Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New Age Role Reversals

My thesis work is based on research from my adviser, Michael Stessin and Alec Matheson. Dr. Matheson was an interesting character to talk to, and I say was, because unfortunately he passed away a couple of years ago from cancer. Anyway, one of the things he was talking about one day was how the creation of TeX and later, LaTeX, had turned mathematicians into secretaries.

I guess this needs explanation in several arenas. First, TeX is pronounced "Tech" because the X at the end is actually the greek letter chi. Thus LaTeX is pronounced "Lah-Tech". Anyway, TeX and LaTeX are markup languages that were created so academics could publish using the necessary math symbols (and other symbols) required for mathematical and other scientific publishing. Mathematicians, at some point prior to writing their thesis, are expected to teach themselves LaTeX so they can publish their work. (By the way, a markup language is a computer language that allows one to define ways to present text. Other examples are HTML and XML which are used to format webpages on the internet.)

Dr. Matheson was complaining that twenty or thirty years ago, a mathematician would write up their work and pass it off to a secretary to type up and do all the necessary formatting. In short, he was complaining that technological advancements, essentially making himself more knowledgeable, had effectively regressed his station in life and created more work for himself, and he was now a secretary and a publisher.

He was very down to earth. His comments weren't meant to offend secretaries or publishers. He was merely pointing out how improving scientific literature had actually made scientists work that much harder. And for what? A little more whiz-bang in the presentation of their work? It didn't make their work any more credible or reliable. All it did was take the work away from the secretaries and the publishing journals and lump it on their own shoulders.

I have been looking into making myself a new website. I took down my old one over a year ago. I found it to be very funny and maybe a little offensive, but decided it was time to move on. Especially since I hadn't updated it in five years.

Anyway, I am noting similar role reversals. In this era of New Media, I am finding that everyone involved, in an effort to do things their own way and in a new and creative fashion, they are taking on the roles that ought to be left for other people. To promote my book, I'll need to teach myself to create a website again. Only now, it's been six years since I have done that stuff and things are much more sophisticated now. I'll need to teach myself podcasting, so I can get people who are too busy or lazy to do any actual reading, to listen to the book.

Of course, I then have to self promote, but that is nothing new. Even modern publishers do very little promotion for their authors, unless they are a mega-superstar like Stephen King, the author is left the task of getting word of their work out into the cold cruel world.

If I want to call myself a writer, I am supposed to write at some point aren't I? It seems the modern writer is going to have to be a website designer (or become rich enough to pay for someone else to do it). They are going to have to be a reader, so people can listen to their work.

Thank goodness some things never change. I still get to be my own publicist (or become rich enough to pay for someone else to do it).

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