XML. CSS. Abstracting. Separating content and meaning. Sounds kind of scary to me. As a would-be writer, plodding my way through what used to be the humanities, I’m sometimes frightened when I hear techies talk about where publishing “has to go” to remain “competitive.” Since technology drives industry these days, we all need to bow before the image with a head of gold. What you write on the page has to be edited to make it say what you meant it to say. Then the meaning has to be excised and converted into XML, because that’s the way ebooks like it. Page numbers are an artifact, and if your device can’t find the phrase you half remember, don’t go looking for an index. You see, XML files don’t have pages—they’re just an illusion caused by the limited size of paper. The meaning lies in the stripped, naked, and shivering content. Or meaning. Or something.
So goes the brave new world of publishing. We live in the days of inferred information and bowdlerization in inscrutable acrostics. I’ve actually heard techies say, “we need to teach authors to produce what we need.” Have you ever seen a dog wag so fast? Or a tale hold so perfectly still? What do I mean? Ask an expert.
The blank page of actual paper used to terrorize many a student. There are few things so transcendent to me as a new, unused Moleskine. The very blankness of the pages is like unto the whiteness of Heaven. This is a place where thoughts can roam free, and I can feel the thoughts coursing from my brain to my fingers as the pen traces paths never before seen. As this blog attests, my writing does not draw the countless masses. The vast majority of it written on paper will never be seen by another human being. Thoughts are captured there, mid-flight. They’ve never been tamed or tagged or abstracted from their meaning. In the mind of some, I must suppose, that means they really mean nothing. When I hold them, however, which I can never do with an XML file, I know that some things are simply too important to convert to what someone else declares they must be.