About a month ago I got fired from my job as a columnist for Canada's national newspaper, The Globe & Mail, because I was, in the minds of the editors, out of control. My columns were supposed to focus on media, and I'd taken that as an invitation to write about whatever I damned well pleased. Several times I attacked the newspaper's advertisers, once the Nike Corporation for hiring international visual arts superstars to interpret a Nike running shoe which featured an 'advanced technological module' filled with the same substance that I thought fills the heads of anyone who'll buy the shoe: air. Another column attacked the stockmarket for being nothing more than a government-subsidized gambling racket that feeds on the genuine productive forces in society. Each time I erred, I was called into central control and asked to concentrate on media. My answer, each time was the same: Isn 't everything media?
I got axed for this attitude, as much as for any of my wacky ideas, but it hasn't and won't deter me from thinking this way. So when I'm asked to describe my use of media, my first reaction is laughter. Okay, I begin, my first three media are oxygen, water and earth (soil. because I'm a gardener rather than a walker of pavements). Then there's sexuality, (I've been married four times) which is a
primary life-sustaining medium that remains pleasantly mysterious to me. I also use another equally mysterious but peculiarly North American medium to sustain me:
baseball. I've played the game since I was nine years old, and still do. During the last three weeks, actually, I've been terrorizing the Vancouver Writer's League with my hitting, even though I'm 15 years older than most of the other players.
Past that and into the realm of what we conventionally think of as media, I begin to do some serious self examination. Because I am in my 40S and grew up in an outpost within the last biotic wilderness of North America, one where books were magical devices and writers the only heroes I could imagine who wielded devices of instruction (pens, paper, ideas) rather than destruction (hunting rifles, chain saws, heavy-duty trucks) I am first and finally print oriented. Books remain my favoured media. I like to hold them in my hand, read them, and write them.
But wait a minute, that may no longer be entirely true. Since 1979 I've done most of my writing on a word processor, and on an average week I will spend about 50 hours sitting in front of a video display terminal. When I'm working on a book the hours go up dramatically. I use data retrieval systems for research and I file copy electronically via modem several times a week. I may enjoy having books around, and I still use them extensively for research and aesthetic pleasure, but I produce them very differently than I and other writers did in the past.
Thirty years ago, when I was just beginning to think about being a writer, I imagined writing much differently. A writer worked with pen and paper, sat at a wooden table in an elegant room with a cigarette butt-filled ashtray and a bottle of scotch close at hand. He –I – waited for inspiration to come and when it did, I hand-wrote the compositions and sent them out to be typed. Then came the glory and acclaim. The reality today is very different. I have become a processor of electronic words, sentences and paragraphs, working with complicated digital technologies to produce patterned compositions of ideas and images that happen to be printed on paper because electronic reproductive technologies have not yet come up with anything that can carry complex – and discursive idea patterns. Meanwhile, I recognize that the books, at least in part. have become technologically and culturally vestigial. Personally I see no reason to continue with poetry and prose fiction in print. Popular music (specifically rock videos) and television commercials are a better, if still largely unexplored format for poetry, and television and film are truer and more efficient media for fiction.
There is a lot of talk these days about how electronic media hold promise for more democratic and swift access to information. If you're wealthy, this is true. But for most people in the world, books remain the most reliable informational access, and will continue to for the foreseeable future. They can't be unplugged, they can be reread, and they're portable and cheap.
Finally, I'll give you a list. Beyond the first five primary media I noted, I use media in the following order of importance: word processing; books; newspapers and magazines; talking to friends and professional colleagues, television, film, visual arts, alcohol. music, theatre and recreational drugs.