Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Brave New

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's futuristic novel about a society that had simultaneously eliminated all suffering and all meaning, has always been high on my recommended reading list. But there were parts of it that I always thought were a little far-fetched. The people of the future had such super-attenuated attention spans that they couldn't begin to tackle a full story; their entertainment consisted of hyper-abridgements, Hamlet in 60 seconds and such. "Ok, he's exaggerating for effect," I thought. "Surely people wouldn't really subsist on minute-long entertainment."

And yet the future is here, and about 500 years ahead of Huxley's timeline. The cover of this month's Wired blares: "Snack Culture: Tasty Bits o' Fun!" They chronicle the inevitable progression of cultural condensation: the rise of abridgements, Cliff's Notes, and most recently, the emergence of YouTube and other one-minute-media. People don't have the patience to sit through a whole hour of TV anymore; they watch one-minute clips on their iPods. Even a ten-minute piece of music is deemed too long, and services now rip them down to about two minutes. Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube is seen as the death-rattle of old media, full-length content vainly struggling against a sea of snippets.

And who am I to scoff? This blog is representative of the same trend. I don't have time to write a novel, so I content myself with 500-word essays instead. Nor is anyone interested in reading more than 500 words at a go. . . mine or anyone else's. I was seduced by the power of instant entertainment last year by Scrabble on a cell phone . . . it's amazing how many hours you can kill five minutes at a time.

The only bright spot that I see, the one place where our society is not following Huxley's script, is the realm of user-generated content. We are not merely soma-doped cows consuming government-mandated entertainment. More people than ever before are creating the content. A five-minute blog reading can take an hour to write, and a five minute video can take days to create. So there's the sliver of hope that the interactive, participatory nature of the new media will engage more brain cells than it kills.

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