I was reading the "Rise of the Tablet" piece in Wired Magazine the other day, and there was a section where a number of people-in-the-know remarked about how the tablet would change the world. It got me thinking about all the ways our creative pasts and futures are constantly changing because of technology. Every day, it seems there are new ways we can create, chronicle, connect, communicate, comment . . . if the blank page sometimes seems daunting, perhaps the blank screen -- with all its potential opinionated audiences -- is destined to become even more so.
The Universal Peanut Gallery This started me thinking about the concept of collective book responses -- digital 'scribbling' in the margins by the masses -- that in theory could become part of the ebook reading experience. Will we begin to share thoughts in increasingly narrow territory -- lending our thoughts on chapters, lines, or phrases to anyone who's interested? Will you soon have the choice to import my (and anyone else's) underlines/bookmarks/comments as part of a universal readership community? Will we get to select "pre-readers" with whom we feel most aligned, so as to have our reading guided in the direction that we prefer (much like we currently choose our form of news coverage)?
I'm not against sharing opinions and information. Right now, many of us delight in the fairly new ability to instantly remark to each other on the products, links, videos, and images on our Facebook pages and blogs. We leave comments on commercial sites about the products we liked (or more likely, didn't like). We tweet about a meal as we're eating it, a show as we're seeing it. Which is fine. But here's the rub: the lag time between experience and the construction of our responses is shortening. There's increasing pressure to decide / give a verdict / comment on everything, even before the experience is complete. Will future watchers ever even get to the end of that Robert Altman movie with the brilliant ending that somehow ties everything together in an imaginative, unexpected way? Will gallery shows that get panned early miss out on the reviewers that might have found it thrilling?
Are we headed toward a kind of "race" to set the opinion on a piece? Are we already there? Is there room for pieces other than the best-sellers, the most-emailed, the top downloads?
A Morality Tale from the Music Business I remember getting my first Shawn Colvin album in 1992. I'd bought the CD before my waitress shift at Tommy Nevin's in Evanston, and after work, I rushed home to listen to it. I had to lay with my head kind of hanging off the side of my bed so that the headphones could reach my stereo. I listened to the whole Fat City album that way, contorted but enthralled by the way Colvin used her voice and lyrics. I felt I kind of knew her after listening to the whole record. The last song, "I Don't Know Why," was a quiet and spare one, and immediately became part of my set at the coffeehouse where I'd started performing regularly. It's still one of my favorite songs.
Today, I would probably go to iTunes and look up Shawn Colvin. A screen would automatically pop up with the most popular downloads. I'd likely click on a few of those and choose some to add to my playlist. I wouldn't even see, "I Don't Know Why," let alone hear it.
There's something to be said for respecting the arc of a complete collection of music (or painting show, or book of stories, or anything else). We don't respect the vision, this arc, unless we allow ourselves to have a full creative experience before being pulled out of the moment in order to comment on it. In theater, audiences are expected to "suspend belief" in order to become fully immersed in the imagination of the moment. Perhaps we might develop a practice of suspending artistic judgement in a similar way.
In the music industry, there used to be business cycles alternately more dependent on the "Album model" or the "Single Model." The album model hinged on the idea that a band or artist had a full album of very high-quality songs -- if not a hooky single -- and lifetime of quality work ahead; record companies trusted that buyers would fall in love with an artist and continue buying their albums over time (artists like James Taylor and Billy Joel would fit this description). The single model focused more on the one-hit-wonder -- the band that had one terrific song that might go huge! but perhaps they didn't have the chops to follow up with a career's worth of other material. (Many sixties' war song one-hit-wonders and fifties' duwop hits would be in this category.) There is a place for both kinds of music in our lives -- we all enjoy an instantly catchy song, and I believe (well, I hope) there's also a craving for the deeper, more resonant songs that might take a few listens to really understand. Dessert and dinner, right? We enjoy both.
But for the last several years, we've been in a hard and determined single model cycle. With the advent of single-song downloads and the often anonymous transfer of a favorite track from one friend to another, the music industry has discovered that you can't live on dessert. It's a mess. Even the veterans who've been shouting from the rooftops that we need to cultivate longer-term acts aren't heard. We're so full on one dessert after another that we've lost our appetite for dinner.
As Creators We can find innovative ways to keep our readers/listeners/viewers engaged as long as we feel its necessary for the piece. We can opt out of importing others' opinions and insights until we've had a chance to develop our own. We can resist the urge to instantly publish the snap judgements we may ourselves make about other people's works.
Think of it as good posting karma.
Be well. Make cool stuff. See you soon.
Best wishes, mb
Five Things I'm Thankful for Today: 1. My wifi connection hasn't gone out in the middle of anything critical -- yah! 2. A cool Haro opportunity that's coming to fruition -- thanks mtl! 3. The prospect of a nap in an hour or two. 4. Being back in Utah after a long visit in Chicago. 5. Possibilities, keeping me energized and excited.