Roughly 300 members of the publishing world and general public fill the seats of the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall to hear Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the online publishing company Slate Group, and author Aleksandar Hemon speak with Victoria Lautman about the future of print. The three sit facing the audience in separate leather library chairs on a small stage as they start off discussing the cause for fears of the possible “dumbing down” of writing and literacy.
“Do you connect new forms of delivery with literacy and apprehension?” Lautman asks the two. Teaching writing is extensive, Weisberg says. A few years ago, he recalls to the audience, it seemed people came out of college not quite understanding it. Now things like blogging and text messaging have allowed people to practice how to write and show their personality in fewer words.
“There will always be storytelling,” Hemon responds to Lautman. “…younger, smarter people are going to do something. They will find a way to be human.”
Weisberg goes on to add that online writing, compared to print, is three-dimensional thanks to links that take readers to other sources of information, but Hemon replies by describing the use of multimedia in stories as “bells and whistles” that take away from the purity of the reading process. “But we say ‘bells and whistles’ because it’s too late for us,” Weisberg responds. “Digital forms exist for writers that didn’t exist in my generation. They’re going to do interesting things.”
The discussion then switches focus over to the Amazon Kindle and similar wireless reading devices. One of Hemon’s concerns is that companies will begin placing commercials between chapters. “It’s part of American capitalism,” he says as murmurs of realization and agreement resonate through the crowd. “Reading is a way to be alone with your thoughts,” he adds. (Beth Wang)