Monday, June 01, 2009

Book Expo and the Digital Age

I attended Book Expo this year--I was a first-timer--and could feel the digital buzz throughout the Javits Center in New York. Of course, people were texting and yakking on their cell phones and taking their laptops into sessions, and people heaving heavy bags of book galleys and giveaways were wishing for downloadable freebies.

While I'm still a bit old school in liking the feel of a printed and bound book, and wondering what technology will do to the pastime of getting books autographed, I also know that electronic copyediting, for instance, saves an immense amount of paper and makes page proofs so much cleaner (fewer errors). Book Expo's panel discussion, "Jumping Off the Cliff," explored the lessons that book publishing has learned from the music industry in terms of embracing technology instead of fighting against it. The moral of the session was this:

The buying public--not manufacturers--will ultimately decide. If people want the immediacy of reading a book on a Kindle or Sony Reader, the industry had better get on board--or else risk getting left behind.

Coincidentally, I returned home to work on Total Recall by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell (Dutton, Fall 2009), which outlines the ways in which our society is being digitized. More important, it also predicts that by 2020 our whole lives will be digitized, in terabytes. It's scary and wildly exciting at the same time.

For instance, the Nike + iPod Sport Kit records your activity, and wirelessly transmits the information from your sneakers to your iPod. Think of the implications if all your health records were similarly transmitted from doctors' offices to your centralized databank. Think of the implications if your work processes, your schedule, your entire family history were similarly digitized.

It's mind-boggling, but Total Recall explains it in a way that makes you feel more in control of your life, and eager for the coming technology as your memory fails you.

Postscript / Benefits for Writers: I'll share just a couple: There are a lot of unpublished writers out there who are convinced that a publisher is going to "steal" their ideas. In Total Recall, your creations get a time and date stamp, so you could prove in a court of law that you had the idea first. And for those true-crime writers who keep a vault of old notes? In Total Recall, all your research material is saved on a thumb drive, not in scads of boxes in your attic or basement.

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