Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Internet Changes Everything

Have you considered how completely different our lives are since the Internet? It's been brought home to me lately.

Most recently, my guy's new "album" is out. Well, it isn't really an album. It's an mp3 download. The music industry is quickly phasing out the last physical evidence of music recordings - the CD. Two years of hard work is now available (with some soulful backup work by yours truly) on the Internet for your downloading pleasure.

The entire music industry has been gutted by digital audio files because the big players didn't see it coming. Then Napster started giving music away for free. And the industry's been scrambling to figure out what to do ever since.

Anyone can be a rock star, at least in their minds. All you need is Garage Band or some other basic editing program and - ooooh - your music is out in the world. That's generally not a good thing, as some folks should keep their music in the garage where it belongs. But it's also opened opportunities for some truly talented people to be heard by a global audience.

My guy's been a professional musician his entire life and he's watched the industry expand, contract and then go cold like a dying star. He's feeling his way in this new world where anyone can knock on the door; only the truly talented get in.

My area of study these days is the publishing industry. That's changed a bit lately, hasn't it? Writers, for a decade or more, have found it easier to submit their work to agents and publishers. Agents and publishers have become more and more selective as their inboxes fill and crash. And then came the ebook.

My NPR affiliate has a no-ebooks policy. They won't talk about them. They don't think they're real books. It reminds me of the music industry's attitudes toward downloads. They'll be changing their minds soon because they'll have to.

I have an ebook. And it'll soon be a paperback. We're doing it backwards because nowadays we can.

At work? We all have computers and now we edit documents in a program that lets us all see each other's edits. We're phasing out paper, eliminating the need for thousands of square feet of storage space. And where are those documents stored? The cloud. The vast, nebulous, virtual digital warehouse. In other words, they don't really still exist. But they do.

It's a change in concept, in thinking. Just because you can't see it, touch it, taste it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's a transition to a virtual world. And when I think about where it could be going, I think it's time to write a scifi novel.

What do you think the world will be like in ten years?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Turning Tides

I've got the ocean on my mind lately. Spending a day on the shore will do that to you - that salt air and that constant low tidal rumble stay with you long after you've left. I live within a day's drive of the Northern Atlantic, but I still only get there once or twice each year and each visit is a cherished memory.

This year we stayed on Cape Cod and spent a simply perfect day on Martha's Vineyard. I love my mountains, but I'd leave them behind for a life by the sea in a heartbeat.

When I got home and turned my attention to my radio show, I found a feature story on a Maine woman who has made her living harvesting sea snails, known as periwinkles or "wrinkles", in a sleepy little northern town called Lubec. I've been to Lubec - it's not a tourist town by the sea, it's a working village where the people rely on the sea for their livelihoods. But according to the story I found, fishing is dying there. As one species after another is overfished, the economy crashes further and Lubec's people are struggling.

Julie Keene and her son got by harvesting periwinkles - not getting wealthy, but not starving. Then the rockweed which is essential to the periwinkles' habitat began to disappear.

Apparently rockweed, that bladder covered seaweed that proliferates along the rocky Atlantic coast, is valued by industry as an emulsifier. Commercial harvesters are cutting rockweed off the rocks, leaving a barren landscape of stubs and wiping out a unique habitat.

Julie Keene, a rough, independent woman, has traded her harvesting basket for a camera and has been photographing the devastation left by the commercial harvesters. She testified at the state capitol in hopes of convincing legislators to ban the harvesting of rockweed.

She's not alone. There's a coalition trying to raise awareness of the issue.

There is a pile of swirling garbage hundreds of miles across in the Pacific. There's another in the Atlantic. Industry is scalping the rocks for the plants that grow there. There are environmental emergencies all around us. And it feels too damned big to do anything about.

But Julie Keene is doing something. We can, too, even if it's only to learn more and spread the word.