I write serious fiction but I also write
, and about a month ago that's what I thought was doing. I had seen
and commercials for 3-D TV, and all of it struck me as funny. Everyone was saying that this new technology was the future. That much I understood. But why did the future look so much like the past's idea of the present? Sit at home and wear goggles while watching sitcoms? Gasp as
fires a pass past Marques Colston into your living room? Maybe the press' optimism about this new way of taking in content was just a strategy for distracting itself from the rumors of death for the old ways of taking in content: like, say, print.
Then, in the shower, I had an idea. What if some company in the grips of this new Big Thinking introduced cutting-edge 3-D technology and told the world that it would save print? The notion made me laugh hard enough that I stepped out of the shower with shampoo still in my hair.
I wrote the piece, which announced my new 3*TYPE process for converting text into 3-D. The process was simple: It involved glasses, of course, and printing words twice, one after the other, the second time in bold, so that if you wanted to scare people with a lunging tiger you just wrote "lunging lunging tiger tiger." Ridiculous, and satisfyingly so. I submitted it to a few places and eventually settled on where I had published similar satirical pieces before. The Web editor, Christopher Monks, thought the piece would be especially effective if he posted it the morning after the Oscars, which would refocus attention on "Avatar" and 3-D. We got an extra boost when
took in $116 million in its opening weekend.
The piece was posted on March 8. Two days later, my brother e-mailed to say that he was searching for it by headline ("Leaping Off the Page: The Future of Type") when he noticed a news article with the same headline reporting that a Belgian newspaper had printed a 3-D edition.
At first, I didn't believe him. He's not typically a liar, but he had to be lying about this, right? Then I looked myself and he was absolutely correct. The French-language newspaper Le Derniere Heure had printed a 3-D
There were some differences -- they printed all their photos and ads stereoscopically, and left the body text alone -- but there were some similarities, including glasses. There it was, too soon for anyone's comfort: the joke dragged kicking and screaming into the real world.
I felt incensed and a bit dizzy. The first reaction faded over the course of the day, but the second one settled in and strengthened. How was it possible that something I had made up to satirize publishing desperation, as well as the thoughtless chasing of already thoughtless fads, had come true before my fake 3-D ink even had time to dry?
I came to two conclusions in a hurry.
The first is that the Internet, in all its glory, has made originality impossible. I am not the first person to say this (ironically, and obviously), but the next time you have an idea, real or whimsical, an invention or a pun, just search for it online and you'll find that someone else has already thought of it. There are sites like the Half-Bakery that specialize in collecting crazy whims and not-quite-serious flights of fancy, but they're not even the real culprits.
The second realization is related, but more insidious, and it has to do with how our global echo chamber of ideas is obstructing good, old-fashioned mockery. People can wring their hands over the death of the novel or the death of innocence or the death of
, but the thing that's really dead is satire. Anything you can think of, no matter how absurd, is already being done elsewhere, probably in many locations, and chances are that one of those attempts is in earnest. In the shower, at the moment of conception -- that probably conjures up the wrong image, but whatever -- it seemed like nothing could be as ridiculous as a newspaper trying to get its piece of the 3-D pie. I thought for certain it would open people's eyes to the lunacy of fads and the wisdom of settling back down and letting things run their course. But I was wrong.
So I have a new concept. It's a graveyard for satirical ideas. We're not going to have fancy tombstones or ceremonies or treat them with any respect. We're just going to dig a deep deep hole hole, throw them into it, and then listen for the thud.