Sunday, December 6, 2009

A New Book

Everything has changed. At nearly 47 years of age, I stand on the precipice of the future and realize that the dreams of my youth have been made irrelevant by life and technology. Things are changing so quickly and I’m adapting with the speed of a slug – mired in salt.

One problem with the rapidly changing world is no one realizes how much it is changing. We whir along and change without even thinking about it. I realize that hardly anyone reads what I write on this blog, but I think nothing of the fact that I sit here on a Sunday morning in slippers, typing and in a moment my thoughts will be accessible to anyone who cares to listen. This is were you get humility, because no one is really listening. We are all too busy talking and worrying about ourselves to give anyone else much thought.

Writing Dream: Be published. When I was thirteen, being a published author was the holy grail of all I wanted. Instead of pursuing writing, I ended up in the law, but I’ve clung to this dream of being published. Publication brings about serendipity. Your words get out there and you have no idea who will actually connect with them. My wife gets to put up with me because she was published. So all seems right with the world, my dream to be published is still alive and kicking.

Wrong – sort of. The infrastructure of the past and the machinery of publication still spits out books. Every Sunday in the New York Times I can read reviews of the latest and greatest. I’ve developed a fondness and attachment to particular authors, living and dead, reading almost everything that they write – Philip Roth, Paul Auster, Bret Easton Ellis, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Saul Bellow, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk – the list goes on and on. I read them, connect and think I want to be like one of those guys. (Yes, honey, I realize that they are all white males and about half of them are Jewish, but I still read women authors, too. You being my favorite woman author and so much more than just a friend.)

I realize why I have no friends to speak of – my friends are authors and their books. Being friends with an author is easy. They don’t ask of anything other than you spring for the price of the book. In fact they tend to hate creepy stalkers and emails, so they prefer it if you put their book on the shelf and leave them alone. If you are busy and ignore them, they don’t care, as long as you keep reading.

Publication always felt to me like the one sure way to obtain immortality. A book bound with your name on it could speak after you were dead. Now, it is possible to literally speak after you are dead with recorded voice and video. Nearly any aspect of our lives can be reduced to digital format and “published” for the future. The philosophical implications of the ease of publishing are seemingly endless with one of the biggest questions being does the urge or desire to publish one’s life interfere with living one’s life?

Author’s by nature must be at least a little exhibitionistic and simultaneously reclusive, J.D. Salinger any one? They flash us with their words, not their presence. And they want us to look at the words, but they love the barrier the book and word creates between themselves as people and the reader.

I know because it is that desire for connection, understanding and dialogue that has compelled me throughout my life to want to write. I want to talk to my friends the authors and the social structure is such that I talk to them by putting out my work for others to read. My value in the conversation is determined by the audience I develop, not by what I say. I want to be published because I don’t want to violate the social norms of author-hood.

And yet, the world is changing. I can see it, feel it and realize it and the dream is fading with every Google search I commit or every “friend” I add on Facebook. There are better ways now to connect with the authors, the friends of my life than books. Publication was all about access, public knowledge and public acceptance. Access to text has gone from extremely difficult to instantaneous and easy. My original desire to be published was so that others could have access to my words. Technology has eliminated that need.

The problem has shifted from access to letting the public know and care about what I write. The previous social milieu of books was a sub-genre of the celebrity culture, a culture where our heroes walked on Olympus, dropping words like lightening on us mere mortals. The digital age is crumbling Olympus and words are flying everywhere. The old guard remains fortified by publishing houses and Barnes and Noble, but the attack on them is relentless and continuing unabated.

Carnegie Libraries, public libraries, law libraries and school libraries are fading into the digital abyss. Why go to the library, when I can find any book at home on my laptop or Kindle? When an entire library of a University is digitized by Google, why pay all that money and take up all that space? It doesn’t make sense and cities and schools will stop doing it.

Suddenly, my desire to be published seems silly. Throw out a book into the enormous and never shrinking, constantly expanding digital slush pile. Within my lifetime it appears that most, if not all books ever published will be available digitally. No single person can ever attempt to read or comprehend all that material. The Renaissance Man or Woman has been killed by a tidal wave of text and information.

With the publication of a book, there was always the possibility that someone would stumble upon it at a much future date. Publication was about social recognition and a stamp of approval from the society that there was at least some merit to the words. The pesky one and zero that digitized everything changed that – the one and the zero don’t discriminate, they accept all comers. I’m laughing a little bit this morning when I think back to the dismay I used to get walking into Barnes and Noble and wondering how even if I managed to get a copy of my book on the shelf would it ever get read, there were so many choices. I had no clue. It is a million, possibly a billion times worse than I ever imagined. (Translation technology is improving at such a rate that it is going to be easier than ever to translate books between languages, so for us English writers, the competition is about to jump by about 4-5 billion more potential authors.)

So I’ve dreamed a new dream. I haven’t always followed through on adapting to rapidly changing things, but I still have the same desire to be published, but I’m going to do it for a new digital age.

1. First I’m going to take a page out of Facebook and look for friends for my writing and friends for me. This is the replication of my own author focused friendships I’ve developed over the years.

2. I’m going take a page out of Blogger and Word Press and use the ease of publication and search to create a digital persona for myself that will hopefully stick around for awhile after I’m gone.

3. I’m going to take a page out of Google and include everything and make my digital persona searchable.

4. I’m going to take a page from the publishing industry and provide human editorial control over the content. Having everything is cool, but time consuming for a reader. Editorial control allows for different layers of friends from the mere acquaintance to the best friend that knows everything about you.

5. I’m going to take a page out of cloud computing and move my information, writing and digital persona out of my laptop and office and on to the cloud of the new Olympus, a digitally replicating and growing Colossus of new information. It is out of that Colossus’ Chaos that a new world is being created.

6. I am going to take a page out of my upbringing and look for integrity in my digital persona, so that it matches up completely with the flesh and blood version. Those who know me will wonder how this is even conceivable given the numerous facets of my identity, but I’m becoming more convinced that privacy, especially as an author, is a rapidly dying concept. Creating an integrated digital persona is the only method to eliminate privacy concerns. We are all celebrities now.

So far my new book is only six pages of infinite length or at least the length of a lifetime.