hopes and fears for books in the digital age

"I am prone to severe attacks of technophobia so I welcome all cures and restoratives. I'm also very aware of a cultural conservatism that I seem to be developing. I fear that the two conditions may be linked. I am nostalgic for the clear genre divisions of the past, for sentences with beginnings and endings, for korect speeling.

At the same time ( everything is the same time now) I'm excited by the speed, efficiency,time travel, confusion and disorientation that my computer has brought into my life.

One of the many paradoxes that i enjoy about e mail and internet is the anonomous and secretive way that i can endlessly communicate and participate. however the ease and comfort with which I depress the buttons of my keyboard implies a lack of commitment to anything and everything. Should things be this easy and efficient? What will we value?..."

- Toby Jones, actor and writer

"My fear is that the richness of the English language - its nuances, the
amplitude of its vocabulary, its varied idioms and expressions - may be
diminished; my hope is that new forms of creativity, which will take
advantage of written texts as well as visual images and even music, may
be emerge, and that these will be additional to, rather than substitutes
for, our traditional literary and linguistic culture."

- Diana Reich, Charleston Festival

"Regarding my hopes and fears for literature in the digital age.
On the plus side, I think the internet has probably encouraged many more people to at least have a go at expressing themselves through the written word, with the proliferation of blogs and the possibilities for immediate collaborations in projects pushing creative boundaries.
In the hackneyed prognosis of an Ebook world of the future versus the dusty old asthmatic wheeze of the traditionally published book puffing desperate last gasps as a final universal emphysema sucks all life out of the form. Well, sorry I don't buy it, even in the face of the most incredible and prodigious software developments, I think beautiful books which are portable, pleasing to the eye and deliciously tactile are here to stay. Let alone their provision of escape or education at the flick through of pages as opposed to the pressing of fiddly plastic buttons. Also as an expression of ones individuality they make an important statement and collecting and displaying them I suppose can say, look at me see how eclectic and eccentric my tastes and learning can be.
But then I would say that wouldn't I. In short I think literature in the digital age can embrace the traditional and the innovative and the two can both complement one another and survive side by side. Unlike the cd I don't think the Ebook will conquer all and anyway vinyl has never gone away and is now making a strong comeback."

- Nick Dalziel, Bookseller

"John Lanchester in todays’ Guardian Review (7 April) voices many of my thoughts but here goes:

I realise that my attitude divides on the basis that sometimes I am an author-researcher, sometimes a reader. I know that total separation is not possible or desirable (and blurring the distinction is obviously encouraged by new technology) but it will help me to get my thoughts straight.

As an author, I adore the searchability of etexts and would like the process to be simpler and more user-friendly. At present, finding the passages of text I need is relatively easy but reading it presents a problem. I often have the dilemma of reading long documents on screen v the hassle and expense of printing them. At the library, printing the hundreds of pages I need is expensive. I would like more readable etexts for this purpose.
Also as an author, I am concerned, like John Lanchester, about the economics of digitised books. The return to writers, other than for bestsellers, has been driven down by discounting, the supermarkets etc. In music, I believe that artists get less for their work on iTunes than on CD. It is possible that digitisation will make it easier for writers to find an audience and hence an income but that is uncertain given the vast numbers of people who will be vying for attention.

For me, as a reader, I feel that so far IT has been entirely beneficial: I can buy books more easily thanks to Amazon, including foreign editions and out of print books. This has made me more adventurous in my reading. But this is the digitisation of distribution. Content is different. Working so much on computer, I love the different feel of a paperback book. I don’t like to spend long periods looking at screens. For entertainment, the YouTube clip is about my limit. I use screens for information, books for reading as fast or slow as I like. But I’m intrigued by ereaders and certainly want to try them.

In most things I believe in horses-for-courses rather than all or none. Many technologies co-exist because they have different attractions. Cinema, TV, video all have their niches although one could theoretically replace the others. But some technologies do get replaced. With books I’m not sure. I would like to be able to be able to download some books, read them quickly and delete them. Others books I want to keep. I suspect printed books are strong enough to hold up however attractive ebooks become. But the economics may be against them. Print-on-demand may be the only answer for the many books whose print runs and sales are reaching appallingly low levels even before the digital revolution kicks in.

So, no clear answers yet."

- Peter Forbes, author

"I guess my fears relate to me as a writer – all very exciting, but how do I make any money? (not that I’m making any now, but I guess there’s always that hope/carrot of a publishing deal….) Maybe some embarrassingly conservative reservations about breaking down the traditional models of agents/publishers (I guess born out of that having been my goal for so long?) and some probably misplaced worry about the quality of what’s published and what’s not (though having written that, I realise that I have that worry with traditional publishing too). I don’t think I’m worried that the book will disappear, I hope it will remain with the digital stuff supporting and developing it.

I guess I have a personal issue with online networky type of things in that I’m just not into them. I use the internet to get information and that’s about it (well, and email obviously), I’m yet to get personally excited about getting book recommendations etc online.

Hopes – well, it’s exciting isn’t it? Having more direct contact and interaction between writers and readers (and readers and readers) changes the playing field and I think there’s lots of scope for imaginative and exciting work. Maybe more collaborations?

Practically, I travel a lot, and the idea of taking one ‘receptacle’ that can contain lots of books is pretty appealing to me!"

- Sarah Butler, writer and literature development worker


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