October 02, 2013

Author Neil Gaiman spoke in the Weis Center on Oct. 1 as part of the Bucknell Forum speaker series.

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By Heather Johns

LEWISBURG, Pa. —  Neil Gaiman had clearly given this a lot of thought.

He spoke quietly, carefully, so purposefully that, for the audience at Bucknell University, it was as if they were actually watching Gaiman's thoughts bend around, over, under and through the idea.

But, as it turns out, determining the difference between technology and furniture — "I know there is one," Gaiman assured them — isn't quite as simple as he'd thought.

As humans, everything that exists in our world when we get here is expected. Normal. Comfortable —  like furniture. We don't need directions to operate it, because it's been part of our experience from the very beginning of our lives.

Gaiman saw the television set in his grandmother's house that way when he was a child, he said, much like how today's children see iPads. They're still relatively new, exciting and maybe a little confusing to adults, but the younger generation seems to be born knowing how to operate them.

Gaiman displayed a level of comfort, happiness and occasional frustration with technology during his Oct. 1 talk at Bucknell as part of the ongoing Bucknell Forum series "tech/no." The novelist, comic book author and screenwriter has embraced the latest and greatest in technology from the start of his 30-plus-year career, and he shared his experience with the audience gathered in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. || Click here to watch interviews with previous Bucknell Forum speakers.

Technology has both helped and hurt Gaiman's writing process over time, he said. As new gadgets and tools were invented — from manual typewriters to word processors to laptops to today's microcomputers — he eagerly tried and, for a time, loved them all.

But his creative process kept pace with each technological evolution.

At first, the digital evolution was freeing — Gaiman could write faster, anywhere. Instead of having to buy a car to haul his research books from Minnesota to Florida, as he did in the '80s to write American Gods, Gaiman's entire research library fit on a Kindle.  

It will come as no surprise to Gaiman fans that he soon discovered a dark side to the technology he so loves.

Unlike when he wrote longhand, deleting text on his laptop "felt so final, I despaired," Gaiman said. While editing his second anthology, he realized his writing had become bloated. Being continually connected to the Internet had stopped him from being bored — a potentially dangerous situation for Gaiman, at least creatively. "I get the most ideas when I'm bored," he explained. "It's important to have quiet time, be forced to fill in the boring bits. Boring is good."

Gaiman learned to find balance. He delights in engaging with his 1.8 million Twitter fans, but writes longhand with the beloved fountain pens he considers to be "a beautifully designed piece of technology." He is developing a video game because it's new, interesting and cool — but when deadlines loom, he ensconces himself in a gazebo just outside of wireless range to turn his laptop into "a typing machine."

For many, it is difficult to find this balance, as was evident in the questions asked during the Q&A following Gaiman's talk.

Gaiman assured the audience that there is no greater authenticity in stories written by putting pen to paper than in those typed into a computer.

Be flexible, advised Gaiman. Remember that technological innovation will continue to alter our world, but human nature remains the same.

"We know the rules are changing," he said with a smile. "It's a wonderful and amazing time to be alive."

The Bucknell Forum
The Bucknell Forum series, "tech/no," continues on Tuesday, Nov. 5, with Gillian Ferrabee, director of the Creative Lab at Cirque du Soleil Media. The event, to be held at the Vaughan Literature Building in Trout Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., is free and open to the public.