E.L. Doctorow received the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards in New York this evening.
Doctorow took to the opportunity on stage to give a long speech about the Internet, which he called “ubiquitous and loomingly present in everything we do.” He talked about how the virtual world has changed out world forever and the opportunities and risks involved.
“Like all worlds, the virtual comes with its heaven and its hell,” he said.
“Its substance is not mountains and seas, but information, data and knowledge in every form and every kind transmitted for every person,” he described it, pointing out the myriads of purpose that the world wide web serves from creating wealth and educating to spying and making war. He called us “immigrants” in “a new world.”Doctorow pointed out all of the words whose meanings have changed because of the Internet. “Text is now a verb. More radically, a search engine is not an engine. A platform is not a platform. A bookmark is not a bookmark. An eBook is not a book. A cookie is not a chocolate cookie. A cloud may be in the sky, but it is not there to produce weather,” he said. “Language has been stolen or … metamorphosized. We in this room have to appreciate metaphor. When was the last time in hearing the word mouse that you thought of a small rodent or heard the word web and thought of a spider.”
He referred to The Internet as an, “overbrain,” saying that “it could easily be mistaken as a cross section of the human brain.”
To Doctorow, a book represents the essence of interactivity. “It is only when a book is read that it is completed,” he said. “A book is written in silence and read in silence.”
Doctorow closed out the speech referencing a recent report from Pen America in which authors revealed that they are self-censoring for fear of government surveillance describing this as, “the first step down the stairs to the Internet world’s hell.” Suggesting that authors not let governments and corporations win.
“Everyone in this room is in the free speech business,” he closed.