Never-Better or Better-Never?
Mar 30, 2011
By Colorado Review Editorial Assistant Nicholas Maistros
In a recent New Yorker article, “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us,” Adam Gopnik chronicles the debate between the two camps who’ve amassed since the Internet boom: the Never-Betters, those who “believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be made free and democratic . . . ,” and the Better-Nevers, those who “think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened . . . that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private spaces for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t.”
I ask myself which I am, a Never-Better or a Better-Never, and I find myself stuck somewhere in between. I am a writer who, when submitting to magazines, is sure to note whether the publication is online or print (typically sending only if it is the latter). I work for a literary journal that believes print is still alive and necessary, and I work as an editor of my own publication, which, despite the money and time it would save to go completely online, will be in print for as long as I can manage it. Even as I write this, I am without the Internet. I do not have the New Yorker’s website up in any adjacent window; I am at the library. The February 14 & 21, 2011 issue is splayed open on my lap. What could have been done in half a minute, I performed in half an hour, walking to the library, grabbing a coffee, wandering the aisles looking for tangible inspiration, complete with glossy covers finger-printed from those few souls before me who still believe in picking up a book or print magazine.
And yet here I am, writing a blog intended to be read online, and hopefully (no, I won’t beg) commented on. Here I am hoping for a fantastic debate that could not possibly take place, at least with the same immediacy and freedom of thought, if it were contained by any print format, if it depended on an editor to say whether or not it was worthy.
And yet here at Colorado Review, we use an online submissions system to make things easier on both the submitter and the reader. And here’s the real kick: I enjoy reading online submissions! What a treat to click and read, to get to know and respond to writers in real, electronic time, to not have to wait for snail mail or obsessively collect paperclips like bits of treasure, my eye trained to catch that gleam of metal in any corner of any room. My own publication, now that I think about it, would not exist without the internet, without the small but growing following it’s received online, the ability I had to simply put up a website and see what happened. And isn’t the discussion of literature better, fuller, now that the filters are breaking down? Look at all these wonderful outlets for writers and thinkers who would have been denied by publishers in an era before Google. All these forums and critical debates, articles and responses to articles, websites devoted to niche groups—LGBT lit? Experimental poetry? Star Trek fan fiction? Name your pleasure!—conversations so varied and particular, there’s no way the newsstand in Barnes & Noble could possibly keep up. It’s a free-for-all, and all for free!
When a friend of mine told me a few days ago that he was going to get a degree in Book Arts, I lit up. I could see him staining paper and sorting letters to set with ancient presses, smearing his ink-blotted fingers on a white canvas apron. I did my best to ignore the reservations I had (and still have) for his plan—what can you possibly do with that degree? Aren’t we going to be completely paperless in ten years? Aren’t libraries going to be deserted like old Wal-Marts, with new Super Wal-Marts erected only blocks away, Super Wal-Marts that will soon offer Internet stations over magazine racks?—and I focused on the romance of it all. The making of that unique, one-of-a-kind, chapbook, its ink slightly smudged, the feel of it tucked against your chest, that hot-off-the-press smell.