In 1977 my sister and I got one of the coolest Christmas presents we ever asked for. Atari had marketed the Pong home console system relentlessly in commercials on Saturday mornings between Shazam, Jabberjaw, Scooby Doo, Fat Albert and Schoolhouse Rock. We wanted it and in turn relentlessly badgered our parents. We squealed with excitement on Christmas morning when we ripped apart the wrapping paper to find the clunky black and white electronic box with two big knobs on it. The knobs controlled the two vertical lines representing paddles that hit a white dot of a ball back and forth on our television screen. What a wonder! We played that game over and over until we were experts. We could beat all our friends, who of course wanted to play this exciting new sensation. My grandmother was not as enthusiastic.
“What is that contraption for?” she asked.
“Playing Pong, Grandma.”
“It’s like ping-pong or tennis but on the television screen.”
“Why don’t you just play regular ping-pong or tennis? Why sit in front of the T.V. all day?”
“It’s fun, Grandma.”
“Seems pretty boring to me. I’d rather trounce Uncle Roy at Pinochle.”
We coaxed her to try it, but that only lasted a minute or two.
“Don’t see what all the fuss is about. You’ll get bored with it and be back to playing outside soon enough. Kids should play outside. You don’t need electronic toys. I hope your dad didn’t waste his money.”
Change is inevitable. But sometimes we don’t like it or ‘get it’ or think it’s important. Sometimes we want to stick to ‘what we’ve always done’.
When I read that more than 40 states were now following the Common Core State Standards for English and were eliminating the instruction of cursive writing, I had some thoughts that were shades of my grandmother: “Why should kids be typing and texting all day? Shouldn’t they know how to write in cursive? I learned cursive in school. They should know cursive writing so they can express themselves with beautiful penmanship. I hope these state education departments know what they’re doing.”
Not teaching cursive writing in school will mean that cursive writing as a form of communication will eventually die out. How will that affect future writers’ creativity? Are we leaving a heritage behind that has been around for centuries?
There’s a lot of change in writing and publishing, all the way from the way we capture our stories to how others read the stories to how stories are disseminated.
Publishing is changing in a big way. Traditional publishing is not the only kid on the block anymore. Small presses and self-published authors can gain traction in publishing because of the way readers are reading. We can now read a book on the printed page, on a computer screen, on an electronic tablet, on our phone or on an electronic device specially made for this purpose. We can listen to it on a CD, an MP3 or a podcast. Why wouldn’t traditional publishers want to take advantage of all the avenues available to reach readers in the way they want to be reached? Kristen Lamb had an eloquent post last week asking the same question. She compared what is happening in traditional publishing with what has happened in the music and film industries.
“…maybe why Amazon is kicking so much @ss is simply because it understands that the only thing that is relevant and ever has been relevant is the reader.”
Kristen not only points out traditional publishing’s flawed thinking when it comes to change, she gives solutions that can be a win-win for publishers, writers, bookstores and readers.
How writers interact with their audience is changing. No longer will writers be able to hole up somewhere and write to their heart’s content, then send off their novel to the publisher who will do all the strong lifting of getting books to sell. Social media has changed the landscape. Publishers and readers expect writers to have a social media platform and be active in all the marketing aspects of their creations. Some agents and publishers won’t even consider a writer if they’re not substantially ‘Google-able’. Readers want to be up close and personal with their favorite authors and social media is the way to do that. Writers who are hesitant may be left in the digital dust. Nathan Bransford wondered aloud last week why literary writers seem to eschew social media:
“…doesn’t it seem like there’s some nexus between literary writers and technophobia? Are literary writers more likely to fear our coming robot overlords and proudly choose an old cell phone accordingly (if they have one at all?) Do they know something we don’t?”
Book genres are changing. It used to be a romance was a romance. Science fiction was science fiction. The hybridization of genre is a phenomenon that combines the best (or worst, depending on execution) of several genres that give publishers fits as to how to market said hybrid. The freedom inherent in self-publishing allows traditional genre lines to now be crossed. It’s a boon to readers who can enjoy a blending of different genres as well as purists who love what they love. Everyone can find a niche if they choose. DL Morrese covers this very well in his blog post On Digital Books and the Evolution of Genre:
“There are fantasy detective stories, science fiction westerns, horror romance, etc. Digital books, I think, are likely to fertilize such cross breeding and give rise to subgenres mainly because it will be less risky to explore such mutations.”
Change is inevitable. I think it’s a very interesting time to be a writer. There are all kinds of changes happening. The question is: do we run with it, run ahead of it or let it run us over? Personally I wonder why these issues seem to be all or nothing. There’s room on the block for everyone: traditional and e-publishing, publishing houses and independent presses, those who use social media and those who don’t, but I think you better have some basic knowledge about all aspects if you want to be well-rounded and not get left with the dinosaurs.
Calligraphy has become an art form and will probably be made more so by eliminating cursive writing ability among the general population. Maybe some day in the future the printing of paper books will eventually become categorized as a folk art form, but I don’t believe that will happen for a long time. One thing is for sure. Storytelling may change methods, but it will never disappear as long as we cultivate imagination and creativity. We as writers need to be open to opportunity and innovation in order to share our voice most effectively.
My grandma survived the Depression as a single parent to amass a decent amount of wealth. She was very shrewd and loved a good game of Pinochle. Maybe she didn’t see the point in hitting around a virtual white ball, but I like to think if given the opportunity she would have been a good Halo player. 🙂