The Value of Text

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esterday I printed out my first book for the first time. It amazed me to see how much more easily I could edit in manuscript form instead of on a computer monitor. And there is plenty to do.

I t got me to thinking, "Why do we still write things down when other more immediate mediums are available?". For instance, why write to a relative when we can use the phone? ... why read when we can watch the movie version? ... why am I going to send this book to the printer rather than make it available on my web site?

My answer is that reading and writing best retain the autonomy of the participants minds. This is our most valuable asset in life and we are loathe to give it up even for a second. And that is just what is required of you when you read a book. You are handing over your mind to another to manipulate.

Consequently, you demand that certain conditions be met. Foremost among them is the right to call an immediate halt to that manipulation for any reason whatsoever. Whether we are offended by the manipulation or simply wish to go take a dump ... just whatever. You can't do this in face to face confrontation ... you have to make excuses and look another in the eye. But a book has no eyes. It neither sees nor judges ... neither does it ask questions or generate comments. There is no pressure at all on the reader ... unless the content is demanding or demeaning and then the simple solution is to put the book down.

There are two fundamental types of writing ...

I shall call them Casual and Contemplative.

Casual (the most casual) is typing out an email missive. Here we sling something at a friend and ... lose the friend ... due to email misunderstanding. We don't think much about what we write when emailing someone so that our best intentions are interpreted as insults even by those who know us best. My solution to this problem is never to take email seriously especially if it contains something I see as offensive. It probably wasn't meant to be that way. Email is just a step removed form straightforward conversation. It lacks only the immediate feedback which tells the speaker when he's gone off course.

Writing a snail mail letter is less spontaneous than email but still has less thought behind it than a complete book. Writing to paper and reading it as well is more private than sitting at a desk staring at a monitor. Also, and probably more important ... the monitor produces light rather than passively reflecting it. It projects itself at the reader and so makes "demands". This will be the big hurdle for computer book tablets. And you need to fold the book cover somewhat so as to "privatise" the act of reading, i.e. opening up your mind to the control of another. Reading is as private as the toilet (which is why people like to read while on the throne). It is intensely personal.

A printed book is the best way to transmit contemplative information to another. Books are seldom written "on the fly". Most often the writer has something important to say to others (at least it is important to him). Consequently the author spends a great deal of time integrating the information presented so as to give the reader the easiest road to an understanding of his ideas.

So I'm writing a book ...

And not a web page like this one which I won't think about for more than an hour at best. And I won't do any special editing ... nor will I give over any time to worrying about what you will think of it. I just spit it out and slap it up on my site and then ...

get back to the hard stuff.


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