Thursday, 6 August 2009

E-publishing: To E or not to E?

The new permutations of writing and publishing made possible by the internet are exciting, confusing and distracting all at the same time. Knowing what to invest time and energy in, and how, and above all why, calls for great creative self-confidence, skill and discipline on the part of writers. Some interesting perspectives on some of these issues can be found at Books Ahead.
The recently retired General Manager of Microsoft Prague, making a keynote speech at the school where I work, in my view made the point about technology and all forms of work:
Content is King! What applies to the world of education - where we have a tendency to forget that the effective classroom does not revolve around interactive white boards and other bells and whistles - applies to the world of words. It's so easy to get carried away with the buzz of communicating that we can neglect the art of good content.
How we express ourselves is also part of the message: the music industry, for example, has worked itself into a cleft stick of creative rigidity, devoid of experimentation with instruments and arrangements. Hey, I live in Moravia in the Czech Republic, where ethnic folk musicians are trained in classical music at conservatoires and think nothing of experimenting with jazz and other genres. This is high quality art that is alive!
The real creative potential of the internet for authors is the opportunity it provides to break free of rigid institutional hierarchies and inject something fresh, trenchant and playful into the world of letters, without the constraints imposed by having to reach a wide enough audience for commercial viability. Not that there's anything wrong with being commercially viable! It's just that the dog should be wagging the tail, not the other way round.
This is a cultural vicious circle that runs deep: once the tail starts wagging the dog, art becomes a production line trundling out what will sell. Tastes, in turn, are shaped by what makes it out of the culture factory, resulting in a culture of sound-bites, cliches and lowest common denominators. This state of affairs is not just artistically lamentable: it's positively dangerous. We are human: our wits have always been the only thing that stand between us and extinction. If we allow our wits to grow dull, we're finished.