The Age Of Increased Novelty

June 20th, 2006 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

As we all learned with last week’s Britney Spears meltdown, it is important that you have people — those mysterious creatures who make life run smoothly — to halt the growing epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease. We believe that if John Updike’s people would simply step forward and whisper something like “John, you sound like an ass” in his ear, it would be very helpful.

Because a revered American writer is sounding like a doddering fool. It ain’t an age thing — Kurt Vonnegut recently did a book tour and managed to sound like he’s in touch with the modern world. Updike, however, has decided to rage against the machine, never mind that he doesn’t even know how the engine works. This lack of curiosity, exploration, is not something we’d expect from an author. As he tells the Rocky Mountain News’s Patti Thorn,

Still, when talking about this issue, he often swipes his hands over his face, as if extremely weary. He doesn’t understand Internet culture, he says.

“You type in your blog, and some other people read it, and so you create a print society apart from real society and you’re getting the gratification of expressing yourself . . . It’s a way to develop a public persona, but it’s very undiscriminating, and very ‘me-minded.’ We’re all me-minded. We all have egos.”

He notes that Upton Sinclair wrote for the greater good — and, sure, not everyone with a website is working for the greater good. Some of us are just having a good time. But some of us work in a very discriminating manner; some of us, dare we say, are creating new conversations. If you buy into Terrence McKenna’s novelty theory and believe that we are in a period of increased novelty, the rapid-fire changes of the past decade are heart-stopping.

Yet even as Updike dismisses the potential for new media, he zeroes in on the key problem facing the publishing industry:

“There’s an awful lot of books published. The book industry’s a little creaky. Maybe it was always a little creaky. People don’t need books; most don’t buy books; it’s not like we’ve found a great way to make an egg beater, or something essential.”

It isn’t about blogs or websites or podcasts — those are merely tools. What’s happening here is that people are interacting with media in new and different ways. No, that’s not even true. They are interacting with media more freely — where once you had to be a capital-A Artist, now you can be merely curious.

We sincerely implore the publishing industry to stop railing against something they don’t understand (Updike is, for all of our poking fun, not an aberration) and start playing with new toys. Just because you’ve always done something in a particular manner, it doesn’t mean you can’t try something new. And, heck, maybe you’ll find a new reader or ten.

[tags]john updike, terrence mckenna, novelty theory, books, publishing[/tags]

File Under: The Future of Publishing

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