This reminds me of an obscure David Byrne track, In the Future.
“In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very happy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very filthy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very healthy.
In the future TV will be so good that the printed word will function as an art form only.”
The more we’ve taken the tactile, ink on paper format away from the book, the more people cry, “foul!” But that’s been sort-of like the oceans receding, leaving amphibians to plod about on their newly-adapted appendages as their gills became vestigial. “Ribbit! I like water better!” So? Get used to it. Land is here to stay.
We were first introduced to the wonders of writing through great storytelling. Our parents read aloud, sang and free-styled weird derivative works from poorly-remembered Grimm’s tales. And it didn’t get any better than that until our own inner voices gave life to the squiggles on wood pulp and characters beautiful and monstrous became the joint invention of authors and our mind’s eye. Then we were exposed to theater, film and television. Much more of the work was done for us, and surprised us.
Again, my favorite author Daniel Pinkwater had something to say about this in either Fishwhistle or Hoboken Days, Chicago Nights, audiobook collections of his numerous NPR All Things Considered essays. He tells the story which became the basis for his young adult novel The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, one about an all-night movie theater with a balcony that played double-features and customers could drop a title in the suggestion box, then see their request on the big screen a few weeks later. One night, Pinkwater sits in on a Laurel & Hardy film. Street people and weirdos, educated-types and beatniks fill the place, laugh in unison until they cry, hug one another and leave before the second feature. Why? Because the first had been too perfect. Pinkwater describes the physical comedy as predictable, but when the hits and falls happened, they still astonished because they were pulled-off so brilliantly.
Thankfully, most adventurous readers have such poignant “aha!” moments with books. The expectations are high, but from time to time a writer delivers a surprise in such a spectacular fashion, it’s jaw-dropping. It’s perfection. I’ve felt that all at once from a good book, sometimes it creeps up and, closing the cover on the last page, notice the perfection.
To compete, books will have to deliver a cultural experience commensurate with the commercial outlay. Writers will have to knock it out of the park with more impressive manuscripts. I think print journalism will shrink, as predicted. If advertisers can’t get consumers to ingest their messages on their home computer screens, we’ll see screens in every public transit depot, airline terminal and eye-level piece of high-traffic real estate. Publishers will produce fewer bestsellers, just as record labels redefined what constitutes platinum and motion picture studios pared back their blockbusters. Periodicals and paperbacks will ebb and flow until the market yields the magic number.