Sunday, October 18, 2009

Further your affiant sayeth not

Billions of written text and email messages aside, the Web looks to be bad for the printed word.

Multimedia, video, interactive graphics get all the attention. Books, if they're mentioned at all, are usually discussed in the context of some tech breakthrough - the Kindle electronic reader, for example.

Will words matter by the time we've turned everything to pixels?

A vision of the text-hostile present gets humorous treatment in The New Yorker's Oct. 19 "Shouts & Murmurs," a fictional publishing-house memo to a new author from a young woman who explains: "I’ve been brought on as an intern to replace the promotion department..."

"To start: Do you blog?" she asks in preparing for their promotional campaign.

"We use CopyBuoy via Hoster Broaster, because it streams really easily into a Plaxo/LinkedIn yak-fest meld... Make sure you spray-feed your URL in niblets open-face to the skein. We like Reddit bites (they’re better than Delicious), because they max out the wiki snarls of RSS feeds, which means less jamming at the Google scaffold. Then just Digg your uploads in a viral spiral to your social networks via an FB/MS interlink torrent."

The barrage of social media esoterica makes the point that publishing now operates on such thin margins that the company's entire promotion department has been outsourced to an intern who's unclear exactly what book she is promoting.

People like the fictional young intern are "digital natives" in these buzzword-happy times.

The National Endowment for the Arts reported in a study two years ago that only 38 percent of adults said they regularly read for pleasure. The endowment said nearly two-thirds of college freshmen in 2005 said they did little or no pleasure reading.

Reading and writing increasingly occur in 140-character Twitter-bites. Argumentation or narration, not exposition, are often the preferred forms of discourse.

Some tweets use compressed narrative forms. Taken together, the messages from a venue form a telling description of the scene.

One of those narratives came from an Indianapolis beer garden recently in a series of Twitter messages sent by one of the group.

The gathering was livened by one member who grew increasingly chatty and loud.

The Twitter account, written by a former courts reporter, mentioned the patron by name. But there were few specifics. Instead, the former reporter used a boilerplate expression sometimes found in probable-cause affidavits signed by police investigators - known as affiants when they are making a sworn statement.

The answer was an inside joke to lawyers, cops and courthouse veterans:

So what all happened during the rowdy gathering?

"Further your affiant sayeth not."

- By John Strauss,

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