What Atwood (sort of) missed

I may have mentioned that Margaret Atwood spoke at the University of Kansas a few weeks ago. I may have even made a fingers-crossed promise to not write about her talk anymore, but this is another post about what Margaret Atwood told the overflow crowd in Lawrence. During the question-and-answer part of the evening, a member of the audience asked her about the future of books. Atwood answered, reasonably enough, that physical books will be with us for a long time to come. Her reasoning was that reading from a screen (like you're doing right now!) is fine for short pieces, but it just doesn't work as well for novels. She said there was research backing her up on that point, and there is.

My own experience is that I do better at intensive, long reading when I use paper instead of a screen. I don't disagree with Atwood about the future of books as physical objects. Books are great physical objects. They are a technology that will remain with us for the foreseeable future.

We still read an awful lot of words from screens. That's the part that I think she missed. To say she "missed" it isn't quite fair, since she was asked about the future of books and she acknowledged that screens work just fine for short and less intensive reading. The bit that she didn't add, and the part that leapt to my mind, is that the upshot of the current technological reality of reading is that us writing people should write shorter stuff.

I would love to see my work available for sale as words printed on dead trees--and the print version of Creep is coming out soon, so I'll get my wish--but I need to realize that everything I write on my blog and almost everything else I create will be read on a screen of some kind. That means I need to keep it short.

There are lots of ways to keep things short enough to be easy to read in the new era of electronic reading. Stories can be serialized. Blogging works great, with a bit of discipline. You can't see the ever-increasing word counter at the bottom of my window, but I can. I have a self-imposed rule that I try to keep these posts to about 500 words or less. If I want to say something that takes more than 500 words, I go back and edit it down, or I break it into multiple posts, or I decide it's just not a topic that I can blog about.

I may be wrong, of course. Maybe the future of writing will go back to print. Maybe screen technology will advance so far, or maybe our brains will so adapt, that we will blithely read lots of long stuff electronically (and here I should confess that I read The Handmaid's Tale on the Kindle app for my iPad and quite enjoyed the experience).

I may be a lot of things, but that little number has hit 500, so I definitely had bettered be done.