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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Function of Publisher and Poet in the Digital Age

As a 21st century writer I take seriously the notion that creative life is best lived in an open way.  This seems to me the greatest boon of living in the digital era - so much of the experience of both reading and writing has become socialized.  We may retreat to the garden or garret to write our poetry and still stay connected the entire day.  As a result whatever we think or write can be immediately made public via a blog or Facebook and shared with the entire world right away.  There's no need for Emily Dickinson to keep her light hidden under a bushel, at least not since the advent of the age of Twitter and Instagram.

Isn't that strange?  It eviscerates the entire need for publishing (or public utterance) as a step far removed from the creative process itself.  In a way it's liberating.  In a way it's terrifying.  There's no going back to the olden days, when publishers stood guard at the gates.  The mighty tower has fallen and whatever stuff I happen to create may now fall squarely and immediately into the hands of anonymous readers I've never met -- my poems and newsletters being addressed and instantly shared with hundreds and maybe someday thousands of readers around the world, from nearby Central Islip to faraway Jakarta.

This is a major irony of writing and publishing in the digital age.  The vast majority of the poems I've written in the last ten years are freely available online, through one blog or another.  It's only my published books that are hard to find and have a cost attached.  In other words, publishing makes creative work less, not more available.  Please remind me again - what's the function of a publisher in the digital era?   Not to make public but simply to control distribution and try to extract a monopolist's profit.

But let's not kid ourselves.  Living your creative life as a free and open book comes at a high cost.  This is a price all Netizens pay - not just creative types but everyone everywhere who submits to the jurisdiction of the digital realm and thereby subjects a vital part of their existence to unfettered public scrutiny.   Yeah we are all interconnected now.   We've committed our lives to this upgrade path one release at a time.  Our every action has become a data touch point that triggers what we see when we go out for a stroll.  And inevitably we leave a crumb trail that leads back to our innermost lair.  In a sense, by making ourselves so readily available we've become indistinguishable from bots, by our own consent, our most intimate discourse is well on its way to becoming little more than another form of machine code.

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