Tools of Change: Initial Report

During a morning in which news of layoffs at HarperCollins and the future of BookExpo America was severely reduced in time and topography, here at the Marriott Marquis, Tools of Change rolled on. I appear to be the only guy here wearing a T-shirt, but not the only one nursing a hangover.

I’ll have some reports of the panels later in the afternoon. But I can report that the crowds here are largely male, that the recent publishing news has left those attending this conference with their hopes somewhat crestfallen, and that Tim O’Reilly and Cory Doctorow offered a few contrarian questions to Jon Orwant — that too cocksure man from Google, who answered in response to a critical query, “It’s not me; it’s the algorithm.” Orwant’s answer is quite fitting, because nobody here I’ve talked to really does have the answers, nor do they want to take responsibility. A CEO insisted to me that his POD machine will change the world, but when I asked him about whether or not an independent bookstore could afford to lease it, he refused to divulge the details. A new e-reader displays a crossword puzzle, promising “annotations and marks,” but one cannot so much as fill in the letters for 4 Across. Peter Brantley lectures to his audience like a New Age dope hoping that we’ll accept his mantras about “social community” without question, but there are considerable holes to his sunny utopian vision.

Nobody knows anything. But people wish to carry on as if they somehow do know everything. And that means being on the cutting edge for any half-assed technological development that gets people’s eyes bulging out of their sockets.

That’s not the change we were promised. And these aren’t necessarily the tools you’re looking for. But we all carry on. Let us hope we aren’t fiddling while Rome burns.

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