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After decades, the serious writer dumps his Olivetti Lettera 32, committing himself to obtaining a modern tool for his craft. He looks at the old machine with feelings as complex as human love and decides not to get rid of it altogether, but to stow it away like a museum piece.
He washes ink off his hands for the very last time. He calls a friend, a well-known modern author, who’s also a gadget fiend.
“I’m in the middle of pitching my last novel,” says the friend. There are voices in the background. “It’s an I-AM book, Idiosyncratic Active Media, you know. Hang on.”
The serious writer has no idea what his friend’s talking about.
“...I-AM means an instant, continuous connection with my readers, who can change the plot on the fly and even vote for their favorite characters.”
The serious writer realizes that his friend is talking to a larger audience. Someone says: “But doesn't that destroy the traditional idea of story as a vivid, continuous dream created by the writer for the reader?”
“Oh,” his friend says, “that’s just a theory. It’s outdated and it’s gone...but consider what you get instead!” Approving murmurs drift from that other place—at least the serious writer hopes it’s a place and not some netherworld of worldwide conference calls with imaginary personages, ghost writers, alien avatars.
He suddenly thinks of a scene: a virtual meeting, too, but one of the participants is actually dead. Like a seance, except the others have no idea that he’s dead.
The serious writer forces himself back to the conversation: “What exactly is the advantage of such a book over a traditional novel?” he says.
“Oh, you're still there,” says his friend. The serious writer hears his friend explain that he’s talking to 'one of our most serious writers today’. He adds that the serious writer has ‘virtually no business acumen’. This remark is greeted with a mixtures of cackles and shrill laughter that makes him glad he’s not on the other side.
“Today’s audiences demand control over our product,” his friend says to him. “They’re more interested in themselves and in their thoughts than in you or in your thoughts.”
The serious writer feels a little chilly and looks around for a blanket. “What better ways to learn more about yourself than by engaging with complex relationships in a story that is true to life?” he says. He senses that this sentence is struggling to get away from him.
The next day he buys an iPad. While surfing on his new toy, he discovers a guy who fixes mechanical typewriters. A few days later he returns to his Olivetti, which looks like a young woman again, ready to get in bed with an old man.
Only on Sundays, when the Lettera gives him time off, he steals himself away and lets his fingers glide noiselessly across the flawless, gleaming screen of the iPad like a little boy, who plays raindrop music on a window pane.
published 24 October 2011
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