This weeks blog post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-licious Blog Tour. The topic for this week is “A World without Books”. I’m not going to talk about what a world would be without books as just think of ‘Hell’ and subject closed. So I’m going to talk about the Paradigm that’s occurring in book publishing that is changing how we look at, feel and think about ‘books’ today with an opposite concern of a world of books without any controls on it. Please see http://peacefrompieces.blogspot.com/ for the addresses of the other bloggers discussing this subject also. Thank you and leave your comments and thoughts below.
Every week there’s a half a dozen blogs and articles written about the changing publishing world and the future of books. There are as many opinions as there are writers and they’re scattered across the landscape like Saguaro cacti in the deserts of the Southwest.
Will paper books survive? Will ebooks reign supreme? Will publishing houses go bankrupt? Will libraries close their doors? And on and on.
Regardless of all the ins and outs, thoughts and opinions, predictions and prophesies – one thing everyone agrees on – a paradigm shift is underway in the publishing industry.
It’s a mote point to argue whether books will be extinct or not or whether ebooks will be the only venue available. It is what it is. Technology surges ahead – like a hurricane at a horrendous pace – and books are just one more arena for it to overtake, swamp and turn upside down. But, with that being said, I ask this: When technology overtook the photography industry, did pictures become obsolete? Have only digital images survived?
On the contrary, quite the opposite has occurred. While digital pictures have exploded like a mushroom cloud over the world, there are more pictures being ‘printed’ than ever before and each year millions of cameras and billions of rolls of film are being sold as well.
Books will not become extinct. They will always exist. A change is taking place for sure and it’s my guess that ebooks will become the norm within another year. But there will always be books. People will always want to touch and hold those precious books they love and cherish, no different from those pictures they love and cherish so much, regardless of how many flash drives and computers we store them in.
But, I wander and that’s not the focus of this discussion.
Let’s talk about a side of the technological paradigm that isn’t talked about (or at least I haven’t come across it yet). And it’s not talked about because no one wants to ‘offend’ anyone or upset the apple cart, especially those of us who work to build a platform base to support our writing. But just because it’s not a popular subject doesn’t mean it can be ignored.
With the advent of technology into the publishing world comes a bounty of benefits and perks and also…
…the 800 pound gorilla.
What gorilla is that, you ask?
To stay consistent let’s continue to use the photography arena as our template and example and so that we’re all going in the same direction, let’s review a very brief history of photography, okay?
The invention of photography goes way back (as does the invention of writing for that matter). In the 5th century BC, Aristotle actually designed a ‘pinhole‘ camera and a thousand years later (inventions moved slow back then) in the 6th century AD, Byzantine mathematician Anthemius used a type of camera obscura in his experiments.
It was another 1200 years until in 1820 a camera was made feasible and usable for the public (you know – us common folks).
Regurgitating the history of cameras in the photography industry (if your interested start with Wikipedia – Photography), would be analogous to following the history of he printing press in the publishing industry. For our discussion, let’s follow the progression of ‘pictures‘ which would be comparable to following the progression of books in publishing.
Cameras gave us the ability to make an image of something or someone and to do two very unique things with it not previously possible in all of human history.
First – the image could be held, kept for personal possession and shown to others. Owning an image of what our eyes have seen and being able to show it to others. This simple concept changed the world.
Exaggeration? Think for a minute – no longer were people relegated to explaining and describing something to others, they just showed it – to anyone – anywhere – at any time. Just the impact of that alone on communication is staggering. Language was fluent and expressive in those centuries preceding cameras. People spoke and wrote in vocabularies far more extensive and expressive than today. Why do you think it changed? Because they didn’t need to anymore – they simply showed a picture (and then they learned how to say “yeah…duh…cool…ya know…yeah…cool”).
Of course there were paintings and drawings before camera pictures came along. But they took a great amount of skill and time to make and they merged reality with the artist’s impressions, perceptions and biases. Consider, for example, Father Louis Hennepin’s (the first Caucasian to see Niagara) drawing of Niagara. It showed the Falls twice as high and wide as they are and the islands longer than they are. It was all Europe had to go on for over a hundred years and all of Europe then had a false impression of what Niagara was.
Further, paintings weren’t very portable, couldn’t be easily handled, and couldn’t be duplicated so they were viewed by a small segment of population. When Frederick Church make his famous painting of Niagara, it toured America and Europe for years with people paying for a quick walk through and view of it.
The second earth shattering characteristic of a camera made ‘image‘ was it could be easily duplicated. Now, all the benefits above could be reproduced over and over and distributed widely. No longer was viewing the world confined to a select few. With a camera (along with a little chemistry) a negative (a plate) could be made having the image imposed on it. With that negative, picture after picture could be produced again and again. These could be distributed far and wide, across countries, continents and over oceans.
The world began to see and understand what before it could only imagine.
Images of loved ones could now be taken next to or in front of the great wonders of the world, such as Niagara. For the first time people could actually hold and possess a piece of a God or man-made wonder and be in it as a part of it.
In addition to changing society in how it spoke and seen things, ‘pictures‘ threw the floodgates of travel wide open. When we think of the progress made in travel we think of the wheel, the carriage, the combustible engine or the airplane. And rightfully so.
But, have you ever thought of the camera? Do we dare not to? Pictures enabled people to capture their travel and journeys and bring them back ‘home’ with them. They enticed people into going to places not seen before. Think I’m overstating? When was the last time you planned a vacation without ever having seen a picture of what was there and where you were going? Or you didn’t pour over hundreds of ‘pictures’ of exotic places and things to decide where to go?
And when was the last time you went on vacation not loaded up with cameras and pockets full of film and didn’t take pictures of everything? Then spending the next month showing them to everyone? Or when did you friends and family come back from vacation and not break out the popcorn to share their pictures with you? We just take them for granted is all.
Think of going to and then coming back from a vacation in Hawaii having never seen a picture first and taking no camera, having only your words to tell others about your trip (“yeah…duh…it was cool…yeah…you know, cool”).
But pictures were rare and costly and had many limitations and restrictions on their ability to be used. They required special skills and equipment to take the picture and then to make the prints from the negatives. So, while available and world-changing, they were ‘special’. As such they were reserved for those special occasions to show the high points of our lives. Standards were high and the use of photography for anti-social, base or violent purposes was rare.
Now, let’s fast forward to the mid 1980′s. The technology of photography had advanced where every family now had at least one camera. They came in all sizes and shapes, took close-ups, far away shots and panoramic scenes, producing small, medium and large pictures. Picture albums became standard and were handed down for generations within a family.
Even with such a proliferation, there were limitations. It required physical rolls of film limited to 8, 12, 24, or 36 shots. They came in confusing film sizes such as 110, 120, 126, 135 (35 millimeter), etc. Photography required a high level of understanding and ability with light meters, exposures, film speeds, etc. to take quality pictures. Later, general purpose cameras, such as the Kodak Instamatic, became available to give us ‘photography challenged‘ users easy usage. But they had limitations as to the picture and the quality they could take.
But regardless of the camera used, there still remained special skills and equipment to convert the rolls of film into prints. Vacations ended with pockets full of canisters needing to be developed and film developing shops and centers seemed to be on every street corner. After purchasing a camera, there remained a definite ‘cost per shot’ expense and logistical consideration when taking pictures.
While these limitations posed restrictions on general population photography, in hindsight they served as a system of check and balances on picture-taking and subject selection. People had to consider the cost of both the film and the developingg which placed limitations on the number of pictures taken. This maintained a level of selectivity and choice of subject matter. Submitting the exposed rolls of film for developing to third-party businesses resulted in a level of morality in the general population. The use of photography for questionable or anti-social purposes was confined to businesses involved in such endeavors such as the ‘girlie‘ magazines or to that small segment of the population possessing the equipment and skills to process their own film in the privacy of their own homes. Film processing centers were required to report films that contained pornography, child abuse, violence or other anti-social activities.
So for well over a hundred years photography was a major contributor of enlightenment to us allowing the sharing of sights and wonders, both worldly and personal. Knowledge was conveyed with images and enjoyment was shared among families and friends. While a dark side of photography existed, it was held in check and controlled, not only directly but more so indirectly by the skill level required and the logistics involved.
Now, let’s jump into the digital age and the world of images is thrust into a paradigm and will never be the same again.
No longer is film needed. No longer is developing needed. Digital cameras can take extraordinarily high picture resolution, quality and quantity requiring little or no skill levels to use. Cameras are available everywhere and are not only limited to cameras alone but are in phones, calculators, computers, pens and even eyeglasses. They are capable of taking literally thousands of pictures instantly which are then immediately available, not only for viewing but for sending to anyone – anywhere in the world. Upon purchasing the equipment (a digital camera, a cell phone, a pair of glasses) there no longer is a ‘cost per shot’ expense and consideration.
Overnight – all limitations and constraints have vanished. Talk about a paradigm!
And don’t get me wrong – this brought us great joy and enlightenment. Billions of pictures are taken annually. Millions are sent to family, friends, businesses and organizations around the world, within seconds of being taken. Everyone is taking pictures, everywhere, all the time. We share our lives with one another as continuous power point presentations.
But, there is no free lunch and with all the benefit and joy that has come with this life altering bonanza of unlimited, free and instant images comes a heavy responsibility. A responsibility to society and to ourselves. Unfortunately, history has shown that humanity has a dark side to it and when constraints and limitations are removed – the dark side rises and manifests itself. Images of violence and pornography have swamped the internet and media outlets. An epidemic of young people from ages 7 and up are taking and sharing pictures of themselves and their own bodily parts which can never be retrieved once sent. Young lives are being destroyed in a single, unthinking foolish act. More and more adults and young people experiment taking numerous images of themselves in compromising positions and then in moments of sheer insanity send them across cyberspace (hello Mr. Weiner). Every day there’s more stories surfacing of lives ruined and damaged by digital pictures. It’s become common place. It’s a pedophile’s dream paradise and runaways, kidnapping, child abuse and child murders have gone off the charts and continue to rise unabated. There is no check and balance in place any longer.
And that’s the 800 pound gorilla.
And the analogy is not limited to cameras and pictures. It’s a common thread that weaves through every endeavor of mankind. We could just as easily talk about oral communication, written communication, entertainment media, transportation, etc. etc. It doesn’t matter the arena or the media - the history follows true to course.
So – what about publishing?
Somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 million books were published in 2009 (they’re still counting for 2010). And that’s only the beginning. Self-publishing and ebooks have turned the publishing and literature world upside down. The barriers to publication of finding agents, publishers and presses have come tumbling down and are trampled under by a stampede of eager writers and readers alike. And like the advent of the digital picture, the benefits of digital presses are life-altering and enormous. Good literature, opinions, dialogue and writings that previously would never have seen the light of day are now given a voice and an outlet. Bloggers by the millions are expressing themselves and building followings that before were never possible and remained silent. Knowledge is increasing exponentially across the globe.
Like the screening effect that film development had on photography, the need to acquire an agent and a publisher had a similar effect on writing. If you couldn’t get through them, unless you had a small printing press of your own, you weren’t going to be heard. Writers feared and wailed about the rejections and the difficulty of being heard, and rightfully so. But, good or bad, biased or not, it had a controlling effect of what and how much of one thing, was published.
With that check and balance no longer an obstacle, the dark side of humanity rises again. An avalanche of violence, gore, pornography, child abuse and escapism fills cyberspace. There are no standards, no constraints, no screening. Anyone can write and publish anything they want. And the reader beware – for they know not what they read until they read it.
The 800 pound gorilla is silent no longer.
Many reading this will scream about rights and free expression and that’s another subject for another time. We can theorize all we want about rights and freedom, and I’ll lead the charge, but with those things comes responsibility – to society, to ourselves and to future generations. Unless there’s some system of checks and balances in place to establish an acceptable set of guidelines, the bountiful benefits of digital books and publishing, which are great and wonderful, will be tarnished by the gorilla in the mist.
Post your thoughts.
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Until Next Time:
Embrace Life’s Bridges – For they Define Who You Are