'Your followers are so cynical'
In digital publishing, we've been talking about that "tsunami of content" (thank you, Jon Fine) for a long time.
This week here at BookExpo America (BEA), however, we had a good reminder that the world at large may not yet understand the stupendously deepening inventory that has come right along with the creative release of digital publishing. Professionals in the books world know — although they may not always find it politic to say so — that just because everyone now can publish a book doesn't mean that everyone necessarily should publish a book.
This story was written as a walkup to the #FutureChat of 29th May 2015. Join us each Friday at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).
All but the giddiest self-publishing agitators are usually willing to concede that a marketplace flooded with woefully questionable output is not quite the "Everybody into the pool!" party we'd like. Or, as I asked author James Scott "Come On In, The Water's Fine" Bell in a comment recently, is the water still fine when the pool is over-capacity?
"That, too," I told him, "is digital at work."
We just have to get them into a library overnight, 500 at a time
In a keynote address at the International Digital Publishing Forum's (IDPF) Digital Book conference. #DigiBook15, the gaming specialist and author of the forthcoming Super Better (Penguin Random House, September 15) Jane McGonigal proposed high levels of thematic and interactive engagement as a way to attract the gaming generation to the world of books.
While describing the all-night literary scavenger-hunt-and-group-writing "Find the Future" event she staged in 2011 at the New York Public Library, for example, she told the IDPF conference audience that 90 percent of young people asked say they want to write a book.
And then we duly live-tweeted this bit. We found ourselves retweeted quite a bit.
And near the end of her own #DigiBook15 session on online social communities (with Wattpad's Ashleigh Gardner, iShook's Beni Rachmanov, and consultant Murray Izzenwasser), Friedman revealed that she'd had some sceptical comments in response to those tweets along the lines of "Maybe they should try reading a book before writing one."
McGonigal — whose TED-Talking position on the gaming culture is relentlessly upbeat, mind you, and built around what she describes as positive emotional and attitudinal benefits of gaming — messaged Friedman that her, Friedman's, following seemed rather cynical. Those of us in The FutureBook digital publishing community, of course, may not think of a certain trepidation at such a survey statistic as cynical.
We might see ourselves as being realistically cautious about what I term the current obsession with being published — something that digital tools have occasioned, of course.
For her part, Friedman has written a post today on the issue, The age-old cynicism surrounding the dream of book writing, in which she points out that such concerns have been with us for a long time:
Unfortunately, every generation is quite the same in this regard, which is nicely expressed in the following 1900s quotation: “The world is coming to an end. Children no longer obey their parents and every man wants to write a book.” (A Twitter response reminded me of it.) This type of complaint dates back to when the printing press was invented, when many warned that the bad books outnumbered the good.
Friedman goes on to put some good questions to us:
Why do we feel the need to place value judgments on how young people read or write? Dare I ask why we believe someone must become a serious reader before it’s okay for them to begin creating/writing? How much reading should be required before you get the green light to write? Doesn’t writing make you a better reader?
When Bookigee's Kristen McLean tells us in her "Youth Reading" report at #DigiBook15 that boys' interest in reading for pleasure peaks later (at ages 7 and 8) and dissipates faster than girls' — and when we note that it's boys doing more gaming, generally, than girls, of course — can we even think of "let's all write a book!" as the way to vouchsafing reading culture?
For that matter, are 500-kid overnights at the NYPL really the way to bring game-seduced youngsters to reading?
And might McGonigal be confusing reading with writing? Her "Find the Future" folks were in there "co-writing" (as only 500 people can do) a sort of "declaration of independence" in this site-specific game she devised.
"Stunt" is too tough a term — I actually have a lot of regard for Dr. McGonigal's efforts in research to evaluate gaming culture. As Friedman writes, McGonigal emphasises "that younger people aren't interested in passive consumption — they want to engage, respond, dreate." And she notes, in the wake of her fine panel moderation here, that Wattpad encounters plenty of blank stares from people who don't understand its highly interactive, communal form of writerly development.
But, per McGonigal's commentary, are we to understand that the way to bring gamers to reading is to hold large, mass-"writing" IRL events for them in literary physical settings?
Let's talk about this in #FutureChat today.
Ye shall know McGonigal (great sense of humour, she's terrific) by her shoes. Wondrous, silver, sparkly shoes. As I told her before her talk here at the conference, had anything happened to her, those shoes could have done the keynote for her. I'm shopping for a pair, myself.
See you in #FutureChat.
Join us today (29th May) and each Friday at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST). Main image - Jane McGonigal speaks at #DigiBook15, Porter Anderson