Humans have for millennia created tools that augment and improve our lives. From the weapons of the Bronze Age to bartering beads and paper currency, each tool changes how we interact with our world. As these tools become commonplace, they are harder to deconstruct, but it is important to remember that we made them; we designed them to help us know more, see more, achieve more. From virtual libraries to virtual reality, from the codex to the digital book, the tools we have created to transmit information make it possible for more people to make more astounding discoveries. But technologist and writer Jaron Lanier argues in You Are Not a Gadget that the tools designed to extend knowledge and enhance our relationships have been hijacked in the name of selling products and earning revenue. We may use them as we did before, but we are no longer in control of our voice. For the working writer, the tool hijacked from us may in fact be the book. So we should be critical. Books are many things, but they are, at their core, a technology designed to transmit information. Martyn Lyons reminds us in Books: A Living History, that:
Authors do not write books; they write texts. Texts are shaped, transformed and interpreted by editors, designers and illustrators. A choice of format, paper and price has to be made by the publisher. The paper itself must be manufactured. The texts must be set in type, printed and bound; in earlier eras they had to be hand-copied laboriously by scribes. Publicity and advertising put commercial strategies into action by targeting particular consumer markets. And warehousing and distribution systems hold stock and send it out to booksellers. The author, whose individual creative genius was put on a pedestal by the Romantic movement, is in reality only one element in a complicated chain of production.
The conversation that today occupies publishers and writers around the globe revolves around print versus digital books. Rarely do writers question the tools developed by others to share our words. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s talk about reading as an experience. Let’s forget the page. In our multimedia-rich moment, let’s ask, again and again: Must our texts be destined for ink?