As my buddy Mr. Darwin once showed us, everything on earth is in a constant state of flux. Gigantic mammals took millions of years to evolve into pygmy versions of themselves, he explained, while earthquakes and volcanoes could change the scenery overnight. Well, lately it seems to me that we’re submersed (but—I hope—not drowning) in the overnight variety of change.
Aaaargh….pretty soon we might have to go to a museum to see books made out of paper! And it’s not just little things like camera film, phone books, record stores, and pay phones that have gone the way of the dodo. The rate of change is accelerating faster than it ever has in all of history. These days we’re constantly inundated by an unimaginable deluge of information from the cloud and a slew of new inventions that sound like they exploded directly from the most mind-bending pages of science fiction.
Partly because we can access messages from around the world in mere nanoseconds, the entire structure of our society is evolving faster and faster just to keep up. Anyone who’s so inclined can simultaneously watch the Super Bowl on TV from their couches while following related Twitter feeds about the game from their favorite celebrities and talking to their friends cross-country on an iPad FaceTime video call. Who woulda thunk it five or six years ago?
Tiny hummingbird-shaped drones can now spy on our enemies, and tinier robots can find bodies buried beneath the rubble in a war zone or an earthquake area. Drinking water can be captured directly from the air in the driest deserts, and in case we’re afraid of being mugged, some dude named David Brown has invented what he calls The BodyGuard, which is a crime-fighting armored glove that features a laser pointer, a stunner mounted on the wrist, and a camera to record the action. There’s even a Medical Mirror out there that can measure our heart rates and may soon be equipped to check out our respiratory rates and blood-oxygen saturation in the privacy of our own rooms.
And besides being true, you may ask, what does all this tech biz have to do with writing nonfiction for kids? Everything! Like it or not and for better or worse and all of that, the way we go about this wonderful business that we know and love is bound to evolve too. As much as every single one of us wants to hold onto the status quo and live in our comfort zone doing what we do best, we’re eventually going to have to evolve or perish. And this presents an enormous challenge to each of us because with every large-scale change to society, something very valuable is lost, but can potentially be replaced by something else that has its own rewards and its own advantages.
A few of us are dipping a few of our toes into these unfamiliar waters. We all love the smell and feel of real paper and the beautiful artwork in real books, but we’re also starting to check out what it’s like to print our own books and e-books and sell them on demand. And we’re doing live interactive videoconferences with schools and other venues around the world too—sometimes with people who live in places that could never afford to meet real authors in person in a million years.
And there’s more. We’re checking out new ways to add valuable links and other bells and whistles to our books without degrading their high quality or cheapening their appearance or diluting their message. We are banding together to work with schools as a group in order to add first-rate nonfiction literature to their curriculum for an entire year.
As the rules change, can we still find enough time to think deeply and to write well? Can we enhance what we do and make our work better than ever? Can we actually feed our families this way and still fulfill our mandate to set the highest standards—or not? Does this shift involve some unforgivable heresy, or is it part of an evolution to a higher level? Life’s a risky business, but although it’s scary to fail when we try something new (and rest assured, there will be failures), this small venture-on-a-shoestring is actually pretty tame, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Besides that, it may offer great creative and financial benefits to all of us authors and illustrators out there. Can we run such business efficiently? Or will we lose something so valuable that it can never be replaced? We shall see.