Doris Lessing and my father slow to accept the Internet as “real” reading and writing

I find it amusing how history continually repeats itself and human nature proves to be so reliably predictable. Those who in their youth were advocates for change, progress and innovation, in their old age denounce the very same change, progress and innovation as a great threat to our culture, forgetting that they were once denounced in the same way.

This is the reaction I had when I read that Doris Lessing used her Nobel Prize acceptance speech to denounce the Internet as “inane,” something that does not promote reading and writing in young people. I have to wonder how much time Lessing has actually spent on the Internet. If she is anything like my father, who regularly complains about the Internet, computers, new-fangled dashboards on cars, cell phones, ipods and anything else remotely related to technology, she has spent very little time online.

Consider this quote from Lessing’s speech: “We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned…” Can’t that same quote be applied to pretty much any time in history? Lessing herself, who has rallied against the unquestioned destiny of women as wives and mothers and who has decried racial inequalities, should welcome the continued questioning of those certainties. Questioning and changing are signs of an evolving society.

It amazes me that a writer would pooh-pooh the democratization that the Web has brought to enabling everyone — not just those who can find a publisher — share their ideas through writing and to freely read and discuss the published ideas of others. The Web has fundamentally changed the exchange of information and ideas, from a one-to-many broadcasting paradigm where what was published was tightly controlled and tailored to the widest possible tastes, to a many-to-many (or some-to-some, depending on the niche) paradigm where everyone can be their own publisher and let each member of the audience decide what’s worth reading. Sure, you have to wade through a lot of the chaff to get to the wheat, but the beauty of it is that each individual gets to decide what’s valuable, not some conglomerate publisher with a bottom line to protect. If anything, the Web has produced more writers and readers — it’s just that they aren’t writing and reading in traditional formats.

Well, the novel hasn’t been around forever either; in fact, it’s a relatively new form. Change is inevitable, and therefore worth embracing. Just as the printing press revolutionized publishing and made the written word more widely available, making it possible for Lessing to have the career she’s had, so too is the Internet a new revolution in the sphere of writing and publishing. Look at the garbage that the major publishers keep trying to feed us — this is a revolution whose time has come. I think the advent of the e-book and publishing on demand, in addition to blogs, will make it possible for more people with something worthwhile to say to reach an audience and have an impact than ever before in our history.

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