Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gutenberg Graveyard

I won’t deny that I have one foot in the Guttenberg graveyard and the other on a computer generated image of a banana peel. Hand-written parchment and papyrus preceded the printing press. Earlier yet, Frenchmen drew on the walls of the caves of Lascaux, and Egyptians carved and painted hieroglyphics in the tombs of the pharaohs. Who knows what silicon and laser humans will employ to satisfy their irresistible urge to communicate their experiences and imaginations?

Electronic gadgets frustrate me. I get impatient, push the wrong button, and everything stops working, sometimes setting off an alarm, like a signal for the cops or the fire department. Usually the only thing clear about the instructions is that English is not their mother tongue. Nonetheless I have read with interest and curiosity the recent NEWSWEEK article about the release of a new electronic book device by internet bookseller Amazon. Called the Kindle, the gadget is far from the first, only the latest e-reader. The price for the Kindle is $399 each. Still, when I checked Amazon.Com three weeks before Christmas, they were all sold out and would not promise delivery until after the big gift giving day. I didn’t really want one, anyway. There are other manufacturers of e-readers, and stores such as Best Buys advertise them as available. I don’t really want one of them, either. I’ll wait till the price drops to the low double-digits like the portable CD player I bought at Wal-Mart.

My interest in these devices really focuses on the future of the written word. No doubt books, newspapers, magazines are losing people’s attention today. Does that mean people don’t or won’t read? My Antioch College writing professor Nolan Miller told me several years ago that there were getting to be “too many writers and not enough readers.” Probably true. Nolan taught writers for 50 years and was fiction editor of The Antioch Review at least as long. Maybe he died before he could see how this situation only creates a certain democracy in the flow of ideas and communications, even as it shakes up the economics of publishing and writing.

The blog you are reading does not require that I affiliate myself with some commercial conglomerate, other than the internet itself. Nobody tells me what to write about, how to write it, or when. That’s the good news. The bad news is nobody pays me for it, either. I guess the time will come when I can make my own novel or collection of poems available to the e-reader market. Maybe in time also, some methods of payment will evolve. I hope so. Otherwise, the only people who can devote the thought and time to it will be the wealthy, the retired, and those with sinecures in the royal court. There is also the issue of copyrights, which protect creative and intellectual property. I am sorry to say that technology has failed so far to prevent blatant theft of copyrighted works by consumers with easy access and no conscience or awareness that they are stealing the food from another person’s table.

The music industry, through performing rights representatives ASCAP and BMI, offers a tried and true model. They collect licensing fees from record labels, radio and television broadcasters, bars and restaurants, and most recently the internet, and establish ways of measuring the use of copyrighted music. This is one of the main ways musicians and composers earn money for their work, just like the paycheck you get from your job. Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, the estate of George Gershwin, and many songwriters without famous names get paid this way. Next time you download something you did not pay for, think about it.

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

The Amazon Kindle reader costs too much for me. I would like to have one if it were cheaper tho. It would be useful for downloading stuff from sites like Gutenberg Project that may have out of print books or rare stuff that one could not ordinarily access. Or stuff from Bartleby. I like old history books for example and it would be nice to read them without having to inhale mold spores. :-)
Also there's a 3-vol bio of Liszt (for example) that I would like to read but it costs over $50 a vol. I surely wouldn't want to get a Kindle for reading best sellers because you can get them cheap used on Amazon within two or three weeks after publication. I would want it for stuff that I might not have other opportunities to read/view. Being able to enlarge the print also appeals to me. Since it costs $399, I will have to wait until (1) the price comes down and (2) the kinks get worked out. My favorite digital camera for example (the one I use for flower closeups) has come way down in price.

Tina said...

w/regard to pushing buttons..I am giving a nice 5-CD player to my grandson because I think he will have better luck at figuring it out than I do. A problem for me, gadget lover tho I am, is that the buttons are not adequately labeled.
Probably to confuse speakers of various languages, the manufacturers have "identified" the buttons with arrows, dots, and other symbols. The CD player is black and the buttons are small (and the symbols smaller). I can hardly see what I'm doing when I try to figure out the buttons. I THINK this player will also accommodate cassettes in a mysterious aperture which I have not been able yet to open.
I have replaced this large and user-unfriendly player with a small one-CD player by Fisher. Here's how it works--you wave your hand over the top and the door to the CD player opens. You insert a CD and wave your hand over the top again. The door closes and the CD starts playing. No lie. I hope my grandson will like his big new boom-boom 5-cd player as much as I like my little-bitty easy-to-use CD player. And I have the feeling that he will.


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