What would you do if you became obsolete?

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“The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon’s new service that  generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.
It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book….For many authors and publishers, news of Kindle Author confirms the industry’s worst fear that Amazon is on a mission to commoditize books and turn authors and publishers into tenant farmers tilling Amazon soil.  Now Amazon is cutting out the author – the ultimate middleman – by making the reader the author.”

It’s a curse to skim read as I too often do in this time-poor world, because I fell prey to that April Fool’s joke from the Smashwords blog. In my defense, the date of the blog post was 31 March and I’m a day ahead in Australia, so I actually received it in my inbox on 2 April, and I tip my hat to the detail of the prank, such as going into the science behind the computer algorithms and citing the 2000 plot and sub-plot variations that all stories are based on, etcetera…. Because I had skim read just before work and didn’t make it to the end about it being a joke until I got back to it at lunch time, I spent about half a day thinking that my passion in life, writing, could be obsolete, because maybe a supercomputer can do it better. It has happened before. Think of all the artisan craftsmen, the shoemakers, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths… all those professions in history that were destroyed by the introduction of the assembly line, the factory, and machines that could mass produce what they labored a lifetime learning to do. 

I now understand the Dutch workers who threw their shoes, sabots, into the machines to destroy them. The history from which the term ‘sabotage’ was born. I thought of all the people who once labored at a craft they loved, be it farming or painting, and whose lives have been diminished by the massive farming machines or sweatshop painters in third world countries. Not that I expect being an author to be a money-making business in this day and age, anymore than my husband, who is a classically trained artist, can make a living at what he loves. Creativity and individuality is not valued above mass produced goods. People will pay $800 for an iPhone, but balk at paying that for a painting that is unique in all the world and the culmination of months of work and a lifetime of training and honing natural talent. Some people complain about paying $3.99 for an ebook, of which only a dollar or two goes to the author, who spent years learning their craft, months writing those particular words, laying awake at night imaging those plots and characters, forsaking time with family, or in my case sleep, in order to create it… only to have someone blithely spend that same amount of money on a fast food cheeseburger that is inhaled and forgotten.

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I’m not so naive that I expect what I love to be of value to anyone but a few. And that is the fact I clung to as I imagined authors being made irrelevant. A machine will never have my particular voice or experiences, and even if a supercomputer can churn out Dan Brown Bestseller knock-offs, it doesn’t keep me from having something to say. I never wrote for any reason other than the need to do it, the love for it, and that won’t change.

I also began to think of all those people now working in factories or offices, doing boring jobs while machines are the ones building cars or children’s toys. How much richer would everyone’s life be if they could be creators rather than simply consumers? What if everyone created some homemade jam after buying some strawberries from the farmer’s market, or built wooden toys on the weekend to give their grandchildren, or knitted scarves for their friends…. anything to create rather than simply buy? Wouldn’t everyone feel more fulfilled? And maybe one day, we could take all our creations to a local market and exchange them with one another. Here, I’ll give you a copy of my book for some of those preserved peaches. Wouldn’t that be nice if we could all start valuing one another again? What would such a world look like?

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Thanks for reading! More posts on books, film, and writing can be found on my website at Lorel Clayton Author.

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