Saturday, February 02, 2008

Disproving the Theory of Relativity

Things, they do change, don't they? The ancient Celts disapproved of writing. They believed that it spoiled the memory. An educated person spent a lifetime memorizing lore and stories to word-for-word perfection. A modern person would consider a bard's memory nothing short of miraculous. For most of human history, the skills a person learned in youth served him most of his life, but over the last century, events have been moving at such an accelerating pace that it has finally become almost impossible to keep up. A person's knowledge becomes obsolete practically as soon as it is learned.

Lately I feel that my life is like a car whose brakes have failed and I'm hurtling downhill toward a brick wall with no way to stop. One may say that this sensation is simply the theory of relativity at work -- time just seems to move faster when one has more behind than ahead. But I beg to differ. I think time actually is speeding up. It must be. It can't be that my brain just can't keep up.

Look at this Kindle thing, for example. This is the wave of the future -- an i-pod for books. You can download a book for less that it costs to buy one. You can load up to 200 books on the thing, which means there are 200 books you don't have to lug around with you. I've been told that it's easy to read. I think I'm going to have to learn to deal with it, both as an author and as a reader, whether I like the idea or not.

Last December, I went down to Tucson to do an event, and as I walked up to the venue, I came on three other authors standing by the door discussing Kindle. They were wondering how author royalties work, if any book on Kindle is in print forever, what happens to the author's rights. Can an author contract to put her own works up if she can regain the rights once the publisher lets it go out of print? The scuttlebut answers to all these questions sounded quite comforting, but at this point, I don't know the actual facts. I don't think I'm going to be able to avoid finding out, though. We Poisoned Pen Press authors heard yesterday that our press is issuing a few of its older titles on Kindle. I'm guessing they're testing the waters before they jump all the way in. That may be a really good thing, but I don't know for sure. For us authors, Kindle is one of those brakeless cars heading for a brick wall.

If anyone is really versed in the way this technology affects the writer, I'd love to hear about it.


Rick Blechta said...

I'm feeling more and more ambivalent about readers. The Kindle is certainly a step forward in this technology. The page is the easiest yet to read, even in bright sun, but it has shortcomings.

But you are very right when you compare it to an iPod. They have totally changed the paradigms involved with so many facets of the music industry that the mind boggles. It has totally and completely changed forever.

The publishing industry is on the cusp of the same radical shift in the way they do business, much in the way computers completely changed the production of books.

Music, too, when I come to think of it.

But still, there's something cold about holding a reader. Maybe because it's so different than holding a book. In a way, every book you read on an electronic reader has the same cover.
Many years ago we bought a set of leather bound books from the Franklin Mint, volumes of great short stories, 35 in all.

The books are lovely to look at, lovely to hold, the typography and interior design are superb, and of course, stories by the world's great writers are a pleasure to read.

When I can't sleep, I toddle downstairs, take one off the shelves and read a few stories before beginning to feel sleepy again. Somehow, I don't think a Kindle will ever replace this sort of experience...

Can I and those who feel like me hold back the tide? No. But the world might become a poorer place because of it, same as seeing all those people walking down the street immersed in their personal music, but cutting themselves off from the world at the same time.

NL Gassert said...

I wonder what these kinds of readers do for libraries? How would that work? I’m already at the mercy of the person who buys books for my local library (though, in all fairness, they seem to call me often to tell me they have bought a book or two I suggested). Will I ever see any of these downloadable books if I rely solely on the library?

Rick Blechta said...

Interesting thought.

Yes, how would that work. I can't see libraries handing out readers to take home, and they certainly couldn't expect people to only read a book on a reader while at the library.

Obviously, as the things become more available, the price will go way down. I suppose you could go in, they would download the book into your reader. That would be one way to do it.

I wonder if the manufacturers, libraries and publishers have thought of this impact due to the new technology.

Thanks for bringing it up!