Writing about and on the Internet

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adam Gopnik comments in The New Yorker on living amid a technological revolution, and the expanding shelves of books about the Internet:

The scale of the transformation is such that an ever-expanding literature has emerged to censure or celebrate it. A series of books explaining why books no longer matter is a paradox that Chesterton would have found implausible, yet there they are, and they come in the typical flavors: the eulogistic, the alarmed, the sober, and the gleeful.

Gopnik cites writers who liken the advent of the Internet to that of the Gutenberg printing press, summarizing their view:

Though it may take a little time, the new connective technology, by joining people together in new communities and in new ways, is bound to make for more freedom.

But Gopnik suspects that this pat conclusion abbreviates history, leaving out, for example, the loss of lives that ensued at the hands of printed material, during the Reformation and then the Counter-Reformation, before principles of democracy and freedom took firmer hold. That seems like a wise reminder that it may take more than a little time for us to appreciate the implications of how the world is adapting to technology. Changes in technology portrayed by a snapshot of one year, or ten or twenty years, may not make a sufficient analogy to apply to what future historians will understand about our era. But it’s an intriguing conversation to have.

How can we be dismayed by the abundance of free literature available to anyone with an Internet connection? As one example, the Electronic Literature Organization has released another free online volume, Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two, with works by diverse authors, all published under a Creative Commons License rather than traditional copyright. That means that the pieces can be shared non-commercially and legally as long as they are not altered and credits are given. Use of this sort of license represents an attempt to regulate content while at the same time expand access to it. Someone could write a whole book on that process, but better publish it before it’s outdated and ends up as a hyphen in the annals of history, online or otherwise.

On a local note, I want to recommend two events this week for folks near Chicago:

  • Tonight, Christine Sneed, subject of a recent interview in TriQuarterly Online, will read along with Gina Frangello and Julia Borcherts on the theme, "Straight from the Heart," at Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark Street in Chicago, at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 10, Story Club starts at 8:30 p.m. at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark Street in Chicago. What makes this spoken word event unique is the open-mic portion of the program. Get there at 8:00 p.m. if you’d like to put your name in the hat for the open mic.