What Sherman Alexie should understand about technology

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The Great Digital Age and the Future of Publishing are the conversations that have now been beaten to death in publishing circles in the last few years. Nearly every literary festival has a panel or two devoted to this great and mysterious unknown and the answer is simply that the industry isn't changing, it has changed.

For, once technology exists, an industry is rarely ever able (or willing) to backpedal. We don't have a changing publishing industry, we have a changed industry. The dust is still settling, the new shape isn't entirely clear, even on the front lines, to be sure. But, like any evolution anywhere with anything, one can either be open to possibilities, learn and evolve or one can be fear-driven, refuse possibilities and do the industrial equivalent of poking our fingers into our ears with a la-la-la-laaaaa!

We don't have to love everything new and shiny, nor do we have to enthusiastically endorse every new flash-in-the-pan technology that comes down the chute. But, what is clear from what dust has settled is this: we can either learn what we can about new options and vehicles cropping up in our industry and implement those with which we are comfortable, or we can hate the technology, refuse it, and have to resort to more and more reactionary behavior as we realize we know less and less.

I appreciate purists, I do. I admire people for sticking to their guns in the face of great adversity. I am inspired by people who speak their minds. That said: I worry what will become of author Sherman Alexie.

In May, the NY Times wrote:

Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” said he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices “elitist” and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, “I wanted to hit her.”

To be fair, Alexie apologized, quite sensitively, I might add. Yet, he continues to scrap at every bit of technology on his radar. During his "you should be absolutely terrified" appearance on Colbert Report he tells only part of a story, contradicts his own logic and paints himself, frankly, a paranoid and reactionary technophobe. I get what he's going for: he fears change and wants to take on these digital elements one by one and issue a call to arms to his readers. I get that. I even admire that he's willing to be so outspoken. Heck, I'll even admit that I happen to like Alexie's writing. But, my fret for him is that he's grasping at straws, fostering awkwardness and eye-rolling instead of discussion, and in doing so, he's showing himself as terrified and confused and alienating a lot of readers. The very readers with whom he claims-- as a result of technology-- to miss interacting. 

Further reading: A recent post from Ghubuntu takes on Alexie's recent open-source versus piracy issue quite well.

-- Amy Guth
aguth@tribune.com

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