Let’s face it: the internet has us all freaked out. It’s 1439 all over again–maybe more like 1450–and this Gutenberg dude has just revolutionized the way information is disseminated and all we know for sure is that those monks who make a living doing awesome illustrated manuscripts are probably all going to be out of jobs.
A friend tells this story: he bought some electronic gizmo for himself and bought another one for his parents. He brought it home, opened the box, took it out, but knew he didn’t have time to carefully peruse the manual, so he set it aside, went to work. He had a niece visiting, and when he got home, she was playing with it. She just got it out and started playing, and in one afternoon had already figured out aps that weren’t even in the manual. He went to visit his parents later that day, and they still hadn’t opened theirs–were too freaked out by it to even open the box–like if they’d touched it, it might bite them or something. And there you have it–three generations right there. Freaked out/terrified, willing to try, but cautious, and ‘wow, this so cool!’
I thought about this recently when I read the tragic/comic story of Spurs point guard Tony Parker and his impending divorce from actress Eva Longoria. The tipping point, apparently, was her discovery on his phone of over 700 text messages he’d sent to and received from the wife of one of his teammates. One wonders just how many iterations of ‘u so hot ‘n sexy gurl’ Parker thought it necessary to preserve for posterity. But then another thought occurred–Parker hadn’t deleted the messages because he didn’t know how to. I totally get that, though I do personally have a fool-proof way to delete old texts. I hand the phone to my daughter and say ‘honey, would you delete all these messages please?’ Works every time. But then I’m also not texting Brent Barry’s wife. Or, you know, anyone I’m not supposed to.
I text a lot, but I’m not very good at it. The predictive spelling always messes me up, as in recently, when my son, in grad school in Minnesota, texted me that they were experiencing their first Minnesota winter storm. I meant to ask him if he had a good winter coat. What I texted instead was ‘do you have a good boat?’ I do stuff like that a lot–my daughter Lexie becomes ‘Jewie’ in text-world, and I’m forever reassuring my wife ‘I’ll be good soon,’ when I just want to tell her I’m on my way ‘home.’
Last night, my daughter asked me if, when I was her age (17), I ever wondered what cool new inventions we’d have in the future. I told her that I was really thinking we’d have, like, hover cars by now. If you’d said to me “everyone will have phones,” that wouldn’t have seemed too weird, but that those same phones would also have cameras would have seemed impossibly James Bondian, and internet connections? I would have had no idea what that even meant. Computers were these ginormous things that filled entire buildings that you programmed with punch cards.
So for my generation, our relationship to techonology is tentative and fraught with hidden perils. I just learned that a collection of my plays is going to be published in a Kindle-friendly e-version, and that I get a Kindle from the publisher. I think this is awesome news, and I can’t wait to get my Kindle. But I also know I’m not going to know how to use it unless I get my kids to help me. And that they’ll, like, just look at the thing and instantly know how to use it. Plus, you know, there’s also this nasty little Luddite part of me that immediately doesn’t like Kindles, that thinks “I like books, damnit, I like the feel of paper in my fingers, Kindle’s the future and I don’t want any part of it!”
I like books. I like newspapers. I like critical essays, published in academic journals. And I thnk all of that’s going away, or at least it’s all going to change, and I don’t know what’s replacing it all, or how to feel about it. And I think–hey, what’s the big deal, good writing is good writing, what does a delivery system matter? But it does matter.
So this is a blog post–apparently I’m blogging right now, sitting here with my laptop. And what’s a blog? A short essay. I know that world. And I like blogging–it’s fun. I should have my own blog, really, if I knew how to set one up. But then I read a really great blog, like that amazing thing that girl does on Hyperbole and a Half. She’s as funny a writer as I know, but she’s also an artist–she illustrates her own writing, and although she doesn’t really draw all that well, her drawings are absoloutely perfect for her writing style. She’s fantastic. And she couldn’t have existed in the Brave Old World I now remember with such fondness. For one thing, she self-publishes. We used to look down at self-publishing–not any more. Self-publishing, in fact, is what people do. A guy like Bill Simmons couldn’t have existed twenty years ago–a guy who just liked sports and wrote about them on this blog, and hoped enough people would read his stuff and like it that he’d make some money. And because he’s smart and clever, it worked and he’s now . . . gotten two books published. I’m totally addicted to a San Francisco Giants sportsblog, the McCovey Chronicles. The moderator, a guy named Grant, is an amazing writer–funny and smart and bright and literate. But half the fun of the blog are all the media links. I contribute, but only text–I don’t know how to do all the rest of it–comically photoshop celebrity heads on, like, farm animals or whatever.
So what happens to literary fiction? What happens to the best of popular fiction, or fiction generally? This stuff’s great for snark and bile–for pith and vinegar. But how, now, does one use language to convey experiences with The Spirit, and how does one include video links, and how does that form change content?
I happen to like Times and Seasons and Feminist Mormon Housewives, and all these other publication/social communities. I think they’re all awesome, and great for criticism, and great ways to network. But I also loved Brady Udall’s new book. And I want to read it printed, on paper. And I also can’t wait to get my Kindle, and get my kids to show me how to use it. We have, at our fingertips, more information, more literature, more snarky fun than ever before in the history of the world. And more access to porn, and to sites for paranoid insanity, and to specific instructions on how to build home-made explosives. It’s going to change everything, and I have no idea how to cope with all that. And I also can’t wait to see where it goes.
Plus I’m a theatre guy. My favorite art form is by its very nature ephemeral, disappears in the very moment of its creation, leaving behind only a few fragmented artifacts. Maybe that’s the secret to survival. Maybe it’s on life support, monitors beeping, a DNR on its charts. The future is now, and I’m terrified. And exhilarated. Breathe.