Wednesday, November 2, 2011

“The future. Will not be the same. As the past.” by Andrew Grant

Andrew was born in Birmingham, England in May 1968.  He went to school in St Albans and attended the University of Sheffield where he studied English Literature and Drama.  After graduation Andrew set up and ran a small independent theatre company.  Following a critically successful appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Andrew moved into the telecommunications industry as a ‘temporary’ solution to a short-term cash crisis.  Fifteen years later, Andrew became the victim / beneficiary of a widespread redundancy programme.  Freed once again from the straight jacket of corporate life, he took the opportunity to answer the question, what if … ?  Andrew is married to novelist Tasha Alexander, and divides his time between Chicago and the UK.

“The future.  Will not be the same.  As the past.”
 by Andrew Grant

I still remember those words – the opening of the keynote speech at a telecommunications conference I attended in the mid 1990s in Brighton, England.  I remember it was still a decade before I escaped from the related nine-to-five and began my career as a novelist.  I remember they were spoken by the chairman of the industry’s dominant company – a Knight of the Realm, no less.  But I can’t remember anything else he said that night.

It could be due to the amount of time that’s passed since then.  It could be down to the amount of wine that was consumed before he finally sat down.  Or it could be because I spent the rest of his speech trying to decide whether the clarity of his words indicated a degree of prescient genius I could aspire to only in my dreams, or if their simplicity pointed more to the reasoning skills of the average four-year-old.

Looking back, I guess it’s only fair to say he was reflecting on the way in which the industry was balanced on the cusp of a revolution – or, given his love of acronyms, the transition from POTS to PANS:  Plain Old Telephone Service, to Pretty Amazing New Stuff.  From telephones that were tethered to the wall with wires and could only make calls, to mobile broadbrand, WIFI, and the age of iEverything.  From comfortable, well established “always done it this way” modes of operation to new products, new pricing models, new competitors, and new customer expectations.

In some ways the old Knight’s words are nothing more than an echo of a different life on a different continent in a different century.  But in another respect they are as true and as relevant today as when I first heard them, because my current industry is facing an upheaval every bit as fundamental – the coming-of-age of ePublishing.

Much has already been made of the impact of eReaders on the way we buy books, and the debate over the relative desirability of owning an eBook versus a physical copy shows no sign of abating.  But the question that’s been needling me recently isn’t about whether the new technology will change how we read.  Or even how much we read.  It’s whether it’ll change what we read. 

For example, will it reduce the variety of books we enjoy by making it so easy to snap up all of a favourite author’s works, rather than forcing us to delve into the TBR pile while we wait for the next chance to visit the bookstore?  Or will it tempt us into fresh pastures with its easy-to-use search facilities, endless inventory, and bargain-basement pricing?

It could go either way, I guess.  Or it could simply make it easier to indulge our guilty pleasures.  After all, the Kindle version of the latest James Patterson doesn’t look much different from the new Murakami...


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Andrew - Hi and Welcome!!

I am tickled pink to have you here and loved reading your thoughts about the future. Interesting times we're living in!

p.s. -
I'm a big fan of your David Trevellyan and looking forward to enjoying "Die Twice!"


Julia Buckley said...

First of all, as an American who has never met, nor is likely to meet, a KNIGHT, it's very cool to hear how casually you relate the words of "an old Knight." :)

But I'd have to say that his words don't sound particularly brilliant, since the one thing we can always count on is change, and therefore the future never will be the past.

Ebooks are just what's in our future, just as the Internet was in my future when I was in high school. I don't think they pose a danger to our literacy--I think that if anything they will give literacy a new form and potentially allow more books to reach more people. That's a cool thing.

Very interesting post!