Yesterday, I attended a fiction author’s panel called New Fiction Confab. I’m not a huge reader, but it was a client event and I was intrigued nonetheless. Writers Walter Kirn, Peter Orner, Ben Marcus, and Heidi Julavits each read from their recent titles and then answered questions from the audience, both individually and as a group. For the latter portion, a question about the state of fiction quickly turned into a discussion about how digital publishing and devices are changing the way we read—and even the way they write. Incidentally, this morning’s On The Media was on the same topic.
Two of the panelists in particular, Walter Kirn and Peter Orner, sat side by side with opposing views on the subject. Kirn viewed the internet and digital publishing as freedom and chastized the naysaying writers for dragging their feet on what could and should be a revelatory innovation for the craft. Alternately, Orner recounted how he had gotten rid of internet at his house and was reveling in the peace and focus.
I actually think they’re both on the right path.
One of the most common misconceptions of what I’ve been working on with this blog and in practice is that I am anti-technology or opposed to doing things online. Not true. What I am reacting to is the idea that we should just accept all these interruptions and distractions as inevitable. Yesterday, as I sat in the audience it occurred to me that this blog might just as well be called “The Volume Knob.” A common refrain from the panel and the audience was that the internet, the various devices, and the nature of digital publishing are irreparably changing how we create and consume ideas.
While Kirn argued that a formless, boundless platform is inevitable and that we should work with it, while others including Orner commented that the proclamations of ‘the end of the sanctity of the written word’ is a common and recurring one that never really comes to pass. My point is that rather than just laying down and letting technology trample us or chaining ourselves to trees, we should just sit up and take an active role in how we co-exist with the digital domain.
As one example, I like to read the newspaper but don’t care for the paper waste. However, I also don’t like the rabbit-hole links and animated ads of reading the news online. What I long for is a finite, curated, designed experience of starting from the beginning of an edition, discovering stories I would never click on, then finishing it before going online to share or learn more. So my compromise is to read the print version on my iPad via the newspaper’s app. I have disabled most of the alerts so I still get a solitary experience without the paper-waste-guilt. Voila!
So, while big change can be inevitable, I say “participate” or you will find yourself subjected to interruptions and distractions you don’t want.