Philip Greenspun on how writing and publishing has evolved since the Internet and, specifically, the blog have become omnipresent in our lives:
Suppose that an idea merited 20 pages, no more and no less? A handful of long-copy magazines [â€¦] would print 20-page essays, but an author who wished his or her work to be distributed would generally be forced to cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimum size to fit into the book distribution system. [â€¦]
Our literary culture is impoverished when every idea is stretched or amputated to fit the Procrustean bed made up by magazine and book publishers. When an author runs out of relevant stuff to say after 20 or 30 pages, that’s how long the essay should be.
Trough the lens of what was able to be published, Greenspun sees publishing’s evolution like this:
- Pre-1990: five-page magazine articles and 200-page books.
- 1990 to 2000: any length essays, with little barrier to entry (static web pages).
- 2000 onwards: one-paragraph ideas and personal thoughts, widely available (production and consumption) with blogs.
If the elderly are mostly recognised and valued for their accumulated knowledge and skills (a contentious assumption in itself, granted), then technological advances are gradually making the older generations redundant, suggests Philip Greenspun.
Let’s start by considering factual knowledge. An old person will know more than a young person, but can any person, young or old, know as much as Google and Wikipedia? Why would a young person ask an elder the answer to a fact question that can be solved authoritatively in 10 seconds with a Web search?
How about skills? Want help orienting a rooftop television aerial? Changing the vacuum tubes in your TV? Dialing up AOL? Using MS-DOS? Changing the ribbon on an IBM Selectric (height of 1961 technology)? Tuning up a car that lacks electronic engine controls? Doing your taxes without considering the Alternative Minimum Tax and the tens of thousands of pages of rules that have been added since our senior citizen was starting his career? Didnâ€™t think so.
The same technological progress that enables our society to keep an ever-larger percentage of old folksâ€™ bodies going has simultaneously reduced the value of the minds within those bodies.
Suggestions for “maintaining relevance and value in old age” are gratefully being received on Philip’s post.