For anyone who has invested a lifetime in understanding the uses and benefits of a technology that has become outmoded, it can be supremely hard to think creatively about a new technology. Our difficulty is that we have powerful emotional reasons to dismiss its capacity to disrupt our established ways.
Elsewhere in the magazine Jason Epstein provides a different example of this melancholy truth (“What’s Wrong with the Kindle”). Epstein may be the greatest living publisher: at Random House, where he was editorial director for more than 40 years, he invented the modern paperback, and he cofounded the New York Review of Books and the Library of America. He is certain there will be no large market for electronic readers like Amazon’s Kindle (see one cracked open on page 94). Epstein understands that the digital transmission of books is an established fact, but he believes that “the most rational form of digital transmission is not an electronic reader posing as a book but an actual library-quality paperback that has been printed, bound, and trimmed at low cost on demand, created from a digital file at point of sale by a machine like an ATM.” In this, he is like the British generals who understood that the tank was an important new technology, but not that it would change warfare.
How can we stay young? How can we be unconfounded by 2008’s “10 Emerging Technologies”? Certainly, we must not suspend our critical faculties: not all the scenarios suggested by such technologies are equally plausible, and something of the past always leaks into the future. But we should try to be as little attached to the past as teenagers, and to satisfy our creativity not in the disparagement of new technology but in the contemplation of how it might change our lives. Write and tell me what you think at email@example.com.