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What does the Digital Future hold for writers?

Since I began writing fifteen plus years ago, technology has exploded. I remember typing my short stories on the revered IBM Selectric. Back then, if you decided to make a change on page 2 of a 15-page short story, you’d have to retype 14 pages if the text moved to the next page. I also remember doing the cut-and-paste method of revising. Using scissors, I’d cut out paragraphs or sentences and move them here and there, then tape them in the new section to block out the story before I’d begin the retyping process. Today, technology is more complicated but in many ways the writer’s life is so much easier. Certainly, technology has made the process of revision much easier and less daunting. Over the years we’ve gone from floppy disks to CDs to these wonderful portable mini-drives like those made by Scandisk. Moving material from one computer to another and archiving work is getting easier and easier.

Today it’s to a writer’s advantage to try to be technologically savvy. Several months ago, I saw one of those monthly in-depth author interviews on the first Sunday of the month on C-SPAN and watched as they filmed the author downloading an interview he had taped directly onto the computer. He didn’t have to transcribe. My co-author would have loved to have had one of those things when we taped all the interviews for the first travel book. (She had the job of transcribing them.)

I confess I’m a l little late in finding out about this particular series, about 4-5 months late, but if you tune into C-SPAN tonight at 6:30 pm Eastern, you can catch the last in the series of discussions hosted by the Library of Congress’s John W. Kluge Center. The series has been examining how the digital age is changing the most basic ways information is organized and classified. The goal has been to educate the public on what the digital age means to their lives. Events have included a featured speaker, followed by a panel discussion, and a question and answer session with the audience at the venue, and C-SPAN television viewers. Viewers are invited to email questions to the experts.

Tonight features a talk by Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gershenfeld is the author of "When Things Start to Think." His new concept Internet Zero (0) proposes a new infrastructure for the existing Internet that would give an IP address to all electronic devices – from light bulbs to Internet addresses and URLs – and interconnect them directly, thereby eliminating much intermediating code and server technology. His topic is "From the Library of Information to the Library of Things." I thought It might be nice to be ahead of the curve for once, so I’m going to try and watch.

There are several other programs C-SPAN is re-airing that writers might find interesting. If you’re scrolling through blog after blog but still haven’t decided whether you want to do one, or if you are blogging, you might want to check C-Span Tuesday night at 6:30 pm Eastern for the Digital Future show on Web Logs and Knowledge. The forum talked about the gathering and dissemination of information through Internet web logs, or “blogs.” Among the issues they addressed were the accuracy and speed of information retrieval, public access to digitized information, various sources of information on the Internet, and the potential impact of the media on news reporting. Following their remarks they answered questions from the audience.

Following that forum, at 8:00 pm Eastern, you might want to stay tuned for the discussion about archiving material in the digital age. As writers we do plenty of research, so the subject may be of interest. Brewster Kahle, digital librarian, director and co-founder of the Internet Archive, talks about capturing material on the Internet and the challenges of selecting pertinent content. Mr. Kahle first developed the idea and tools to archive the Web and explains the process of digital archiving, and why it’s important to everyday use of the Internet. The talk is called "Universal Access to Knowledge."

Other sessions that will be aired this week are:

Digital Future: The Experience of Reading on Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 pm Eastern where Professor David M. Levy talks about the shift in the experience of reading from the fixed page to movable computer screens and the impact of the shift on language. Mr. Levy was the author of Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, published by Arcade Publishing. Following his remarks he and other panelists discuss the potential changes in language and communication resulting from the digital age, methods of expression through computer technology and the Internet, as well as the role of institutions and individuals in embracing new information technology.

That event is followed by a session all writers should be concerned with: Digital Future: Copyright Issues. Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, and author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, published by Basic Books, talks about the issues of copyright and "copyleft." He was the inventor of the revolutionary concept and application of Creative Commons, which encouraged the use of copyrighted material under specific conditions. Additionally, panelists discuss more broadly about intellectual property issues, on-line technology, and monitoring use of material on a global scale. They also answered questions from the audience.

Reading, copyright issues, archiving information, blogging, and the future of the Internet are all subjects of vital concern to writers. If you get a chance, tune in. If you feel like it, return and give us some feedback.


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  • http://barbarawklaser.mysterynovelist.com/ Barbara W. Klaser

    I too used all kinds of tricks to help me fit a revision all on the same page. The day I discovered word processors I felt like I’d won the lottery. But all my typing tricks I was so proud of were suddenly rendered worthless.
    The digital era has outrun legislation by twenty years or more. That C-SPAN series sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip.

  • http://barbarawklaser.mysterynovelist.com/ Barbara W. Klaser

    I too used all kinds of tricks to help me fit a revision all on the same page. The day I discovered word processors I felt like I’d won the lottery. But all my typing tricks I was so proud of were suddenly rendered worthless.
    The digital era has outrun legislation by twenty years or more. That C-SPAN series sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip.