Authors: the digital life


authors and the digital life

Authors and the digital life

Have you ever given serious thought to just how digital life is now?

Whether you are an author or something else, media dominates your life, personal or professional. All media is digital now, right?

Once upon a time

When I was an infant, the telephone—the simple, indestructible and heavy black instrument with the rotary dial—was a luxury item. Not everyone had one. People waited a long time, sometimes years, to get a connection sanctioned and installed. When the phone came finally, it brought along wrong connections, cross connections, wrong number calls and often mysteriously dead phones. Who can forget those interminable waits for often inaudible long distance conversations interrupted by static and brusque, irritating operators informing you that you had 15 seconds left on your three-minute booking and did you want to extend?

In hindsight, some of the cross connections were hilarious. You never knew whom you were going to connect to and what you were going to hear. Most of the time, trying to start afresh by disconnecting and redialing was a waste of energy. Disconnect was not an option.

A few years down the line, you were one of the hip folks if you had a smart phone. A smart phone was any phone without a rotary dial. Along the way, crossbar exchanges had given way to digital exchanges, and all of a sudden, you were missing those abrasive operators. You struggled with long distance codes, call interruptions and telephone number searches all by yourself. Welcome to the digital life.

Those digital exchanges, which probably made for my first connection to the world of digital, brought a new phenomenon: noisy, nosy radio and television broadcasts. You would be dead serious in conversation with some guy when all of a sudden he seemed to burst into a detergent ditty sung in a feminine voice.

The major communication alternatives to the phone were snail mail and the telegram. When I was in college in Varanasi, my father sent money to me through insured snail mail from Kathmandu. I think the envelope was carried by hand and on foot—not snail, human—because it usually took between 10 and 15 days for the money to reach me. The first beneficiary always was the mailman, who waited patiently while I broke the seals, tore open the cloth-lined envelope and counted the money. High denomination bills were no problem. The mailman always had change. He also had patience, and did not mind waiting until I finished reading my father’s customarily stern letter.

Businesses had the telex, the fastest means of sending text. However, the telex did not do graphics. Communication was two way, but there was no monitor. The conversation was printed real time on paper.

When I was a child, television was yet to hit the scene. If I remember right, I was in my late teens before I saw my first TV program. Around the same time came that hi-tech marvel, the cordless phone. It offered you a range of radio and television programs (sound only) as background noise. Channel choices were random: you could not opt for a specific program and you could not opt out of the whole thing. Cordless phones added a social dimension to digital life. They were excellent socializing tools. They frequently let neighbors with coreless phones drop in unannounced on each other. Digitally, of course.  Virtually had not been invented yet.

Given recent developments, I feel intelligence agencies the world around must be regretting the demise of the cordless telephone.

I think I was in my twenties before I punched in numbers on my first fax machine and hit the keyboard on my first computer.

My thirties were a busy period. I am reasonably sure I did not see a mobile phone or send an email until I was in my thirties. I also saw my first laptop when I was in my thirties, around the same time my wife first sat on my lap top. I saw my first digital camera during that period of my life, as also my first flat TV screen and computer monitor.

I became involved with my first social media sites—Twitter and Facebook—in my forties. I heard IPod music for the first time during that stage of my life. I saw my first smart phone—smart as in have audio, music, video and multimedia and can do almost anything except communicate with god—in my forties. Obviously, smart phones were improvements on the older generations of cell phones, and this was true of most “new” products I saw in my forties: they were improvements on earlier versions.

Obviously, I have not covered everything. For example, I have not touched upon gaming devices, because I never was much into games.

All said and done, it is amazing just how much of a digital life we all lead.

And now

So where has all this been leading up to?

If statistics have it right, nearly a sixth of the world’s folks are on Facebook and about half that on Google Plus. Digital makes for instant fame, a lot of it misplaced. Tweets, photos, and videos go “viral” for no logical reason I can ascertain. Curveless heiress bimbos, curvy reality show bimbos and obnoxious singers of both sexes with spiked hair and twitchy non-existent asses become household names. Intellectually speaking, they have as much appeal as a hot dog with bird turd on it.

But… aha! Here is the better part of it: authors, too, become household names selling digital books.

Yes, we authors have now got digital going for us, too. Makes me wonder how authors managed in the old days without

  • computers and the awesome research capabilities they bring;
  • specialized word processing software for authors, or even the standard, free versions;
  • software for making images and things like book covers (for the DIY authors);
  • online image sources;
  • online editors and proofreaders;
  • software for converting word files into digital, device-readable files;
  • online authors’ groups, forums, blogs and all those other helpful, morale-boosting sites;
  • social media to give you scope to make yourself seen and heard; and
  • online stores to sell your books, take your payments and reimburse you, all while giving you data on how your books are selling and who is buying them where.

Along the way, technology helped authors free themselves from the talons of publishers, agents and other predator types.

Going forward

We can choose to make money for ourselves first. We no longer have to settle for the leftovers tossed to us by the predator types to whom we had to hock our rights.

We can do our own publishing. We can choose our own cover images, our own release schedules, our own prices and our own marketing avenues.

Authors now can opt for their digital life styles.

It is nice to be digital.

You probably have a digital trick or two that serve you well. Care to share? Please do, in comments below.


Authors: the digital life

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 5 min