Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Moving Finger writes...

I admit, it’s a good idea - the LongPen machine:

A remote control pen-type device that enables people to write things (such as signatures) long-hand... remotely.
It has applications in many fields, anywhere that a signature might be required, such as a doctor’s prescription or a legal document.

If surgeons can perform operations from afar, why not be able to send a signature? We have the technology, as the saying goes.

Strangely, though, the impetus for this specific invention came from...

Margaret Atwood

the renowned Canadian author.

She even started a company for the purpose, according to this news report, and is set to launch the product at the London (England) Book Fair next week.

That seems to me to be a lot of effort for one person not in the technology field, for the sole purpose of being able to do her appearances... remotely?

The LongPen and a webcam for that personal touch, that’s all you need.

I once attended one of Atwood’s book signings, at Eaton’s downtown in Montreal - must have been in the late 1970s. She had written a few novels by then and I had nothing for her to sign, having already purchased everything of hers I could find, but wanted to meet her in person.
After waiting in line, I finally got to gush out my enduring admiration of her and her work, and what did I get back?
A withering look, the likes of which I will never forget.

My mind has since forgiven her. I suppose she was tired/annoyed/shy/fed up/stressed, whatever. But I have never been able to get through anything of hers again.

That’s why I find it rather amusing that she of all people was the one to develop the remote control book signing device.

The first question that springs to my mind is, why bother? It’s easy enough to set up a webcam connection so that an author can meet with fans in places where travel would be impractical. Why do you need the remote pen thingy?

When an author signs in person, the creator has touched the actual book, which gives it that emotional appeal. Will the same connection exist with the LongPen even if it is the author’s signature? Is it the touching, the eye contact, this personal connection that makes a book signature worthwhile, or just the ink-scrawl done in the author’s unique fashion?
I guess that depends on the reader.
I think I'd rather have the signed book mailed to me, than autographed with a robotic instrument.

For the more mercenary among us, would a LongPen signature be worth as much as a direct one, on the memorabilia market? I wouldn’t think so - assuming there would be a way to tell the difference, and I suspect there would, forensic science being what it is.

I can absolutely relate to the discomfort that Atwood and other authors must feel, being trotted out and exhibited far from home for reasons having nothing to do with their outward nature. I’m sure I’d have a few nervous breakdowns myself, on a book tour. But it’s part of the job, it’s part of promotion, without which books wouldn’t get sold or read and authors wouldn’t make a living and would have to go back to flipping burgers or even worse, teaching English to junior college students.

Atwood claims the purpose is to make authors more accessible to readers in remote locations, not to do away with book signings altogether, but I can’t help but feel that authors, who are often by nature and necessity rather solitary people, might take advantage of the opportunity to remain ever more remote from their readers.

I fear it’s just the first step down the slippery slope of disengagement.

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