People who like to write and read, to express gratitude for the wonderful things that have been happening to them for the past 10 years or so, should build a temple to Goddess Technology. The deity could be the latest model of iPad, made of granite or clay, replaceable (sorry, upgradable) every two years. A respectably employed techie who knows his shlokas as thoroughly as his codes – this part of the country has no dearth of such bright, young men – could be the part-time priest. As offering, devotees could bring in used laptops and netbooks and iPads, which would be donated to orphanages or schools for poor children. Come to think of it, not a bad idea at all.
And why not! Just look at what technology has done for them. Time was when you had things to say, opinions to express, steam to let off; but you didn't know how to do it. There was simply no way of doing it if you were a common man. At best, you could shoot a letter to the editor which you weren't sure would ever get published, and if it did, you carefully preserved the clipping even after the once-burning topic died a natural death. But in the past few years, Blogspot and Wordpress alone have created hundreds, if not thousands, of writers and crusaders in India. A number of them today enjoy a wide and committed readership and have their blogs included by readers in the list of sites that must be browsed over breakfast. And a small number of them have already attained the stature of a mini-rock star. I can name a few but since I am a blogger myself, I would not like to further popularise the names I envy. But I am pretty sure they must be getting mobbed.
All this, thanks to technology. It has enabled you to become your own publisher. Imagine travelling to Ladakh and feeling so inspired by the place that you write 2,000 words about the journey. What do you do next? Send the piece to a newspaper? The travel editor will be your biggest enemy: ‘Sorry, we don't carry more than 750 words.' What will eventually appear in the paper – if at all it does – will make you wonder whether it was you who wrote the piece. Why undergo the humiliation? Just put those 2,000 words in your blog, with some pictures, and click on the ‘publish' button. You have become a published travel writer! Even someone in Africa can read you.
Readers too have never had it so good. Until a couple of years ago, before setting off on a journey, you carefully handpicked books from the shelf to read during the trip. Today, a slim tablet weighing just a few grams can carry the contents of a truckload of books. Why a truckload, you can actually carry around an entire library: the Kindle store of Amazon.com is currently selling 765,639 titles!
But. In spite of everything that technology has done for the sake of literature, it has not been able to satisfy the desire of aspiring writers to see their works published in the form of a physical book – crisp pages and the smell of fresh ink. If anything, the desire has been further stoked because there is so much good writing available online that more and more wordsmiths feel inspired to bring out a book of their own. Check with any publisher and he or she will tell you that the number of manuscript submissions has multiplied during the last few years. Even the number of publishers has increased, as has the number of people willing to pay to get published. Why so?
My guess would be this: reading is not the same as listening to music. When you are listening to a song, you are engaging only your ears – it does not matter whether you are listening to it on a CD-player or iPod. But when you are reading a book, all your senses are involved. The eyes read the words, the ears listen to their sounds, the nose smells the pages, and, above all, the fingers caress the pages. It's the touch of the page that makes the vital difference. Just like romance – no matter what technology enables you to do, it can never replace or replicate the all-important sensation of touching. Which is why a printing press is required to validate a good piece of writing – that it can also be disseminated online is just icing on the cake.
Keywords: Life in a Metro