Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Digital Revolution—Not an End, but a Means

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze WIK conference this weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending four truly relevant workshops.  One presentation, in particular, altered the course of a significant grudge I have held against e-readers and tablets.  I'm no luddite, but some things are just sacred.   Rubin Pfeffer, former Senior VP of children's publishing at  S&S and currently an agent at East/West Literary Agency, gave the specter of E-Publishing a whole new look and eased some of my anxiety that I may have missed my chance to publish the way I had always dreamed—as a real, paper and binding book.

He started by taking us through the development of media through history, from radio to film to television to the internet, and pointed out that while technology has changed, none of these vehicles for creativity has gone into extinction.  To the contrary, such revolutions have brought about innovations that have not only created enormous opportunity but expanded the media in ways that reach an even broader audience.  With e-books, enhanced e-books, and apps, the possibilities are staggering.

I know, I know.  At first I felt that technology cheapened our enterprise, that it somehow denigrated the sanctity of the book.  I still feel a little twinge of that pain, but I truly believe that the book as we know it will not die, not completely.  The way we publish in general, however, will definitely change.  Contracts, marketing, development.  The business model simply must change.

As I listened to Mr. Pfeffer describe how the new technology is evolving and what implications it has for our creativity, I started thinking of all the new possibilities and mourned the fading biblio-empire a little bit less.  Change is difficult...and inevitable.  We will all go through some growing pains, but I hope they will be truly growing pains.  That we will stretch ourselves a  little more and seize the opportunity to connect with our audience in ways that will enrich their relationship with literature and maybe even whet their appetite for more.

It will not be long before the number of e-books sold outpaces the traditional paper book, but that does not mean an end to good books.  Technology is simply a means by which we can share our stories with even more readers.  If their eyes are glued to a glowing screen and their fingers agile at finessing a touch pad, let is meet them where they are, where we can engage them in a variety of ways.

I can imagine the terror that those first screen actors felt when silent movies gave way to the talkies.  Some embraced the revolution and honed a new side of their craft, while others slinked away into obscurity.  Think of how much richer the experience is, how those who embraced it discovered a new voice.  I will always cherish my romantic ideal and dream of holding that beautiful hard-bound book in my hands, but I will also relish the knowledge that my story is in the hands of the young people for whom I wrote it, in whatever way it reaches them.

I would rather have my kids' eyes locked on a screen that leads them through a path of beautifully sculpted words and into challenging revelations than one that dulls their mind and entrances them with the likes of a giggling sponge or lowers them into the mire of some alternate universe that claims to be "reality tv."

Thursday, October 06, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Today, the internet is flooded with tributes to Steve Jobs, who passed away last night.  When I heard the news I wanted to cry as if I had lost a close friend.  There are several reasons why the news hit me this way, but I'll name three:

  • Steve Jobs was a pioneer who defined the world I lived in precisely at the time of my "awakening."  I was among the first students who learned about computers on an Apple back in the late 1970's, when the Apple had just opened the door to personal computing for everyday people.  In college, the little Mac brought the world of computing into my dorm room and eventually made my old electric typewriter, dropped and busted by a "friend" during senior finals, obsolete.  I was exactly the audience who grew with the company, who saw a true pioneer, a genius, define the way people interacted with computers.  He personalized them with an uncanny intuition for how people think.  Not just smart people...all people.  "Visionary" almost seems too hackneyed to describe his gifts.

  • I would not be the writer/teacher I am today.  While some people may still prefer to grab a pen and a legal pad and write out their manuscripts in long-hand, I simply could not function without my MacBook Pro.  A pen or pencil could never keep up with my mind when it comes to writing down my stories and ideas.  The computer keyboard at least lets me stumble through the mistakes or type stream-of-consciousness in a way that lets me put it all together with ease later.  My Mac is far more forgiving than a legal pad...and far more durable as well as versatile. Because of my "insanely good" Mac, I have an online community that keeps me sane and never lets me give up. I have a tool that has supported and inspired my creativity both in my writing and in my teaching.  

  • My faith in people, in the world, in the wonder that is life would be missing something without Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Wall-E, UP, and all the wonderful Pixar films that owe so much to Steve Jobs.  All due respect and a standing ovation to the writers, but the realization of their vision, what so many of us writers dream of, comes largely from the tools that Steve Jobs offered. For my kids and myself, the simplest emotions still have immeasurable magic. 

As I awakened to my own potential gifts and set my feet on a road with no one particular destination, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, it has all been there over the years to give me direction. Technology that was more than useful, more than personal.  It was art. And as I discovered the beauties of parenthood and pondered the simplest questions only to realize they are the hardest to answer, Pixar showed me a lifetime of wisdom in less than 90 minutes.  Like so many others of my generation and younger, I can't help but wonder, will it ever be the same?

Thank you, Steve Jobs, and Godspeed...