Yesterday I taught a class. That’s a great indicator that I learned something. I taught a class called Modern Self-Publishing, the publishing version of the iTunes or indie movies, where traditional publishing is being challenged and changed by digital technology. You would have heard more about the class, but I was busy walking across Scotland when I normally would be telling the world about an upcoming class. (Thanks to WIWA for spreading the news.) Besides talking about challenges to conventional institutions, it is always fun teaching the class because of the people that attend it. They have stories to tell and they are going to make sure the world gets to hear them.
I don’t consider myself an expert. I’ve taught the class six times, the last five by request, so I must have something useful to say; but the industry and technology are changing so rapidly that a proper comprehensive study would take so much time that there’d be no time left for writing. I’ve self-published eight books (five narratives, three photo essays) in eight years, so there’s little time to conduct deep research. I do, however, have a bunch of experience. I guess that’s worth something. If nothing else, it proves that I have a lot to say.
The revolution within publishing is just another segment of the greater digital revolution happening across our cultures. The class took three hours to describe the general aspects with a two hour workshop added in the afternoon. I won’t try to cram all of those details into this post. If you want that story, maybe you can attend the next time the class is held. Maybe you can even organize it. Call me.
One of the things I enjoy about teaching the class, is meeting the people. People that sign up for such a class are active, energetic, and passionate, even the quiet ones. Whether they’ve already tried the traditional publishing route, or have decided to independently step into controlling their destiny, they’ve reached a point where they want an outlet for their message, information, or creativity. Every class has had non-fiction and fiction, new writers and established authors, poets, illustrators, engineers, care-givers, and innovators. I get to meet them all.
The digital revolution is more than the creative outlets of music, movies and books. It is also happening in engineering design, community activism, and even industries like farming. Engineers can rely on simulated experiments instead of hazardous real-world testing. I suspect the life-expectancy of pilots has risen in the last few decades, though there are fewer jobs there too. Activists relied on pamphlets and brochures handed out on street corners, but can now organize flash demonstrations via Twitter. Farmers used their senses, experience and luck to know when and what to plant and harvest. They continue to do that, but now they can also add information from space imagery, distributed sensors, and automated controls.
I’ll just speak to the rocket science part because of my background. Why else is it possible for a space industry to begin to exist outside of government budgets? The computational tools for design, testing, and pilot training have eliminated the need for much of the dangerous and sometimes necessarily destructive testing of prototype vehicles. Rockets go boom. That’s a bad thing for the neighborhood and a terrible thing if you’re the pilot strapped to the top of it. Many more designs can tried and tested before anyone has to risk their life to a vehicle that’s never flown before.
The digital revolution has made it’s most obvious progress in entertainment and culture. The invention of entertainment may even be the way to define the beginning of human civilization. But many of the institutions that we are familiar with are only as old as the Industrial Revolution. Relatively speaking, they haven’t been around very long. They may be that much more susceptible to change. Good.
Many of the world’s problems were spawned by the Industrial Revolution’s successes. In a very short time we’ve seen great extensions to life spans and a great increase in population. Comfort and security have improved while environments are suffering. There’s been good and bad.
I am an optimist, at least in the long term, and I am glad to see the sweep of the Digital Revolution. It is happening more quickly and more pervasively than any previous revolution, and to solve today’s problems it must move quickly. I suspect it will.
The people that showed up for yesterday’s class weren’t sitting still. Even if their bodies didn’t move in the seats, their questions proved that their minds were active. That same energy is pouring through every aspect of life. I don’t look for the changes in the old institutions. The big publishing houses, Hollywood, NASA, are changing, and the media are watching them, but they aren’t keeping up with the people that are going to make the biggest differences. I’m encouraged because I’m watching us. We’re passionate people and we’re heading the right way. Thank you.