As I twirled down the West Coast of the United States in the first week of October, I found the neighbourhood a-boil with book talk. Was the Death of the Paper Book upon us, what with Google's on-line library and the Amazonian Kindle? What about the fall pullback of the once dreaded but now mourned 30-city book tour? How about the print-on-demand machine that can turn out a bound book in the time it takes you to eat a doughnut if you chew slowly? Might it solve the chronic problem of over-printing or under-printing, the warehouse and inventory costs, the expense of the fuel used to haul skids of books hither and thither across the continent? Wouldn't e-readers be an aid to travellers and to those with small apartments? It's all in motion, and nobody knows where those chips will fall.
In Seattle, I visited Amazon in order to make a podcast. (Remember when pods were something in Invasion of the Body Snatchers?) At the Amazon Meet and Greet, I found to my surprise that most of the people who work there are - to my wrinkly eyes - about 20. "How did they get so smart?" I wondered. "Surely they're too young to think." But there they all were, smiling sweetly like the ones in the picture. Furthermore, they all love to read. (Or the ones I met did. Maybe the others heard I was coming and dove into their wastepaper baskets.)
In San Francisco I had fun talking with Rick Kleffel, a book blogger who writes The Agony Column for Bookotron. Once, "blogger" would have been a piece of Victorian Cockney slang meaning, perhaps, "lazy petty criminal." Now it's morphed into a respectable job description; these folks have business cards. Rick takes his blogging job seriously enough to confess that he'd expected me to bore him out of his tree - no matter, I expected the same of him - but we defeated each others' negative vibes and discussed science fiction, its ancestors and descendents, its spinoffs and lookalikes.
I do get in trouble over the sci-fi terminology - I just want the puffed rice package to have puffed rice in it, that's all - but Rick, you heard this first here: I'm doing the Richard Ellman Lectures at Emory in 2010, and they will be called "Imagining Other Worlds," and I'll include the full sci-fi family tree in there.
In Los Angeles, right after talking to Wired Magazine - which I often consult on such subjects as lulz ("Often used to denote laughter at someone who is the victim of a prank") - I went to Mahalo to do an interview with Mark Jaffrey of the Bibliotech Show. Mahalo is a search packager - it narrows the field to what you're looking for. It's the brainchild of Jason Calacanis ("Bio: I'm a cereal entrepreneur: Founder of Weblogs, Inc., TechCrunch50, Silicon Alley Reporter, Engadget & Mahalo.com"), whose orange all-electric car was parked outside. Mark Jaffrey is an enterprising young man who usually interviews people, um, somewhat unlike myself. (Hint: different colour of hair.) Confession: Mark picked me up via Twitter - that's how enterprising he is! Not only that, he just sent me a New Thing to Try: a good-for-writers thing called Scrivener.
Looming over all of this peppy tech chat is the Shadow That Must Not Be Named. It's actually two shadows. First, the servers that make the Web run are now emitting a huge amount of heat and a big pile of carbon from the energy used to run and cool them. But Iceland is standing by, with carbon-free geothermal power in a cool climate.
The second shadow isn't specific to the Web: it's Peak Oil, which will be followed by a decline in cheap plastic, without which none of these online goodies can survive. But meanwhile, the technobookotronobiblioagonosphere will be making lulz while the sun shines.