The travel advisory issued by the U.S. government about a higher terror threat in Europe has had little, if any, impact on the Frankfurt Book Fair, which officially starts tomorrow. Before the halls opened, the Tools of Change conference was in high gear with a keynote from Doug Rushkoff.
Although Frankfurt organizers declined to comment on any additional security measures implemented at the fair since the alert was issued, there was a noticeable police presence at the Tools of Change venue. Frankfurt officials noted that the German government was briefed ahead of the public announcement and found no signs that a heightened threat exists. “There are still no specific indications that any attacks are imminent in Germany,” a statement from the Federal Ministry of the Interior said. The German government continually monitors what safety measures are needed, working with other countries, the statement said. “The Federal Government currently sees no reason to change the actual level of threat assessment," the statement concluded.
A Frankfurt spokesperson added that the Hotel Frankfurter Hof, a favorite meeting place for literary agents from around the world, was sold out as usual, and that there were no new restrictions at the Frankfurt airport.
In his opening keynote, author and media scholar Doug Rushkoff pulled no punches. "It sounds sad to say it this way," Rushkoff said, pausing. "But not as many of us are needed as we used to be." Publishing, he said, would be better off if it only had to support "maybe 40% less" of its current workforce as the digital revolution continues to connect writers more directly to their audiences. Writers, Rushkoff said, still need things like editors and printers, but no longer require the "Amazon's, Ingrams, and Barnes & Nobles" to find their audiences, but rather need ways for their audiences to find them.
Despite his rather sobering conclusion for publishers, Rushkoff was upbeat in speaking about his latest work, Program or Be Programmed, which he published with upstart alternative publisher OR Books. In his talk, he warned against merely accepting new technologies without understanding their intended purpose. For example, users of the popular social networking site Facebook may think the technology is a tool to help them connect with friends, but in reality it is a way to "monetize" our relationships and create consumer profiles. "It is hard to use technology effectively if you don't understand what the technology is for," he said. He cautioned against a digital world where many of us use computers, and accept apps as part of our daily life, but have no idea how to program. "When we learned to hear, we also learned to speak. When we use text, we also learn how to write. But now we learn to use computers, but not how to program them." That kind of disconnect is leading to a schism in our culture, he suggested. "The people doing the programming are making the world for the rest of us."
Rushkoff's speech followed an eye-opening global perspective from Colombian Web designer, Pablo Arrieta, who gave conference-goers a sense of how digital technology--and e-books--are changing not just the publishing industry but people's lives as well, and a speech from the TOC conference chair, Andrew Savikas, who kicked off the morning with a talk entitled "Stop, Look, and Listen." Just a year ago, at the first Frankfurt TOC, he noted, there was no iPad and no iPad Kindle apps, while this year, iPads were common at the show, with many in attendance taking notes on them, suggesting the pace at which changes are hitting the industry. He spoke of books not as objects but as things people "hired" to do certain jobs, noting that for many needs, digital services, whether e-books or other apps, now do those jobs more cheaply and more effectively.