Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Books Will Write Themselves

In the not-too-distant future -- maybe after you and I are gone, but maybe not -- I predict that books will write themselves. Not all books will be automatically written, but lots of them will be. I'm not big on predictions, but it's just the way I see things going. Not to worry you, but, you know...prepare yourself.

Over the weekend, I was discussing this idea with a friend, and they practically punched me in the face. "What a stupid thing to say!" my friend chided. "And how depressing!" See, I don't think it's that depressing a notion. It could be seen as a negative thing, obviously, or it could be seen as an opportunity.

The vast majority of people who read in this country (which is not all that many, anymore) probably read books that they feel won't demand much mental energy. It's hard to blame them; with folks working longer hours these days, most are fried by the end of the day. They don't want to come off working the late shift at Denny's and dive into "War and Peace." I get that. No arguments here.

But what this means is that more books will be produced to suit their low-bar needs. After a while, if you take this line of thinking to its logical end, formulas and algorithms will be devised so that a weary soul will be able to sit at a computer, type in their favorite book titles and authors, their genre of choice, a few themes they want to read about, and maybe a time period, the computer will do the math, and then it will export an instantly-written book to their e-reader. The whole thing would take less than five minutes and they'd get a book custom-written to their preferences.

This is where we're headed. Heck, James Patterson doesn't even write his own books anymore. In this new era of high-speed digital customization, I can't imagine the market dictating anything else; it's the most convenient process in the world for readers.

Of course, there will still be people who want to read books written by actual human beings. Though there may come a time when computers out-pace humans at piquing reader's imaginations (I cringe just writing that), I have to believe a cadre of hard-core readers will remain who will want to go the traditional route. So it's important to establish yourself as an author who can deliver consitently good, thoroughly-edited books. Because you can bet the book writing programs of the future won't make typos, and you'll be competing with a smaller pool of writers for this sought-after audience.

(Note: I say "you" here, but it may be your grandchildren who have to worry more about this.)

Look: it's fine to want to write books in order to get rich. This is a free country. But I write because I want to communicate and I want to increase my ability to have empathy for people. Because reading is all about building our capacity to feel empathy toward others. This should not come with a price tag. You can write for lots of reasons, but to me, the best reason of all is to make the world an easier place for people to love each other.


  1. Interesting concept. Books writing themselves. Nothing is impossible though. Some things just take longer.

  2. Yeah, it's somewhat of a depressing concept, but I'm sure people will always write. They'll just be up against computers in the future who will be able to write more efficiently and probably put out a more flawless product. Still though, we're a long way off from software that can invest the kind of heart in writing that people can.

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