Monday, July 27, 2009

Whose future is it?

I'm worried.

I'm worried about my friends, those who own independent bookstores and work in them, small business people valiantly trying to uphold the values of a true literary culture in their individual communities, as against a society in which
flash is cash and greed is still good, despite the economic collapse.

I'm worried about my friends, those who work for big companies, the corporate chain bookstores and the trade publishers owned by media conglomerates, intelligent and principled people gallantly trying to uphold the values of a true book culture in a stifling atmosphere of unreasoning growth, unrealistic profit expectations, and the mercenary accounting of The Free Market Boys.

I'm worried about my friends, the publishers' sales reps, the book travelers, whether on staff or commission, the least corruptible people you will ever meet,
the sowers, honestly trying to spread the values of a true book culture in a business culture that treats them like quaint anachronisms, having forgotten that face-to-face selling is the only way to build the bonds of trust upon which all legitimate business is founded.

I'm worried about my friends, the editors whose taste and training enables them to take risks on and nurture untested writers, bravely trying to uphold the values of a true literary culture in an industry addicted to overblown blockbusters, imitative dreck, and empty-headed celebrity projects.

I'm worried about my friends, the readers, those for whom a book provides boon companionship, stubbornly holding on to their passion for the written word printed on paper, despite the incessant mindless advocacy of instantaneous pleasure via electronic toys.

I'm worried about my friends, the laid-off and fired, those cast away and called redundant, who gave so much to a business and a culture they believed in, earning a living and earning respect, trying mightily to hold on to some measure of self-respect in coping with a system that persists in blaming its victims.

I'm worried because this time it's different. In the past, when the doom-laden pronouncements of industry pundits signaled another round of professional hand-wringing, "the sky is falling" really meant "business as usual." Back then,
inertia was the motive force in the book business. This time it's different. Too many closed stores, too many good people out of work, too much technology having reached the tipping point, too many titles, and too much hysteria. The center of gravity has shifted, from New York to Seattle and Silicon Valley. The code writers have taken control. The destiny of writing is in their hands.

I'm worried about the way it's all going down this time. I worry about our failure to pause and reflect on the path we're following, our sheep-like obeisance to Historical Necessity, our knee-jerk invocation of Darwinism to justify the jackbooted March of Capital through the marketplace of ideas. Bah! -- the literary culture, the book culture -- what are they? Diversions. Fragile.
Too much effin work for too little pay.

Today I'm especially worried about our machines, those silent glowing screens attached to enormous clouds of processors and circuitry. I'm deeply worried about them. Who will care for them when we're gone?

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