Publishing and Internet : A curious alliance of Technology with Literature

Nikita Bhardwaj
C-41, Murtikala Colony, Gopalpura Road, Jaipur (Rajasthan) - India
Ph. 0141-2708839, <nikita8389@gmail.com>


Science and literature are natural bedfellows of any discussion or an essay; but technology and literature? Let us not be passive and reluctant in accommodating the very obvious fact that technology has a cohesive alliance with literature. It is an association that has flourished substantially over the years and is growing from an inchoate state to maturity with rapid strides. Literature, as we all know, is the 'Art of Written work', and Technology refers to the 'Art of collecting and implementing techniques'. The correlation between the above stated terms is maybe a bit difficult to comprehend but interesting to explore.

Although, the two- literature and technology- do not share the same beginning yet they are strongly linked since ages. The origin of literature can be traced back to time of the origin of writing. The 'Epic of Gilgamesh'- predating 2000 B.C. - is considered to be the earliest surviving literature in today's date (Although this is disputed in many circles that the Hindu epics : The Mahabharata and The Ramayana are much older, dating back to 3000 B.C). Ever since, literature has flourished putting a strong and poignant effect on the thinking and living of the entire world. Be it in the form of poems, novels, dramas or the various genres: comedy, lyric, tragedy and romance, literature's omnipresent nature and indispensible need has affected human civilization in all spheres of activity to a large extent.

The very first connection literature had with the technology (in the context of classical Industrial revolution) was during the 17th. and 18th. centuries when the era of printing was initiated and ushered an innovative way of spreading information to the public. With the advent of printing technology, an entirely new means of approaching the masses was unleashed. The authors could interact with their readers without the need of being physically present before them and disseminate the ideas and opinions to a far wider audience in lesser time than was previously possible. After the invention of wheel and pioneering efforts in constituting an agrarian society, the advent of printing technology was a major milestone in human evolutionary history that influenced the way human society was being structured.

Before the radical change was brought by printing technology by today's electronic printing devices, printing of the literature can be connected to the use of round cylinder seals which can be traced back to early Mesopotamian civilization before 3000 BC. It was used to roll an impress on top of clay tablets. It was the most common works of art to survive, and feature complex and beautiful images in those days. After the cylinder seals, many years later, in 200 AD, Woodblock printing was the first type of printing to be introduced. This type of printing initially comprised of printing of texts, images or different patterns on textiles and later on papers.

The very first printed machinery was invented in the Holy Roman Empire by the German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 by both adapting existing technologies and making inventions of his own. This printing press displaced earlier methods of printing and led to the first assembly line-style mass production of books. Furthermore, the style of representing the stories, poems, essays and many a like transformed with the evolution of printing. Eventually, by the year 1500, several printing presses were operating all throughout the Western Europe and had already produced more than twenty million volumes. This was not only a remarkable feat but a praiseworthy effort of human spirit of enquiry in adjunction to technology. This invention soon gave birth to a field of public interest, Mass communication, that, bolstered the spreading of literature.

Mass communication, which has its roots in the technology of paper printing, completely turned the much-exercised monopoly of the literate and erudite class in the education and learning on its head and buttressed the struggle (for knowledge and socio-economic progress) of the emerging middle class. This phenomenal transformation brought by the printing technology was mentioned beautifully by the English philosopher, Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Francis Baconin his book, Novum Organm, published in 1620. He considered printing as one of the three things that changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world and quoted "Printing, gunpowder and the compass: These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries."

Printing technology and the use of various other new forms sprouted from Information Technology have extended the scope of literature; it has allowed it to disseminate information in numerous innovative ways without much technological constraints. Under the aegis of modern printing technology, literature has flourished greatly and has sought to reach the pinnacle of outreach to common masses. The tentative research of printing techniques such as from new digital printing to holographic 3D printing (which can create a physical replica of a piece of written paper or even a whole book!) has pinned our hopes to a completely new and interesting form of access to literature or information for its audience.

The advent of Internet in the modern era was another influence of the 'silicon science' that created an advanced pathway -for literature- to communicate to the public. The amalgamation of electronics and information technology gave birth to a fascinating period of online literature. This cutting-edge technology soon enchanted a sizeable population of both literature lovers and the general public towards itself and growing rapidly. It would have been in the year 1993, when Rick Gates suggested the proposal of Online Encyclopedia but the origin of Digital Literature- say Wikipedia - when we witnessed a digital publishing revolution but the materialization of this idea was ordained to take place in 1999 when Richard Stallman proposed the open-source web based encyclopedia concept. It not only changed the outlook of the public towards literature but played a major role in increasing and attracting their active interest. The stories, poems and prose that were first printed on cloth followed by paper in later years, are now on the screen of a mobile phone; available to a wider human population just within a fraction of minutes, of course depending on the downloading speed.

Sooner than envisioned, both the effluent bourgeois and the common class got almost addicted to it. A socialist setup where information flows unhindered and without any privilege to a certain class. Audience who used to go and buy books from stores have started downloading the e-material without paying a penny most of the times. The copyright has become a victim of this revolution and the authors seldom get the return in terms of money. This grew so fast that People started writing their online blogs and literary articles since they now had in hand an easy, swift and cheaper way to approach to the people and some have started sharing their work free of cost. They need not bother about visiting and pleading any publication house and pay large amount of money to get their articles or books published; all they had to do was just few clicks away. This is the utopia where one, irrespective of any age, any class or gender can write his/her thoughts out and get connected to as many people around the world.

Blogging is an emerging field of interest mainly seen in the youth and occasionally in the bald headed middle-aged men struggling with the new technology. It has, in today's time, affected the politics, business, popular culture and the traditional approach to access and distribute thoughts. The neologism has thrived with the IT revolution and news words have become a part of our vocabulary ("Google it" has become a popular catch phrase) and hence the new literature. As mentioned by Robert Cox, President of the Media Bloggers Association, envisage that "traditional gatekeepers in the political process are fighting a rearguard action as blogging redefines the political landscape, levels the information playing field and gives millions of Americans a voice they never had in our national political dialogue". The corridors of power have started become wary of the power of internet and the speed with which ideas are being discussed and shared. This freedom has influenced the way new literature is being written and what is being read or in demand. Fast and crisp is the new mantra of blogosphere.

Having looked at the boon of online Publishing, we must also get acquainted with the bad part of the story focusing on the scope of traditional printing that has almost become obsolete. People in advanced nations wait for the mail in the inbox from the publisher to get a pdf, epub or mobi version. Environmentalists argue that using online resources and eBook publishing help reduce the carbon footprint and actively save 'the green' of the planet. Seems like a plausible argument, since more energy goes into keep the systems running for working time. Above that, the all-time running host servers are actually taking toll on the environment in developing countries by consuming precious electricity. Energy, which is being utilized, must come from somewhere and is affecting the environment indirectly by increasing green house emission- a major reason behind global warming. Nevertheless, this is not a serious problem and we can find solace in the hope that future hardware is going to be more eco-friendly and hence a very suitable platform for paperless publishing.

In addition, the association of the buyer and bookseller is fast becoming a deed of yore. People no longer want to stand in queue or wait for a new release at a bookshop. Scarcely, we find people now who chit chat with the bookshop owners about the new titles or ask suggestions for a good read. With Amazon and similar websites suggesting books to suit your taste that it gleans from your webpage searches by injecting cookies into your browser. This has made the interaction of readers and book enthusiasts starve in utter neglect. The throngs of people that we used to see at the bookshops a decade ago is but a mere trickle left to dry out in the sunshine of IT publishing era. People visit bookshops to evaluate the new release or browse through the old releases before rushing home to order it via Amazon or Barnes and Nobles etc.

Likewise, the generation who took pride in giving tattered and yellow-paged rare books in its possession to its progeny is slowly becoming extinct. The digital preservation has come to fore as being the caretaker of precious human knowledge and a large amount of data is being preserved daily for the posterity in developed countries such as US, UK and Germany. The human and book contact in waning fast; while giving way to ubiquitous screens everywhere from schools to Universities and from offices to household. The fast pace of life has generated a sort of literature which might be called the Junk food of literate society. It has created works of fiction that cater to the time passing attitude or on the run desire to read. This indeed is a sad event for literary connoisseurs and cultural enthusiasts.

Lastly, one can state and at the same time agree on the very fact that 'A bit of Ease in what we intend to do always adds a bit of content and satisfaction which eventually motivates to proceed further'. Similarly, evolution of various techniques and technologies of IT has added the ease in the lives of the writers as well as readers. Decades ago, where one had to pay money to get the articles published and also to read them (buying books), and today, IT has left no stone unturned to remove this excess baggage from the shoulders of the writers. anyone and everyone is free to write and share the thoughts across the globe. This has resulted in the birth of a real freedom of expression in almost every heart today and soon a day will come when we will have an opinion from presented from every member of society who has access to the modern information technology. Indeed, much has been accomplished and many more is yet to come. Nobody can predict what future holds for us but then we may not be that Ignorant after all. The best is yet to come and it will be the next revolution in human civilization.
 

References:

"McLuhan, Marshall (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1st ed.), University of Toronto Press.
"Febvre, Lucien; Martin, Henri-Jean (1976): "The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800", London: New Left Books, quoted in: Anderson, Benedict: "Comunidades Imaginadas.
"Francis Bacon: "Novum Organum, Liber I, CXXIX" ? Adapted from the 1863 translation.
"Jost, Kenneth and Melissa J. Hipolit. "Blog Explosion" CQ RESEARCHER 16.22 (9 Jun. 2006).
"China's Management Revolution: Spirit, Land, Energy, By Charles Edward Bouvee.

***

Author

(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2013)