The challenge of making my case in these five short blogs
is magnified for me because I am both a slow talker and thinker. I tend to work toward my thoughts in an 'organic' manner. That's probably why I chose the form of the novel for expression. I am not easily seduced by sound bites.
The first line of my novel Hound was hidden until my editor pointed out the old newspaper adage that I was burying my lead. Yet it was that first line that had spawned the whole book and had always been the nucleus of the way I was going to approach my larger subject.
Books are, after all, the way I make my living.
It is a matter of our age that most of us refuse to deal with unpleasantness until we are forced to. There are so many alternatives. Buy a new one. Eat out. Watch TV. Download it... A significant number of my fellow citizens live their lives between a pair of headphones. It's damn hard to hear the screaming that way.
We have thrown off the clothes of tradition and taken up the amusements of our age. Neal Postman warned about the consequences of this in Amusing Ourselves to Death, many years ago.
I was not surprised in the 1990s to discover that my worries over the death of the book were dismissed out of hand by most people. What occurred to me then was that the whole process of recognition would be either organic or catastrophic. Nothing in-between. Now that the dying has begun, what I hear is denial. It won't be so bad. You won't feel a thing.
Telling people over and again that the levees are inadequate, that money to fix them is being misspent on other things, and that history has predicted a direct hit by another hurricane in the foreseeable future, is not enough, though homes and lives and the life's work of hundreds of thousands are at risk. Afterward, there will be many to blame. But there will be very few who admit, "I knew, but I did nothing."
It is your right to go in a candy shop and spend all your pay on sweets. It is your right to put the work of your life on a flash drive. I am not asking for or wanting any government to tell you or me how to live our lives. What I am wanting is for as many people as possible to take responsibility for themselves and what they do. I don't want my children to bear the consequences of a society which has lost its head. Go ahead, buy the candy if that's important to you. But please don't turn then to your government to correct your health problems because that cost will then fall on me and mine and I do not deserve the burden. I am certain I have made enough mistakes all my own to bear.
Dependency on the convenience of the internet is not a good thing. Yes, it will be a wondrous good to have all of the world's fine literature (and the trash, too) at your fingertips as Google wishes. But if you stop making choices — if you stop buying the actual book which represents your own judgment about what is fine — there will be no true arbiter of taste. There will be no true arbiter of value to separate the fine from the trash.
The book must share space in the rooms of our lives. We must make that judgment in numbers sufficient to keep the book alive and viable as an art form, and a business, with all the craft and industry behind it. What I fear at first is neglect. No one wants to do harm. But later, when the cost of the book has risen too far above the expense of the simple download, all that will be left is the kind of 'print-on-demand' that will homogenize and pasteurize every nuance of the arts and crafts of publishing. And with them will inevitably go content.
Already typography and binding have suffered.
I haven't the scientific background to instruct others on the fragile nature of the internet, but I fully comprehend the consequences of what I have read and been told by those who do. For instance, the effect of a single electromagnetic pulse weapon above New York would end most modern communication in America.
I could ask, "How are your letter writing skills? Penmanship, anyone? And is the Post Office up to the challenge of physically carrying all that love texting today?"
But that is not the point. Doomsday is not the real matter at hand. Such warnings will be ignored, just as we have ignored them so many timesin the past. The truth is that, whether or not any catastrophe ever befalls us, we will have lost a great tool of civilization.
The book is the record of what we are. And this medium does not occur in nature. It is just as artificial as the iPod. It is a product of the human imagination. And, just as the iPod is the end product of a thousand smaller technologies without which it could not exist, the book too will go away if the infrastructure that makes it possible is neglected.
The record of what we are should not be left in the hands of a few. Just as the codex took the place of the ancient scroll and thus permitted authority to assume control over what we should know, the internet and its offspring are liable to central management. They will have their own purposes in mind, whether their hearts are good or bad.
We must take care.