Technology, in the publishing world, is an excuse for inaction and conformity.
Politicians will say that the cause of the plight of authors is technology and that nothing can halt the progress of technology. Publishers repeat that the reason why authors have to fall in with their boring, unimaginative lists is because these lists are fine-tuned to a fast-moving technological world. Technology has changed the reading habits of the world. Join the fine-tuners or get out. You even hear authors arguing along these lines.
Politicians who cannot do anything should not hold political office. Publishers who publish unimaginative lists should think about another profession, say jobbing in the stock market or trading in one of our major banks. Authors who repeat these legends about technology will be paralysed in their actions and, without understanding what technology genuinely contributes to society, will not be able to advance in their careers.
It was as if technology were some great white-haired God out there, an alien being, who had suddenly descended on this planet and ordered all men and women to toe the line and comply with his great commands. For true believers, he is a benevolent God. For the rest of us, technology is an uncomfortable bedfellow who wakes us in the wrong hours of early morning. But if one truly recognized what technology has got to give us it could become a very useful tool in the daily business of living.
The real issue is how to place technology in a proper perspective, without these quasi-religious enthusiasms getting in the way of our view. Zealotry has marred the thinking of politicians, publishers and even ourselves.
Let me first review the mythology before I go on to outline what I think is actually happening.
Saint Bill Gates is the religious fanatic’s representative on earth. The original Gospel according to Saint Bill was published in 1995, and that’s when I first read it. It is frankly a bit of a bore. The best way to read the abominably written Road Ahead I found was to attack it in French; I don’t know why, but La Route du futur had a slightly more poetic ring to it — although even then it had three authors and four translators. The book itself was something of a fantasy, a collective job; I don’t think the man Bill Gates had much to do with it.
‘Depuis vingt ans, je vis une aventure incroyable…’ Well, all right, it is not exactly Madame Bovary, but you can at least imagine you are bouncing around in a Citroën C8 on a Norman stretch of autoroute south of Rouen. That’s one of the problems I have with the original Bill Gates: he has absolutely no sense of place; he has created a fantasy world without frontiers. His acolytes — and there are today millions of them — are fantasy people who don’t touch ground.
Many of the gospel’s prophesies were supposed to take place within a decade of writing, so it is interesting to have a look at it sixteen years later to see just what has actually happened. And you have to re-read it anyway because in these pages there is an early articulation — is that the right word? — of a techno-ideology which is now fairly widespread, including publishers, and not a few authors as well.
Central to the book is the idea of networks, the ‘autoroutes d’information’. It starts with the dust-jacket, which has a photograph of a road, though I don’t think it is in Normandy. It is surfaced with black macadam with an orange median — so I would guess it is somewhere in the USA — leading straight out into an empty desert. That sets the mood of all Gates’s networks; they are assembled in blank, unoccupied, neutral zones, without a living thing visible. On the cover the young Bill Gates is standing in neat informal attire on the surface of the autoroute — only he is obviously not standing on the road, it is more like outer space, since he appears weightless. The portrait was probably taken in a studio, miles away from the road.
That cover, in fact, is very true to the way Gates’s world wide web— that fantasy word, what he calls ‘La réalité virtuelle’ — permeates this book and ultimately the mythology of high technology today.
It started for Bill with toys and progressed to a ‘program’ — that’s the formal term, not ‘programme’ — in Basic that simulated a game of Monopoly. ‘J’ai l’impression,’ continues the conjuring saint, ‘d’appartenir à une generation qui, en grandissant, n’a pas su se séparer de son jouet favori…’ That’s it: they did not let go of their favourite toys, these technicians. Like Peter Pan, they never grew up. Young Bill, who looks amazingly like Harry Potter, was always playing with his fabulous toys and creating his unreal worlds: exploring the surface of Mars, changing the end of a novel, reviving dinosaurs and the dead Elvis Presley, or simulating a make-believe battle in Never-Never Land. It caught the imagination of children and what has become our world today, an unreal world. I am afraid some publishers’ lists have taken on that look of ‘réalité virtuelle’. It is now a part of our culture.
Publishers today, you may have noted, have, over the last fifteen years, adopted this fantasy child’s world. Whether they are publishing fiction or non-fiction their lists are made up of this Tolkien-like ‘réalité virtuelle’, with accompanying dust-jackets that all seem lifted from science fiction, passionate science fiction populated by passionate men and women of the Linda Crofts variety. So the techno-ideology has infiltrated popular culture in those sixteen years since Saint Bill composed the Gospel.
In his fabulously technological world, virtual reality is accompanied by virtual economics. Many, from all streams of life, have also adopted this vision over the last decade and a half. The mechanics behind this is achieved through the multimedia links — television, telephone, camera, constant music, and downloaded articles and books — that create a world-wide market incorporating everyone and everything. There are no frontiers, we have noted, in the world of Bill Gates. ‘Nous ne sommes plus très loin d’assister à l’avènement du marché idéal décrit par l’économiste britannique Adam Smith, au XVIIIe siecles, dans son traité Recherche sur la nature et les causes de la richesse des nations.’ Adam Smith! The free market! Open trade! Every follower of the Gospel of High Technology is an advocate of free market economics… But, in actual fact, there is not much that is either free or open in the economics of hi-tech.
The Saint forecasts studying, exploring the world, watching any kind of spectacle, doing the shopping in the neighbourhood, showing photographs to parents in the provinces and many other wonderful activities will be available — ‘sans quitter votre bureau ou votre fauteuil.’ Just sit in your armchair and switch on your computer — and see what a world is opened to you. You will have, he prophesies, the ‘ultimate market,’ the ‘planetary market’. Many a corporate firm now subscribes to this view of ‘globalization’, so do the economists, and so of course do the large combined publishing companies — they have lists that look the same throughout the world. You cannot run against the forces of ‘globalization’, we are told.
I am not sure one would want to run against them. But there are some quite important details in these prophesies that, sixteen years later, hardly worked out the way they were supposed to. Far from opening up our horizons, they appear to have closed them.
Start with the paperless world, and particularly the paperless office. Saint Bill argues that technology has changed the nature of the ‘document’. For five hundred years everything was recorded on paper. Now, with the advent of the computer, information as varied as a television programme, an interactive video-game or an animated cartoon could be an integrated part of a ‘document’, memorized and charged up on those ‘autoroutes d’information’. So there is no need for paper!
Well, you may have all this information charged up on your hard disk, but it is not actually very useful there until it is consulted by the human brain, and that brain often still requires paper. Go into one of these ‘paperless’ offices and, inevitably, you will find, not far from that pristine empty desk, cupboards and drawers stuffed with… stacks of paper. What the computer revolution has in fact done is speed up the exchange of information, which has in fact led to a vast increase in the consumption of paper. Far from leading to a ‘paperless’ world, we are now inundated with the stuff.
One of the large corporations — and it seems it is particularly the large corporations — that caught the Bill Gates dream of a paperless office was the BBC. In two moves in the last couple of years from London to Pacific Quay in Glasgow, and from Bush House and White City to Broadcasting House the BBC, in an effort to create a paperless production process, has spent nearly £160 million on space that is still not available for use. It has been estimated that this sum is the equivalent to the cost of running both Radio 3 and Radio 4 for an entire year — all those authors who might have been usefully employed! Paperless offices are a false dream and can prove to be very expensive.
In fact, like all announced revolutions, the current breakthroughs in technology are not causing nearly as many changes in society as their enthusiasts would have you to believe.
Human beings are adaptable, and they lust after novelty, a new world. I would say that the poets have more to say on this than the techno-believers. ‘What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty!’ said Shakespeare’s enigmatic Hamlet. He lusts after novelty, yes. But he is never consistent in this. That strange thing in him called human nature will cause him to hold things back, as much as he initiates change. Man is essentially a conservative animal.
The historians will confirm this. The revolutions, started amid so much enthusiasm, never, ever happen. Or, rather, they are just that, revolutions — they just go round and round in circles. One enjoys a generation of passion and whole-scale destruction, one stares out, dazed, at the nothingness, and then one returns to the tried and true ways civilization. One always, in the end, finds oneself back where one started: back in 1789 with its aristocrats and its peasants, in the ancien régime; after the battle the soldiers go back to the fields; Old Russia makes her come-back after the Communists have cleared off — just as old-fashioned books and their authors will undoubtedly make their return after the technocrats have packed up.
In the end the revolutionaries and the technocrats have nothing to say. It is the editors who will tell us what is worth reading; and the authors who will write those things worth reading. Yes, it is different all right; the aristocrats no longer wear powdered wigs and the peasants are working in the fields in trim trousers instead of smocks; but, you look around and remark, ‘Gosh, this is very much the same society as before.’
That is what really happens in the world. We don’t change that much. And it is only too human that it be like that. Both publishers and authors should bear that in mind.
One area much trumpeted in Bill Gates’s book of sixteen years ago was ‘interactivity’. ‘Interactivity’ was supposed to happen when all these happy participants on the ‘autoroutes d’information’, while sitting in their armchairs in a state of ‘réalité virtuelle’, started talking to one another. It is Marshall McLuhan’s fantastic ‘global village’, Adam Smith’s ‘marché idéal’, a utopia, nowhere. Yes, nowhere. It didn’t happen anywhere.
Blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook are the closest we have come, in sixteen years, to this fantasy’s realization. Now some blogs are consulted. Several websites are read, usually with some specific, narrow end in mind. Facebook allows you space enough for a thousand-character — not word — comment. The BBC and a few of the national papers achieve substantial public comments, though the comments even here quickly drop off into nonsense. Most websites are not consulted. The Society of Authors’ own website is a desert. I have been involved myself in the administration of national websites; they are the despair of their ‘webmasters’ and we discuss the impossible ways of improving involvement.
The truth is that human nature does not encourage forays into foreign websites — apart from bored husbands and idle teenage boys, who show a curiosity for things that are not always enlightening. Far from increasing social communication, psychologists have recently sounded the alarm bells about the ‘internet’ spreading isolation and solitude. Fantasy ‘role games’ are destroying healthy links between young men and women. All that has happened in the last sixteen years.
I am not taking an anti-techno line here. I think, in fact, that technology can bring considerable benefits to authors. I am just stating the facts. In the technological revolution, all is not what seems. We are missing the role of human nature in this complicated story. We are on virgin territory here.
Saint Bill had a considerable amount to say about authors and books. He thought the book would change. Already in 1995 he regarded the e-book as a fait accompli, which was far from the case. An enormous number of prototypes were tried out. They all failed, not because of the technology but — and this is the essential point — because of market organization. High technologies, because they demand such colossal investments, only thrive in an environment of monopoly. Well may Bill bow to the eighteenth-century free market theories of Adam Smith; in fact, hi-tech takes off into outer space only in the ‘Bread-and-Circuses’ environment of the Emperor Nero.
Saint Bill’s own company, Microsoft, suffered at least a decade of struggle and loss before, through monopoly, it could impose its empire of software — which is not actually very user-friendly — on everybody else. Google only worked once it had a monopoly. Amazon became the leading on-line bookseller after well over a decade of stupendous losses. Now it is a secretive monopolist, it can impose its ideas on the rest of the world. Among those ‘new’ ideas is the e-book, which is only just now beginning to make a tiny edge in the market.
This is true of technological breakthroughs in earlier ages. The railway, the oil industry, the big ocean liners … they were, all of them, monopolies or oligopolies. But the hi-techies beat them all in terms of money, power and world spread. And that is because they are so greedy in their capital needs.
If monopoly is the chief game of technology then what does this suggest about technology and freedom? Unfortunately the relationship does not seem to be a healthy one. Technology develops in an environment that is the very opposite of free: it is controlled, centralized and arrogant. The directors of the hi-tech industries, in particular, do not allow debate; they are irreconciled to the intellectual freedoms. So the mix of hi-tech and publishing — which should be the flower of our freedoms — is going to be necessarily an unhappy one.
It already is. A problem for democracy is developing here.
Saint Bill’s revolutionary scriptures foresee a new kind of ‘author’ and ‘editor’ arising out of ‘interactivity’ over the net. Harking back to the theme that the electronic document is the most revolutionary form of record since Gutenberg he guessed that the ‘author’ and ‘editor’ would have to be redefined.
There has certainly been an attempt to redefine these roles, mainly degrading both of them. This dates back to the ’death of the author’ movement among literary critics in the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, the critics were, in a sense, the Old Testament prophets to Gates’s techno-ideology of the 1990s. Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and a host of followers in the English-speaking world, most famously Terry Eagleton of Oxford, used a form of ‘interactivity’ to explain away the importance of the elitist author in relation to the reader. It began as a theory pour épater les bourgeois in the radical 1960s and to undermine the authority of the elderly professors at the Sorbonne. It had the most sinister undertones.
And that is true of the New Testament version, this whole techno-ideology concerning editors and authors. The Nielsen BookScan gives the marketing people the pretension of interpreting ‘reader power’ at the expense of old authorial authority — auctoritas, ‘from the principal itself’ — and also at the expense of old fashioned editorial literary taste. The aim has been to push editorial decisions down now to the level of the ’common reader’. But in fact this has nothing to do with the common reader. It is a marketing technique, made in the name of technology, democracy and the ’free market, to increase the number of readers. Nobody has actually proven that it works.
The Nielsen BookScan has been invented, like the new criticism of the 1960s pour épater les bourgeois — to humble those elitist authors and editors and to force them to face the new reality, ’la réalité virtuelle’.
Is this method actually more democratic? Not if it suppresses knowledge and debate. The BookScan seeks consumers, not citizens, sales points, not book content and ideas. It has very little to do with common readers. And it is absolutely undemocratic. It suppresses thought for the benefit of numbers and measurement. It sounds modern and technological. It is repressive and its results are monotonously uniform: the effect is that all publishers’ lists are the same.
Gates’s view of a distinction between paper-supported information and the new style multi-dimensional electronic document is both simplistic and wrong. Most sophisticated forms of literature embrace several dimensions of narrative at the same time; it is a technique as old as the Bible, indeed as old as the human mind.
An elementary example of this can be found in Norman Davis’s Europe (Oxford University Press, 1996), where the main narrative of his European story is broken by a number of ‘capsules’ outlining particular areas of interest. But multi-dimensional documents go back much further than that. In the Gospels of the New Testament there are the parables, which are aspects of Christ’s teaching inserted in the story of his life. Tolstoy also made an art of this multi-dimensional story-telling, combining in his War and Peace, for example, descriptions of the eternal Russian landscape, with the movement of the seasons, with the human drama of war, and the individual drama of his characters.
Some authors are better at doing this than others. The Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, in several of his works, shifts constantly between historical eras, creating a most magical effect.
Whether these shifts take place solely with print, between film fragments and print, or within a handwritten love letter, the shift is in fact within the human mind, not the medium. It is a creative move and can be either glorious, as when Shakespeare introduces the news of Ophelia’s death, or it can be the sign of a badly, ill-organized novel or an incompetently written history text.
A shift in key and rhythm achieves the same effect in music. The effect is as great, or diminutive, as its creator. Contrary to Marshall McLuhan — another of those Old Testament prophets — the message is not in the medium. It comes to you from its creator. And has done so since the days of Homer, and before.
Technology has little effect on the actual process of creation. When I was writing forty years ago I employed yellow legal paper, because I could fit more words on a page and I thought, perhaps like French drivers at the time, that yellow was better for the eyes. I quickly progressed to a typewriter, because I discovered I could write faster and more fluently. The electric typewriter improved this, though my style and my thoughts hardly changed. In 1994 I acquired my first Macintosh. Then I went through a series of PCs, and now I am back to Macintosh, because it is user-friendly.
Editing is now much easier. I am even tempted to say that it is too easy. I found that I was altering words too frequently; one can over-edit and become verbose. But I got that under control. My most basic style and thinking, as far as my writing is concerned, has not changed much since I was an adolescent apprentice in the trade during my teens. Naturally, what I actually write about has developed, but that is due to maturity and not technology.
I could reverse to yellow legal paper tomorrow. I write to music more frequently nowadays to ‘keep the parasites away’ as I say — I don’t think this has much to do with technology, though I realize that in the eighteenth century I would not have been able to pay a chamber orchestra to perform in my study. I suppose it is conceivable that, in this worsening, censorious environment, I could end up in gaol; in which case I may have to resort, like prisoners of old, to writing on toilet paper. I am convinced I could do that, too.
In fact, technology has little affect on any of our basic functions of human thinking.
This is even true of business. The basic process of trading has not changed much since the Sumerians. The ‘dot.com’ bubble burst in the year 2000 because people were convinced that the rules of business had changed. In fact they had not and, as a result, a lot of people got their fingers burned. Interest rates were reduced, especially in the United States, to inflate artificially an economy depressed by the technology boom. That led to easy credit. It was technology again that sped up the rates of dealing, so much so that nobody noticed what was going on; people were managing to sell debt as credit. But the old rules of business did not change: in the end debt has to be paid. So the financial world, enamoured of technology and new trading instruments, went bankrupt and the taxpayer was landed with the bills. The result was the worst trading crisis since the Great Depression.
The religious legend of high technology has a lot to blame for that.
And in 2011 we are at it again! In the very same places as before! The corporate directors are once more in demand in Silicon Valley, California, office rents are soaring and fabulous salaries are on offer for trendy fields like data science while the state — and even the mighty United States itself — is threatening a massive default on debts.
Facebook is not listed on the stock exchange but it is said to be valued at around $76 billion, which is more than Boeing or Ford. Twitter is said to be worth about $7.7 billion. LinkedIn, the professional network, hopes to raise $3.3 billion in an initial public offering.
These enormous sums are more than a little worrying. For with the big names come the little names of fledgling firms with ‘services’ that have not even been tested. Venture capitalists are competing with private-equity companies and those dear old bank funds, their agents and dealers — so loved by the public, real common readers — are still chasing up profits that seem to have dried up elsewhere. There are the ‘angel’ investors who made their fortunes with the web start-up companies in the boom of the 1990s and are trying their luck again. All these groups of transient wealth are caught up in a great binge of hi-tech mythology that could very soon spin out of control.
Anything to do with China, as the ‘newly wired market’, is attractive to these investors. Indeed, Chinese investors themselves add to the hot air.
Where do these funds come from? Where are they going? It would be a rash man who attempted to map it all out. These money movements are made at the speed of light, at the press of a button, and typify the make-believe, frontierless world that Saint Bill Gates has created for us. It is conceivable that some sort of panic in China will lead to the burst of the next bubble.
What is certain is that if such a disastrous scenario is allowed to happen we will, like the last time — authors, publishers, agents and booksellers — be brought down with it. Once more the most creative elements of society will be made to suffer and, once more, they will be told by the marketing gurus that this is because these creative people ‘failed to keep up with the fast pace of technological progress.’
But I am not sure, by that time, whether there will be any creative people left. There are not so many around today. The next decade, announced the Saint in 1995, ‘nous amènera-t-elle les Griffith et les Eisenstein du multimedia?’ One and a half decades have gone by and there is still total silence. ‘Combien posséderont l’inventivité d’un Steven Spielberg, d’une Jane Austen ou d’un Albert Einstein? Ces trois personnages hors du commun ont existé; mais nous n’aurons peut-être droit qu’à un seul genie.’
Silence. Total silence. These past sixteen years have seen no genius creator emerge from Bill Gates’s make-believe multi-media world. And one must wonder seriously whether we will see this in the next sixteen years.
The historian, Simon Winder, published an article in the Author this last winter, ‘Historical Settings’. It was a view from inside Penguin, where he works. The corporate culture has got to him. He adopts the corporate ideology of ‘displacement’ in the context of history. Thus he states that ‘history is a cruel genre, since the purpose of new history titles… is to displace older books.’ And he goes on to observe that there are no ‘classics’ in history. Well that is a new one to me. What about Gibbon to start with? Macaulay? Trevelyan? A.J.P. Taylor is still read. And Barbara Tuchman surely ranks somewhere up there. I suppose Schama makes a mark, though I have a hunch that the real classics of our own marketing governed times are not even being noticed.
‘History writing really does date with frightening speed,’ Winders, quite a competent German specialist himself, goes on. This has nothing to do with the way one generation tends to replace another because of the movement of ideas. It has everything to do with the kind of marketing you find at Penguin and most publishers today: this week’s Mary, Queen of Scots has got to displace last week’s; it is all about novelty and keeping stock moving on the shelves — it is like strawberries on the supermarket shelves. Indeed, the new breed of publisher is now aiming at supermarket shelves.
Ideas and book content are of no concern to a publisher whose decisions are made on the basis of the Nielsen BookScan. That is why publishers and traders now speak of ‘titles’ rather than ‘books’, a term with old-world, pre-hi-tech connotations that ideas may actually hide behind the title. Come on! This week’s Mary, Queen of Scots is the same as last week’s. And let’s admit it, it is. But BookScan tells us that Mary, Queen of Scots is a subject that sells. So it will be on the shelf until the new author arrives next week with his ‘latest research’ (the Queen’s letters have been read in a different order).
Now if that highly original work on The Drains of Edinburgh by the same author were to arrive at the same time on the editor’s desk, the editor — finding a well-written description of sixteenth-century lavatories in Holyrood Palace — might suddenly realize that David Rizzio may have slipped on the watery tiling whilst in private conference with the pregnant queen, thus giving himself away; Lord Darnley, the husband, now apprised, slips in with his pals and murders his rival in front of the queen, thus changing the course of history.
‘I must publish The Drains of Edinburgh!’ exclaims the editor to his Acquisitions Committee. But he is outvoted by Marketing and Sales who tell him that BookScan reveals there is no market for ‘drains’. A great work of history is thereby suppressed.
Here is the reason why Bill Gates’s multi-media world boasts of no creative ‘genius’ now or in the near future. It has got nothing to do with technology; it has everything to do with marketing. What pushed these marketing forces to the fore was the evolution of corporate structures in the last forty or so years: consolidation, mergers, the gluttonous interest rates charged by the capital-raising agencies and the marketing ‘sciences’ used for gaining ever higher rates of return.
This happened long before hi-tech ever appeared on the horizon. Indeed, many of the new technologies appeared because of the marketing needs of the large corporations. They earn their money through the mergers and complicated financial instruments, not by selling books. Technology is the by-product of corporate growth, not the cause.
As for the evasive factor of creative ‘genius’, there is no way it will be fostered through the mechanical number-crunching of Nielsen’s BookScan. There could be genius in The Drains of Edinburgh, but BookScan, which will miss all those wonderful descriptions of Holyrood Palace, will never pick it up. Only discerning editors will be able to do that, and their authority has been drastically reduced in corporate re-stucturation made in the interests of Mammon, not genius. It is a total myth that the ‘independents’ will pick up what the big corporations miss: the ‘independents’ use the same Nielsen ratings as the corporations, so that publishers’ lists are now identical, one to the other. The author of Drains will never find an alternative.
Again, beyond the mechanical collection of Nielsen’s BookScan, technology has very little to do with this. It is an aggressive marketing within the context of monopoly and oligopoly that is the cause of Drains’ misfortunes.
Well may Saint Bill Gates sing the praises of Adam Smith and the free market. But the corporate structure is the very opposite of a free market and an open, democratic society. It is a closed monopoly that is dictatorial in its ideology. As technology picks up within such a closed environment the monopolistic pressures can only get worse, and the suppression of creation will only become more evident.
From the point of view of the creator, technology is also limited in what it can achieve. The actual idea of a ‘multi-media world’ is as old as the Bible, and there is room for genius in it. But not in the marketing governed world of corporate monopoly.
Does, in fact, technology have any role to play at all, apart from being a tool for the powers that be? In the 1990s, in the midst of all the marketing hype of the hi-tech boom, before the dot.com bubble burst, economists argued, on the basis of a misreading of the Austrian economist, Josef Schumpeter, that computers were performing the same dynamic role of ‘creative destruction’ in the world economy as railways had played in the nineteenth century, sweeping the old aside and bringing in the new. They were destroying all right. But they did not bring in anything creative. No ‘geniuses’ appeared. Mergers and the financial instruments kept the money pouring in for a while. But that dried up during the recent financial crisis.
It was that parallel with nineteenth-century railways that was to prove particularly pertinent. Thirty years earlier another economist, Robert Fogel — he went on to win the Nobel Prize — demonstrated in a remarkable piece of statistical counterfactual analysis that American economic growth would have been just as dynamic without railways. Railroads and Economic Growth (Baltimore, 1964), which is another of my candidates for a historical classic that are not supposed to exist, projected, with a cost analysis, a whole network of water canals across the United States, along with calculations of accompanying economic growth. The United States without railways did very well!
The obvious parallel is to suppose a good economic performance in the world at the turn of this century without computers, and without the bursting of the dot.com bubble in 2000, the ultimate cause of the current economic recession.
But one does not have to go so far to conclude that technology is much more limited in its effects on society and the economy than its enthusiasts would suppose. It has no effect on the creativity of man. As a vehicle of economic growth it is marginal at best, destructive at worst.
Far more dynamic is the organization of enterprise. Far more destructive, in the publishing world, is the development of huge corporate monopolies and the imposition of marketing models that have spread throughout the entire industry.
One can see how dangerous the situation is becoming for the freedom of expression and of ideas through the developments over the last few weeks at Google and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. In the face of these evident threats to their liberty, authors show no sign of being better organized. Participation so far in the affairs of the Society of Authors has been appallingly low and the Society, as a result, has tremendous difficulty formulating an effective, society-wide policy of defence.
That is the situation today on the eve of this election. If it is a deeply worrying position for authors to find themselves in, it is an alarming one for Britain.
GD, Le Vieil Estrée, 19 July 2011