As a writer, and as a reader, I am daunted by the digital age. Perhaps this is because I am not technically savvy, but I think the fears are more deeply rooted. Writing that is only published in a digital form seems less permanent and more vulnerable to being tampered with or lost and forgotten. Yet at the same time, I can see that new technology is valuable and holds great potential for the writing industry.
If I were to publish a book, I want to be able to hold it, turn its pages and admire its spine on my bookshelf. I’d like to have a book launch and sign copies for people who want to buy it. To put the work into writing a book, actually find a willing publisher and then only have it available in a digital form seems like training for the Olympics, winning and not receiving a gold medal. Is this my own vanity and inability to embrace the technical direction that society is choosing?
When I take my own writing out of the picture, I am also afraid of losing books – purely from the point of view as a reader. The pleasure of reading is made up of several elements, not only the writing. A book possesses a tactile quality and a physical presence, often even has a smell. When all else fails there is nothing like curling up in bed with a book, bending the cover of a paperback or propping a hardback up against a pillow and letting it stand by itself. Books get passed down through generations and often hold great sentimental value.
I just cannot imagine going to bed with an eReader, iPad or Kindle.
Reading onscreen is a different experience compared to reading from a page. When doing research, I scan information to find what I am looking for and then print it out for further analysis. My eyes begin to hurt after reading onscreen for too long and I read less carefully. I miss the author’s nuances and get less sense of their writing style. There is always a feeling of urgency and I read quickly, keen to find other treasures that might be floating around the world wide web.
However, I am becoming addicted to online journals, writing centre websites and literary bloggers like Chris Flynn, LiteraryMinded and 3000 books. Where else can I find others who get excited about comparing booklists, an author’s new novel or a literary event? What better way to keep up to date with news and opportunities? Writing is lonely and it is fun to tune into the hub of literary activity that is taking place online. It makes me feel excited, involved and part of a community. But you know what? I am reading fewer books because of it.
Is time spent online wasted? Is it dangerous to be devoting this time to reading about books that other people are writing and reading, and events they are attending rather than taking part in these activities myself? I’m not sure, but I am learning about more books, authors, writing practices and finding out when events are actually taking place. I am also motivated by the camaraderie.
Reading a journal online will never stop me from buying a physical copy of it because I think that they serve separate purposes and in fact complement each other. If I want to revisit a piece of writing or read a particular author’s work, I will buy the journal. I also like to make a point of supporting the industry that I rely upon. However, checking the journal’s website allows me to read people’s comments, recent news, events and blog posts between issues of the physical edition.
I certainly hope that this isn’t the death of the book, but that digital publishing will allow writers, readers and the industry as a whole to move forward with other art forms that have already embraced new technology. We don’t want to be behind the eight ball. Of course there are many issues to consider. Copyright, the survival of the publishing industry and capacity for writers to support themselves are just a few that have my head spinning. I don’t know what will happen, but at this stage all I can do is keep writing and reading – both online and off – and be open to future possibilities.