These days writers hoping to write, pitch, publish and platform-build have little choice but to surrender themselves to their laptops and smartphones—a complicated predicament for the dreamers of the world. Here are several pros and cons of the writing world's increasing reliance on technology.
Over the history of the written word, technology has changed writers’ lives for the better in many ways. First, there was the printing press that prompted widespread literacy and ensured a far wider audience could have access to books. Then, everyone had more time for reading once machines reduced the amount of labor required for other pursuits.
We continue to save time with new technology—no longer needing to load pages into typewriters, flip through card catalogs to find the reference materials we need in the library, or even make a trip to the store to buy any necessities. We now live in a world of two-day gratification (or less).
But as the companies that have made our lives easier continue to larger by the year, it’s important to take at the impact new technology has on the writing community—both in positive and negative ways.
Pros: Instant delivery and increased accessibility
Amazon Prime saves us the time while making us feel a little bit like an emperor each time we summon an item and get a near-instant delivery, as Hasan Minhaj puts it. While for most this means cat food and toilet paper delivered to your doorstep, for writers this also means it’s easy to track down books and other items needed for research that would normally be hard to find, such as obscure or out-of-print books. As Minhaj put it in the third episode of his show Patriot Act, “Convenience is the commodity that matter most to our generation.”
Cons: Increased spending, support of poor worker conditions.
Prime is all fun and games, until you check your bank balance, which has also been made easier with mobile app technology. How many things have you bought because it was made easier with Prime and you wanted to feel like an emperor? Did you really need to order that electric can opener just because canned chili splashed all over your face while you were trying to open it with a manual can opener that one time? Reports show that Prime customers spend on average $800 more per year on Amazon than the retailer’s other customers. This gap is also growing wider.
Our reliance on Amazon has negative consequences that affect others, too. The increased demand for consumer goods certainly impacts the environment. Increasing reliance on Amazon puts retailers in every industry at risk of losing more sales to the giant. This includes your favorite indie bookstore and even large booksellers like Barnes and Noble.
Each order adds to the workload of fulfillment specialists and delivery drivers, who may walk 15 miles per day to retrieve 1,000 items around the warehouse or feel pressured to drive at dangerous speeds to deliver 250-300 packages during their shift.
Pro: Improved technology makes our jobs easier.
Search engines like Google make looking up subjects and falling down a rabbit hole of research are as easy as typing into a box. Apps like Trint use AI to transcribe interviews so that you don’t have to. Social media makes finding and cultivating an audience for your work easy to do without leaving your home. The audio quality of Voice Memos on the iPhone is superior to that $12 audio recorder you previously used. Grammarly proofreads your writing for you, for free. Apps such as Freedom block you out of websites that will distract you while you are trying to write. Use Google Books to search for certain words within a text, or the Google Books Ngram Viewer to see when certain words entered and became popular in written text (perfect for writing historical fiction). The list goes on.
Cons: Products are growing more and more expensive, new tech serves as a distraction.
Access to this technology can be expensive. Writers who prefer a Mac to a PC have to shell out considerably more cash to own the technology—a new Macbook Air is $1,199, while a PC costs in the ballpark of $400–$800. Apple accessories such as Mac chargers also cost a pretty penny more than PC accessories. As Apple continues to upgrade its technology, the cost of owning an iPhone is growing with each launch. Writers will pay more money for Apple products simply because of the aesthetic and brand recognition.
With great technology comes the potential to become sidetracked with all it has to offer. Try sitting down to solely focus on writing when you also have the ability to shop, connect with friends and play games on your device. In this case, productivity apps that block out these distractions can be a huge help if you fall prey to their calling.
Pro: There is potential to gain a larger following by selling your work on Amazon and other book retailers.
If you self-published your work, you probably want to sell it through Amazon (and you may have self-published it via Amazon). Potential buyers trust this retailer and know where they can easily find your book. Amazon comes with built-in tech support for sellers should an issue arise, plus there is potential to reach Amazon’s large number of shoppers. As the largest seller of e-books, the market for e-books on Amazon is also large.
Cons: Selling on Amazon can be tough and cut into your profit.
Most authors' books, both traditionally and self-published, are available on Amazon. You need to cut through a lot of competition to sell your work. This can be done through cutting your prices to compete with other books or even offering your e-book for free for a certain period of time. Shoppers aren’t going to just land on your seller page when they are searching for books—you will need to push the link to your page heavily though social media, newsletters and other platform outlets.
Setting prices for your work gets difficult because Amazon takes a portion of the revenue, which can cut into your profits. You’re forced to ask yourself what is more important to you: your profit or getting your voice and storytelling out to the world.
Pro: Technology offers more opportunities to bring communities of writers and readers together.
If you use social media, you probably follow your favorite authors on their platforms. You may even promote your own work on your social media accounts, hoping that everyone you used to work with and their cousin gets excited about your next book. Finding the next book you should read is easy because you can see on Goodreads what that girl you went to college with who has great taste in books is reading. Eventbite can let you know about an open mic series you didn’t know about in your city. Subreddits can prove effective in finding a dedicated following for your work, eliciting feedback from peers or connecting with others who have the same interests. There is endless opportunity out there to find your community of people miles away who you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Con: Technology has the potential to drive people apart.
The vitriol that exploded on social media leading up to the 2016 presidential election is just one example of how technology can drive people apart. While writers are generally open-minded people, we can all agree that no one wants to have a platform in an online environment that is toxic.
Dedicating time to networking and building a platform online can also cut into time that you could spend building meaningful connections in-person at readings, writers’ meet-ups and other literary events or simply grabbing coffee with your writer pals.
The growing empires of Big Tech companies can also drive communities of writers apart, albeit indirectly. As companies like Google and Apple dominate the economy of places like Silicon Valley, the cost of living there skyrockets. Once well-known for its thriving creative community, now only the ultra-rich can afford to live in San Francisco. Seattle, home of the Amazon headquarters, also faces a severe shortage of affordable housing.
Signs point to this trend following in Queens, New York, and Arlington, Virginia, where Amazon plans to establish its second and third headquarters. Queens is one of the last places working class writers can afford to live in New York City. For any place to have a thriving literary community, affordable housing is a necessity. In pricing writers out of big cities, large tech companies are effectively ending wide-reaching creative communities in these places. Imagine if all of the Lost Generation writers who lived in Paris as expatriates were priced out of their haven because the arrival of big tech began in that place and time. Literary history would look a lot different than it does now.
Our lives would also look much different today without technology at our fingertips. As writers, we must hope that the next wave of innovation brings both new advances in tech as well as new approaches to solve the problems that come with new technology.
Here's a plus: Technology can bring learning to your fingertips. Learn something new in these upcoming online courses.
- 12 Weeks to a First Draft with Mark Spencer
- Blogging 101 with Dan Blank
- Breaking Into Copywriting with Naveed Saleh
- Comedy Writing Workshop with Leigh Anne Jasheway
- Fundamentals of Fiction with Gloria Kempton
- Professional Copyediting: Tools of the Trade with Kim Catanzarite
- Read Like a Writer: Learn from the Masters with Mark Spencer
- Writing the Middle Grade Book with Holly Alder
- Writing the Personal Essay 101: Fundamentals with Gloria Kempton
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