When I was a kid, we bought the New York Times after church and then spent the rest of the day reading it. As an adult we had The Denver Post delivered, and I read The Atlantic and other magazines, but I missed the BookReview. We’ve subscribed to the Sunday Times now for a number of years. Although I usually at least scan the book review, I more regularly read other sections indepth. Styles Magazine is a leaf-through section, with an occasional article read. Today, though, I started with Andrew O’Hagan’s piece on the past and modern innovations. He asks what has society/the individual lost by the use of the iPhone and its attendant apps. He contends that life is better with technology.
In many respects, I agree. At a reunion recently my classmates commented about the superiority of “our music.” While I’d agree some of that music is pretty special and some songs are masterpieces, overall I prefer contemporary music. A steady diet of “classic rock” makes me gag. O’Hagan mentions the ease of research using the Internet. That is a plus,although I still look for books or articles beyond what I can easily (and cheaply) find online. He also mentions the availability of friendship, or at least camaraderie, via social media, and talks about the advantages of the world at your fingertips when you live in the middle of nowhere.
Yes, I agree with all those improvements, yet it still seems that something is lost by the use of phones and computers where before we had card catalogs, meetings in person, books, and had to wait to view movies, hear music, etc. Why is instant gratification better than a wait, or having to work a bit to accomplish something? What is wrong with watching Downton Abbey at the regularly scheduled time in the US instead of watching episodes in advance through some Internet service? Yes, I love streaming movies, but I also enjoy watching certain of the special features included on DVDs. I give up some positives for ease and instant gratification.
I know if it weren’t for computers, writing would be real work for me and would test my patience. I started writing on a typewriter and never quite got the knack of using the back correction. Even liquid paper was a mess. I could never get the paper to line up properly if I removed it from the typewriter. So yes, the advent of word processing programs with spell check and an easy way to make corrections and changes was a boon for me as well as thousands of other writers.
The ease of typing up stories has to be one of the factors in the rise in the number of writers. Not only is it easier to produce manuscripts, it’s easier to get them out in the world. Self publishing on the Internet doesn’t bother me too much since it seems to be akin to the self-publishing/vanity press of old. I do believe, though, that journals and agents and editors are swimming in print due to the ease of submitting online. In the past, not only did you have to write and type a story, but you had to figure out where to send it without the information being at your fingertips. Sure, you could buy a writers’ guidebook, but it likely was out of date before it saw print. More than once I sent off a story the same day I purchased the brand new book and received it back in the mail with a “return to sender” stamp due to an outdated address.
After you figured out your submission strategy, you had to buy and address envelopes, weigh the manuscript for return, possibly make a trip to the post office, and wait. Most journals back then didn’t allow simultaneous submissions, and stupidly, some of us obeyed that. Now, all you have to do is spend a few minutes looking around on the Internet, click and send, very often directly from the correct journal/agent/editor site.
The work involved in submission in the past helped weed out those who weren’t serious, those who were dabbling. It is possible that some great writers were left undiscovered in the process who are now found due to the ease of submitting, but is the overall good of the writing world served by this? Would Emily Dickinson have been published sooner and more prolifically if she merely had to click a button to send her poems? Maybe. But possibly her work would have been lost in the jumble of more fashionable submissions.
Would I go back to the day of the typewriter? No. Computers made writing much easier for me. The Internet makes submitting work and research less difficult, too. For those things I am thankful. I suppose another byproduct of the Internet is an increase in the number of places to publish. It would be interesting to know the ratio of writers to the number of journals over time. Has this changed? Of course there are other factors at play in the book publishing world. If, though, the ease of getting information and then submitting is at least in part due to the Internet, it is likely that the deluge of manuscripts to editors was at least one factor in the Agent as Gateway method to publication. As it seems that editors like my work more than agents, I’m not sure this is a positive for me and my writing career.
Andrew O’Hagan admits that technology changed his character, but the innovations in her lifetime did not change his mother’s. I do not know if the Internet has in any way changed my character. At the same time, I do wonder if it has in some way modified my life course?
How has the ease of technology shaped you and your writing career, if at all?