Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the use of technology to unfetter, not enchain...

I recently read this blog and I felt compelled to produce a response.

See normally, in other circumstances, I'd agree with Mr. Tierney. In fact, I do agree with him, on a number of points. I love books. I love the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. I've experienced all of the things mentioned in that blog in relation to books. I'd like to state, right here, for the record: I sincerely, unequivocally, most strenuously hope and wish that books - real, physical books - will remain a part of the human experience for as long as there is a human to experience it.


(We all knew that was coming, right?)
OK, I admit. Usually when someone says but after a statement, it basically brings a lie to that statement. This is not my intention. My statement stands.
It's just that, well, I don't necessarily hate the iPad. At least, I don't hate what it represents. Do I find people swanning around with their iPad's, faces bathed in a sickly blue glow as they engage in such riveting activities as online poker, checking the weather in Timbuktu, and downloading the latest 'must have' app (not to mention, of course, reading the cold, sterile words contained within the 'covers' of the latest bestselling e-book) to be pretentious gits? Yes! Most definitely (and a little jealously), YES!

What the iPad represents, however, I find to be the modern parallel of the printing press. This analogy has in fact been used before. Radio, TV, the internet - all technological marvels that have brought previously unprecedented levels of information to the common folk of the world.
When the printing press took books away from the elite, and unshackled the written word from its monastic confines, and made them accessible to just about anyone, it essentially kick-started the enlightenment, the renaissance, and more or less paved the way for the technological progress that we continue to enjoy today.
Books today, are still a very accessible resource, and the average person can (and usually does) enjoy a library that a 16th century KING would have envied. Some of us are crazy enough to have a library in excess of a thousand, if not more, books.
How does the iPad and its cousins change this? Does it change it at all?

I believe it does, simply in that it is making the written word - and this encompasses such a wide variety of media in these modern times that is defies belief or description - even more accessible to the common or garden variety human. Sure, not everyone has an iPad. Just about everyone in modern, western society (and not a few outside of it) has access to a computer, however (not to mention a large percentage of these have access to a computer in their pockets - in the form of smart-phones and the like).
I personally find this to be an immense boon. I can essentially have the entire sum of human knowledge available and accessible to me, and it fits in the palm of my hand.

Writers...well, humans, really - are a funny bunch. Most of us like to think we're secretly somehow better than everyone else (luckily, everyone else secretly thinks this too, so it's ok) because we can make words to some rather amusing tricks. Some of us take it a bit further, and engage in strange, eccentric behaviours, to further seperate us from the common herd of humanity - such as only writing with a typewriter made in Germany in 1968, or with Mozart's 9th playing in the background, (or in charcoal on deerskin, with a Kwhe witch-doctor dancing around them...)
I can't write like that. I've tried. I cannot get the words to flow on pen and paper. It just doesn't happen.
However, give me a laptop or a pc keyboard and just TRY to shut me up.
I strongly believe that the digital format of the written word is just another medium that enables the writers out there to perform those aforementioned amusing tricks.

Will access to books (because, lets be fair, this is the crux, the heart, the nub of the matter here) in an electronic/digital format spell the end of the 'pen-and-paper' book? I say it won't.
At least, not until the human species evolves to live in a purely digital world, and no longer requires the tactile sense.
See, we're still animals at the end of the day. Lazy, lazy animals the majority of the time (hence why we like to have convenient convenience and more accessible access to the things we like). But the senses are a very large part of the human experience. Yes, we like to smell, breathe, touch, hear and perhaps even taste what it is we are reading. Yes, the e-book may be cold, sterile, and somewhat lifeless. You know what, though? It's also easy to acquire. It's cheap. And I can fit my entire library onto a flashdrive, instead of in a dozen boxes filling up my garage, due to the fact that I long ago ran out of shelf-space, and it takes far too long to pack/unpack the buggers when I move (hooray for renting...!)

So. Take that as you will. I love books. But I also have a particular intrigued fondness for their digital counterparts - and hey, if a group of shamans, neo-pagans and spiritualists out there can get together and use the internet as a way of collectively mapping the astral and ethereal realms, then I'm sure us writers can find some use for e-books.

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