constructing something with their hands out of bits and pieces of junk to save themselves. When do our kids ever get to fix stuff? Or construct something new out of something old? What kind of vital skills are we losing?

    A while back I looked into the environmental issue with regard to books and ereaders. It about evens out. Books account for a small percentage of the world’s woodchip – stop reading newspapers and magazine and using kitchen towels if you really want to make a difference. Be aware too that all gadgets contain parts that create toxic waste when they are thrown away, far more biologically hazardous than paper which can be recycled and even more of a problem when the short life of a gadget is considered (three years for an ereader to become obsolete, several hundred years for a carefully preserved book). And given that most electronic equipment is produced in Asia, there are huge transportation costs to consider. Also the precious metals in computer equipment are taken from finite resources. So, not so very green after all.

    • kimberlyloomis

      LL – I had no idea about how balanced out the “green” issue was. It makes complete sense.

      I also agree with you about fixing things and the necessity of people learning how to do this. It also speaks to a mindset that many things in life are worth that understanding, even when it is come to through extra some strenuous intellectual and/or physical efforts. That’s the piece I think I find most disconcerting. Shakespeare may take effort on the part of the modern reader to understand, but it’s well worth it. How can one know if it is worth it to them if they do not try? Does it then become a matter of simply deciding it can’t be worth it because it isn’t put forth in as straight forward a manner as possible? Where is the artistry in that?

      Ah, you see? Got me asking more questions. Thanks, LL!

  • Arlee Bird

    the digital reading revolution allows us to store scads of reading material in a tiny space, but it is all so temporal. I still have books from childhood and my school and college years and sometimes go back to read these or even just pick them up and look at them and feel them. Those books are a wonderful tangible link to my past and the pasts of others who have owned them. I treasure my home library shelves–without them, well, my e-reader could be put on an ornate little stand in my living room or home office, but it would lack the meaning and impact of shelves of books and, quite frankly, it would look utterly stupid.

    Tossing It Out

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lee – Very, very good point. Lol! I love my cluttered library and can’t imagine showcasing my eReader the same way. Books are such a conversation piece. It would be a shame to hide all of them in a device.

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