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Despite digital change, reason for writing remains the same

by Shereen Ahmed Rafea March 8, 2011

With technological advances making information more easily accessible, New Yorker staff writer and author Adam Gopnik is quick to point out that choosing to work as a writer in the digital age is no easy decision.

“There is, for the first time in the history of the written word, no barrier between the act of writing and the act of getting seen,” said Gopnik last Friday as he addressed a packed BMO amphitheatre in the MB building. He added that all someone has to do is own a computer, go online, write, press a button and their writing instantly becomes available to the whole world.

Gopnik, an American who grew up in Montreal, was this year’s speaker for the annual Reader’s Digest Lecture Series in Journalism. He addressed the questions, “why write now?”and “why write at all?” in his talk.

Internet innovations such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs have had an enormous impact on writing, according to Gopnik.

“Not only does it seem to affect the way information gets reproduced, but also the democratization of its availability and its effect,” he said.  “Even now it seems to be changing the world, seems to be changing the social regimes, bringing down dictators,” he added, referencing the popular uprisings in the Arab world.

A good part of Gopnik’s lecture was inspired by a recent article he wrote for The New Yorker entitled “How the Internet gets inside us,” which summarizes 20 books by 20 authors and their take on technology. He then divides their takes into three categories: the ‘Never-Betters,’ people who believe that it is the perfect time for a technological revolution; the ‘Better-Nevers,’ who are the exact opposite; and the ‘Ever-Wasers,’ who are indifferent.

Despite all the technological developments, Gopnik said there are some downfalls, one of which is consolidation without compensation. He pointed to the recent sale of the Huffington Post to AOL, saying  that while the blog’s owners profited from the purchase, the future of the site’s writers is far more uncertain.

“You no longer have any guarantee that the ideas you offer, the articulation you slave over will get any kind of compensation at all,” he stated.

So why write now?

“We write in order to explain,” said Gopnik. “The world is a complicated place and we need simplifiers, we need analysers and we need explainers.”

Other reasons he mentioned were arguing, giving praise, capturing moments and creating great books.

“The simple fact of writing is that the words on the page, the black marks on the paper don’t just become messages, arguments, explanations,” Gopnik said. “They become whole worlds.”

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