Archive for December 11th, 2013

Doctorow and “a first look into the Internet world’s hell”

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

I spoke earlier this year in New York City about the future of democracy, which I didn’t see as the shuffling of parties and the need for right-thinking people to triumph electorally.  I saw technology as a game-changer, on so many levels – notably, the role of technology in accelerating the move to mobs and herd opinions.  E.L. Doctorow seems to be on a parallel wavelength. He made these remarks at the 2013 National Book Awards ceremony, where he received the NBA’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (and a hat tip to Rebecca Solnit for bringing his words to my attention).


He’s concerned. (Photo: Mark Sobzcak)

“In fact, as concerns interactivity, one of the web world’s waving flags, the techies don’t want to know that reading a book is the ultimate interactivity, where the reader’s life flows through the sentences, as through an electric circuit, animating those sentences, bringing them to life in the mind—so that it is only when a book is read that it is completed. Nothing else is as interactive as that. And a book is written in silence and read in silence, another advantage in our noisy world—an integrity of the mind is maintained with the ability to live in an extended discourse.

“No, that isn’t the major problem. Nor is it the digital undercutting of authors’ copyright and the pirating of texts, equivalent to what has happened to musicians… though that is a problem.

“You may have read a few days ago the results of a survey conducted by PEN: not only that American writers worry about being the target of government surveillance, but that ‘a significant portion of writers are engaging in self-censorship by avoiding research on certain controversial topics, choosing not to engage in sensitive conversations, and declining to pursue particular topics and stories when doing so might lead to scrutiny by the U.S. government.’

“So it has begun. That slowly gathering, ghostly darkness coming off the otherworld technology. A kind of China-like darkness, maybe. Or call it a first look into the Internet world’s hell. It’s hard to believe as we assemble here this evening, a flourishing example of Western democracy. But the struggle has begun as to who will rule that webby other world—government data miners and the corporations in step with them, or everyone else? We’ll have to pull ourselves together and, reluctantly or not, join that struggle. I don’t have to remind us that everyone in this room is in the free-speech business.”

Read the whole thing at The Nation here.