Faster Typewriters

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-06-11 20:00:00-04:00 No comments

One of my ongoing theories about writing technology is that like all facilitators of mass production, it has made it easy to produce mediocrity at scale. That part should be obvious: there's more books than ever, and the ratio of good-to-great ones to serviceable-to-forgettable-to-worthless once is no higher, and probably somewhat lower, than it used to be.

I've mumbled about this before, but here goes again: My own additional perspective is that writing technology — everything from the mechanical typewriter on — has also made it easier to write longer books that are no better for being all the longer, a bad idea in a time when length is too readily conflated with quality.

Not just because a longer book isn't automatically a more profound one, but because it isn't always a more entertaining one either. Length doesn't necessarily expand on the positive qualities of a work; sometimes it just obscures them. The fact that The Man Without Qualities or Remembrance Of Things Past were long books doesn't mean Women And Men is also in the same stratosphere because it, too, is long. (Spoiler: it isn't.) And the sheer size of Song Of Ice And Fire or The Wheel Of Time did as much or more to obscure or inhibit the entertainment value of those stories as it did to enhance them.

This should be a familiar line of argument for anyone who knows me better than casually. Good books aren't about any one attribute, but the alchemy of all their attributes. Kokoro and Dom Casmurro are not giant books, but they contain multitudes in the way few others can or do.

That said, I never want to make the argument that we should refrain from making things easier as some kind of hedge against mediocrity. This is another strand of thought I've plucked at in the past. It's a superficially compelling theory: make it harder to produce, and only those truly motivated to produce will do so, and the quality of the finished product will rise correspondingly. Eh, no. Not just because it amounts to elitism, and not even the good kind, but because it directs the effort into entirely the wrong place. It's not that we need to make creation harder, but that we need to make curation easier, and we still don't have a good way to do that.

Tags: creativity technology writing