Category Archives: The future

Philip Roth says the novel is screwed

Daily Beast Editor Tina Brown asked esteemed author Philip Roth, in this Vimeo video, about the future of the novel.

Basically, Roth says, the novel is screwed.  Not even the Kindle can save the novel, because it has to compete against all those screens: first the movie screen, then the TV screen, and now the computer screen.  Now all three of those are out there, and the book just doesn’t measure up.

Roth predicts that in 25 years the novel will have a “cultic” following, perhaps slightly larger than the group of people who now read Latin poetry.  What do you think?  Is he right?  Or will the novel carry on as it has these last centuries?

Grumpy old man

Grumpy old man

It does occur to me that as recently as a century or two ago, the reading public for a novel was perhaps at what Roth might call a cultic level.  Then came the Golden Age of Reading, from perhaps the late 1800s through, say, the 1930s.  Now novel-reading is in an inevitable decline, soon to return to being the pastime of a small group of hobbyists?

But perhaps Roth is speaking only of the literary novel, which already could be said to have largely a cultic following, big prizes and splashy headlines aside.  People line up for Dan Brown’s pulp, but how many will read Roth’s latest offering, The Humbling? And he is among the biggest names among contemporary literary novelists, if a grumpy one.  What hope, then, for those as-yet unknown writers?

Have a look at the video, and then have your say in the comments.

A warranty, of sorts

Did you know that the probability of your dying within the year doubles every eight years?  I’m 33, which means I have a 1 in 1500 chance of dying within the next year.  When I’m 42, it will be 1 in 750.  When I’m 50 (if I make it that long), 1 in 375.  Etc.  If I somehow limp along to 100, my chance of living to be 101 will be 1 in 2.  A warranty, of sorts.

A British fellow named Benjamin Gompertz discovered this fact.  No one understands why it is true but it has been proven so regularly it is now called the Gompertz Law of Human Mortality.  It holds across countries, time periods, even species.  Or, as illustrated in this data from the US Census Bureau:

No one makes it out of here alive.

No one makes it out of here alive.

Right in line with Average Life Expectancy, which I wrote about back in January (including the cure of the ancients, if thinking about this sort of thing bothers you).  If you’d like to know what your odds of making it through the next year, here’s a Death Probability Calculator.  If you’d like some mathematical proof, here it is:

gompertz formula

If you want someone to explain this to you, since I can’t, better go ask this guy, who caught my attention by pointing out that our bodies weren’t built to last.

It caught my attention because I do my best to remain mindful of the void that awaits.  We appear from this void, blink a few times, then return to it.  What are you going to do with your blinks, is what I ask myself daily.  To that end I have a memento mori.  More on that later.

Harvard Press goes online; what’s next?

Look at this – Harvard University Press is going to publish 1,000 digitized books on Scribd.  Scribd, you may recall, came under pressure for alleged copyright infringements a few months ago.  Evidently this doesn’t bother the Harvard folks, who are suffering some fiscal pressures of their own.  Upshot: anyone with google can now access books that formerly would have available only on musty university bookshelves, or at hundreds of bucks a pop on Amazon.scribd

Now, you and I aren’t likely to rush out and read these tomes (typical title: Manipulative Monkeys: The Capuchins of Lomas Barbudal), but they do illustrate the point I was trying to make in comments here and elsewhere yesterday: the future is digital.  Harvard doesn’t exactly represent the black-flag-waving anarchist set, and they’re doing it.  By the same token, while twit-lit may just be finding its feet, it’s got the future on its side.  What web-lit currently lacks in ModyDick-like gravitas will no doubt be made up for by … well, I don’t know what just yet.   Don’t think anyone does.

Ain’t it exciting?

Harvard Press goes online; what's next?

Look at this – Harvard University Press is going to publish 1,000 digitized books on Scribd.  Scribd, you may recall, came under pressure for alleged copyright infringements a few months ago.  Evidently this doesn’t bother the Harvard folks, who are suffering some fiscal pressures of their own.  Upshot: anyone with google can now access books that formerly would have available only on musty university bookshelves, or at hundreds of bucks a pop on Amazon.scribd

Now, you and I aren’t likely to rush out and read these tomes (typical title: Manipulative Monkeys: The Capuchins of Lomas Barbudal), but they do illustrate the point I was trying to make in comments here and elsewhere yesterday: the future is digital.  Harvard doesn’t exactly represent the black-flag-waving anarchist set, and they’re doing it.  By the same token, while twit-lit may just be finding its feet, it’s got the future on its side.  What web-lit currently lacks in ModyDick-like gravitas will no doubt be made up for by … well, I don’t know what just yet.   Don’t think anyone does.

Ain’t it exciting?

Twittification update: twitter666

Following my post on the twittification of America, the estimable Brad Green kindly directed me to a “literary journal” composed entirely of tweets. There are lots. I read a few. Some are mildly amusing;

lionelritchieCD: Wait! She touched me! Oh… she was reaching for Kenny Rogers. Fuck.

some are mildly interesting;

a_gravedigger: went to hardware store to buy new gloves, clerk said-what are these for, i said, you don’t wanna know son.

some are clever-for-the-sake-of-clever:

A_BULLY: i’m a much bigger fan of the punch to the stomach than i am of the punch to the thigh

But none flirt even remotely with being “perfect little statements into gems of intent, meaning, clarity.” (My definition of a worthwhile aphorism.) Not that they’re trying to to be that. Not sure what they are trying to be. Probably they’re on to something. They just don’t know what.

Current state of twittified web-lit

Current state of twittified web-lit

Tweets have a long way to go. Not saying they won’t get there. They might. Web-lit is evolving. I’ve got great hopes for it. Humble beginnings are required. twitter666 has them in spades.

The, ahem, future?

Its future?

Whatever web-lit evolves into, these tweets will be as cave paintings to, say, Paradise Lost or Pale Fire or Proust. Or something entirely less wordy. Like waka or the prosings of the great master himself.

In any case, I’ve emailed the man evidently behind twitter666, Sam Pink, inviting him to comment. Let’s hope he puts in an appearance.

The industry of the present future

I’ve seen lots of semis towing gigantic wind turbine parts across the highways of Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado recently. I suspect it has more to do with last year’s surge in oil prices than BHO’s stimulus package. Judging by their size, these things take a long time to get built and installed.

Wind turbine part on the move.

Wind turbine part on the move.

Whatever reason they’re getting there, it’s gratifying to see it actually happening. Nebraska has a lot of potential for wind power on account of being so, well, empty. To say nothing of windy Wyoming. Wind farms are truly massive structures which just wouldn’t work in, say, Menlo Park, California. The problem is getting the power the turbines create to the electrical grid. A real ramping up of wind power generation would require a whole lot of infrastructure construction, a real commitment to making it viable. Let’s hope what I saw rolling down rural highways is the future arriving in giant chunks. After all, surely nothing this massive gets built in a place like Kimball, Nebraska, just for the hell of it:

windpower.824