The Glut of the Cloud

The way I think about connecting with the world has drastically changed in the last week. I got an iPhone.

I had slowly been building an online presence recently anyway: trying to work more steadily on a thoughtful blog, putting my poems into Google docs in an attempt to access them anywhere I had spare time. But this one changed everything. Now my wife can walk around the house, scan the barcode on my cereal of choice, and tell me how bad it is for me. Or play Scrabble with six different people at once. Or know the precise moment when my friend in Manhattan has gotten in line to see Joan Jett. The info becomes a deluge.

An interesting article in the New York Times today highlights some of the more prevalent critiques of our current obsession with quantity and not quality. We are so concerned with real-time connection with each and every move of our social webs that forget to disconnect from the Matrix in order to achieve immersion in the present moment. We trade a deeper and taller vertical experience of depth and study for a wider horizontal daily experience of having checked in more, commented more, blogged more, tweeted more, status-ed more. The author, Kakutani, also mentions publishers (Publishers! The same folks who want the book industry to succeed at all costs!) who lament that the rise of Kindle and its ilk will finally sound the death knell for the experience of reading a book. Not for reasons of archaic nostalgia about the feel and smell of a book in your hand, though there is reason for sorrow therein also. No, the sorrow here is that we readers will constantly be stopping to comment, hyperlink it to Facebook, double-check sources, tweet our current chapter number ad nauseam, creating a postmodern mashup of the once solitary, quiet, immersive reading experience. When was the last time you became so immersed in the book (!) you were reading that you forgot what time it was? Exactly.

So what the hell does this have to do with literature or poetry? There are certainly positive tools to be used here. Google docs allows for collaboration on documents, which could allow users to collaborate on poetry from different points around the world. Twitter (shameless plug: follow me @kjpruitt) is spawning a new--albeit sparsely populated--class of micropoets, interested in poems of 140 characters or less, a sort of contemporary Western haiku-esque creation.

But will the written word last as we know it. Will the 10-15 poem chapbook or the 65-page poetry book, sat down with and read by a single user in the living room live another day, or be buried under status updates about every page as if it were interactive. Certainly we have the American university English and comparative literature departments of the 80s and 90s to blame for this, at least partially. Being a product of this generation, I can admit to being wooed by the whole deconstructionist notion of the death of the author. There was something very "level playing field" about it all. Why should this writer, simply because she's published, be more authoritative than I? Her work gained gravitas only though my response and, therefore, accredited evaluation. Whence my accreditation? No matter. I am a reader. Your work is no longer your own. It is the world's. It is mine. You are I.

The death of the author brings with it the death of the expert; remember: quantity, not quality. The jack of all trades becomes the king of the entire deck. Will we allow our digital information to create a more just, open forum for discussion and creation of art, where the contributors are subject to the critique of the People? Or will we allow this marketplace of opinion to become a sprouting weed bed of all shouting down all others in an attempt to make one the loudest, not the best. Time will tell. In the meantime, you'll have to excuse me. Someone just commented on my status.


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