Book Note: My collection, The Face Maker and other stories of obsession, is finally ready to roll. I’m offering free copies to those of you who have supported my blog over the years by commenting on a regular basis (like at least 10 times a year). Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a mailing address. For everyone else, the book is available here for a discount ($9.99 instead of $14.99) if you use the code DYESN6EN.
Now here’s this week’s post:
It’s the curse of many generations that they believe theirs is the greatest time in which to live. Granted, today we have more technological advancements than we know what to do with, as well as great strides in medicine and even some social progress here and there, but is that enough to qualify the second decade of the 21st century as the best ever, or even better than, say, the early 1900s?
It’s a question I sometimes ponder while trying to establish a career as a writer. The first decades of the previous century saw war and disease on a scale never seen previously. But they also saw a complete change in virtually every discipline of thought that had existed for centuries. Realistic art gave way to impressionistic forms, both in the visual realm and the written one. The field of Physics advanced dramatically with the development of quantum mechanics (and has gone almost nowhere since 1930). Political and social thought as well threw off the chains of indefensible tradition—the great monarchies of Europe were brought down and replaced by populist governments. Class mobility was born—the average person questioned his place in society, and was finally given an opportunity to change it.
Mostly, it seems to have been a time when the art of thinking flourished.
I think about it because in some ways society today appears to be going in the other direction. Global, instant communication grants us collaborative thought, which widens the idea pool, but often tends towards conformity and complacency—our ideas are focused largely on appeasing mass market interests, rather than advancing knowledge. The days of the individual genius are over. Many of our best thinkers have been shepherded into institutionalized banality, tasked to work with marketing teams to make sure their ideas are profit-focused. Others are submerged in “think tanks” dedicated to promoting a political polemic.
This trend is important to writers, because by nature and practice we are individuals. While we learn from others in our profession and enjoy nothing better than talking with fellow writers, we pursue our craft alone, staring at the monitor or the notebook, oblivious of the outside world. We don’t like being told what to think, or even to have our creativity hampered by popular opinion. So I can’t help wondering what it would be like to be a writer during those explosive times, when creative people seemed focused on rethinking everything.
Was it so much different then, one hundred years ago? No one can say for sure, but if somehow a team of physicists (corporately funded, of course) were to develop a time machine that could take me to that time, I’d surely sign on to take a look.
What period of time would you most like to visit and write in?
 Despite the chaos and violence, this may be what’s going on in the Middle East. But it’s a long and painful process.
 The modern version of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
 It’s why I mentioned last week that future writers will be assigned to teams in the publishing world of the future—which was supposed to be funny, but sometimes people don’t get my satire.