Last night at the National Book Awards (remember books?) E.L. Doctorow was awarded the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
On receiving his award, he gave a long speech on the Internet.
He called the Internet "ubiquitous and loomingly present in everything we do."
The virtual world has changed our world forever, he said:
"Like all worlds, the virtual comes with its heaven and its hell.
“Its substance is not mountains and seas, but information, data and
knowledge in every form and every kind transmitted for every person,” he
described it, pointing out the myriads of purpose that the world wide
web serves from creating wealth and educating to spying and making war.
He called us “immigrants” in “a new world.”
pointed out all of the words whose meanings have changed because of the
Internet. “Text is now a verb. More radically, a search engine is not
an engine. A platform is not a platform. A bookmark is not a bookmark.
An eBook is not a book. A cookie is not a chocolate cookie. A cloud may
be in the sky, but it is not there to produce weather,” he said.
“Language has been stolen or … metamorphosized. We in this room have to
appreciate metaphor. When was the last time in hearing the word mouse
that you thought of a small rodent or heard the word web and thought of a
spider.” He referred to The Internet as an, “overbrain,” saying that “it could easily be mistaken as a cross section of the human brain.”
To Doctorow, a book represents the essence of interactivity. “It is
only when a book is read that it is completed,” he said. “A book is
written in silence and read in silence.”
Doctorow closed out the speech referencing a recent report from Pen America
in which authors revealed that they are self-censoring for fear of
government surveillance describing this as, ”the first step down the
stairs to the Internet world’s hell.” Suggesting that authors not let
governments and corporations win.
“Everyone in this room is in the free speech business,” he closed.