Fearing the unwashed masses with those newfangled keyboard machines

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On the occasion of publishing Hal Crowther’s essay “One Hundred Fears of Solitude” a “a blistering critique of digital technology and the internet age” in their newest issue (which has been staring at me scornfully, unread, from my desk for over a week now), Granta has posted a piece from 1992 by Crowther called “The Ribbon of Valour.” It’s an elegy of the manual typewriter, written as he contemplated a new computer sitting in his office, still in the box. Standard stuff, if you’ve read a lot of these things, but like James Fallows’ 1982 article about his primitive computer, it’s amazingly prescient. Crowther writes:

Another thing that worries me is that the tendency of all this technology – laptop, desktop, electronic bulletin boards – is to make every writer his own publisher. Eventually there will be more publishers than readers, better than a one-to-one ratio between the sources of information and its consumers. Besides dilution and a loss of focus, there will be a tendency for consumers to eat what they like and ignore what is nourishing. In the electronic media, proliferation and democracy brought us Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and ‘Studs.’

Actually, he has a point about Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh. You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube. But is culture necessarily worse off now that everyone can self-publish online?

I just finished reading Scott Rosenberg’s history of blogging, Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters, and it left me feeling pretty optimistic about what blogging has done for writing. Sure, it’s spawned a lot of crap, but it has also given aspiring writers more freedom to develop their voices and find audiences in places that never would have been possible in Crowther’s typewriter-only day. I started writing on a blog, and I’ve come to think of it as a separate genre that may end up being the best fit for my style. I can’t see that as a bad thing. Now I really need to get home and read Crowther's updated take on what fresh horror the internet has inflicted upon his world.