The World the Internet Unmade (DOG EAR)

The World the Internet Unmade (DOG EAR)

es, the world is certainly different since the internet came along.

I can remember seeing it for the first time when I worked in a small software shop and someone demoed it. I was so stunned that, using a Netscape browser, you could click about the world and see so many webpages about cats. That night, after a dinner out, I brought my wife into the office so that we could see the paintings of the Louvre. Of course, back then, it was a slow scan for each one, nearly as long as they took to originally paint.

But yes, things have changed, but not always for the best.

For one, bookstores. With the domination of Amazon there are less bookstores about. There used to be bookstores here and there in our cities. Most malls had competing bookstores. Now I’m lucky that Barnes and Noble is still within walking distance (just hanging in there). But yes, the destruction of most of my beloved bookstores is a good reason to look at the internet with less than starry eyes.

Used bookstores have been reduced, too. Where they once housed many titles out of print, and provided the literature-minded individual with a hunting ground, now everything is available on line and pretty much every book is available for print on demand. That thrill of discovering a “find” in a dusty shelf? Gone. And with this direct-to-the-public merchandising, those small in-city bookshops are failing left and right.

And the role of publishers has been reduced. Once, if you wanted to be published, you had to carefully edit your own book, come up with a catchy cover letter and really stand behind your product. Now with direct-to-publishing abilities, it all comes down to webhosting and marketing (things I’m not all that dandy with). Back in the day I was pretty good about methodically making the rounds of potential publishers. Now there are fewer of them, fewer titles and more end-run publications.

And that leads to the next point – the editing and presentation of novels. When I went through a publishing house (even a small one) for Fire and Bronze, there was a lengthy editing process. I had an editor I had to fight with (daily, it seemed). And there was the legal staff which I had to work with on some of my more edgy sex scenes. In the end, F&B was a much better book, cleaner, sharper, more focused. In contrast, most of the self-publishing market has an editing process of passing it around a group of friends and catching typos. Mediocre books might have become great books with knowing help. And some books (fan-based rewrites of tired mainstream franchises) wouldn’t have been made at all. Yes, books suffer when nothing guides them save the writer’s whim.

And that leads to the next – poorer readers. If all you read is crappy books, you end up being a crappy reader. If you’ve ever dropped a title at a party and someone knows it and you have a dynamic corner-discussion about it, you know literature. I remember making a comment to a friend in an elevator about the old classic The Most Dangerous Game and this guy in the car tossed out the great ending line to the novel – I didn’t even know him but we shared our knowledge of this story, and yacked about it all the way to the parking lot. But that’s it; how deep a discussion can you have about someone’s self-published tale about a tiny hero in the Clone Wars? If you’ve never read The Three Musketeers, you will not see the world in the level of depth a classic can bring you. Everything becomes popcorn literature.

Another thing? With all the things available online, there is simply less leisure time for reading. I woke up early to write this piece but ended up screwing around with email and Facebook and nearly didn’t get it written at all. In the old days, Saturday mornings were for laying in bed and lounging with a good book. Now I intend it but still, I’ll get up and check things on the computer and that’s that. Or in the evenings, I’ll watch a streaming show rather than reading. It’s a shame, since I feel myself personally corrupted.

As for this blog and my ability to deliver it via the internet? Who knows. Perhaps I would have captured all this observation and angst about our changing world and worked it into the Great American Novel. Or maybe I’d have discussed it with friends in some coffee shop (if coffee shops were anything more than internet rooms now).

Yes, we do gain a lot of advantages from the modern miracle of the internet. But it comes with costs. And I’m afraid these costs can be much greater than we can imagine.