I recently worked on a business book, with roots in an international collaboration made possible only through the Internet. My co-author, visionary and collaborator Jim Banister lives in Los Angeles, CA; the heart of the entertainment world. However, where he lived was futile, as early in the book’s development he was traveling everywhere; throughout the country as well Europe, the Middle East and Scandinavia.
Yes, he’s the west coast jetsetter. Our lovely literary agent, Jayne Rockmill, lives in New York City (Manhattan), which is the heart of the publishing world. She’s the east coast globetrotter, and when not paying attention to Jim and I, focuses her attention on clients in the United Kingdom, Europe and South America. She recently attended the Annual Frankfurt Book Fair, in Germany, and was completely unavailable for the two weeks (I’ll get into the reasons why shortly). I myself live in Chicago, IL, which is the heart of, well – the country, and, no, I am not a Midwestern jetsetter or globetrotter, as my partners in this project.
I’ve known Jayne Rockmill for about 15 years. We first met when she worked at Columbia Pictures, when their merchandising division was in the Coca Cola building on 5th Avenue. Back then, I remember having worked on an early version of Lotus 123, to create royalty projections for Jayne at Columbia Pictures, but my technical knowledge has since expanded with the proliferation of the personal computer and the Internet. Jayne, on the other hand, up until recently, has never had an inclination to partake or own a computer, or even use the Internet for that matter. As miraculous as it sounds, all her international business is in person, by telephone and facsimile. Agent Rockmill (which she prefers to be called), started her own agency after leaving Columbia Pictures in the late 1980s, where we continued to do business together, as she agreed to represent me as my literary agent. However, during the dot com boom, I became too busy helping friends build their Internet ventures, which did seem more exciting, so Jayne’s apprehension to technology didn’t immediately affect me. My writing had become a hobby, along with rebuilding old Macintoshes [which I’ll get into later].
The book we were writing was about networked media; what the Internet and its entire offspring will eventually evolve into, transcending business, people, and communities. Could Jayne pitch something she didn’t at all understand? Meanwhile, Jim and I were e-mailing and corresponding back and forth, across oceans and world networks, collaborating, conceptualizing and, well – writing. We’d send out new versions, review them, and then once satisfied, send them to Jayne to review and present. We thought if Jayne “got it” – being ignorant to the technology — then we were on the right track in producing something that was both entertaining and enlightening about the world to come. Unfortunately, that’s when we hit the bottleneck. In order to have these new crisp copies of the proposal and manuscript sent to Jayne in New York, we [actual, me] had to print them out and (gasp) mail hard copies to her overnight or priority mail. Two days? When I could e-mail something to Jim across the world, instantly and free? It wouldn’t have been that big a deal if it was infrequently, but it started building up momentum and ended up doing it sometimes twice a week.
Jayne is not the first person I’ve known that denied themselves the convenience of technology, in the preservation of traditions and fear of “the infernal machines.” I equate it to people’s fear of what may have appeared to be witchcraft in the Middle Ages, but not having a computer and an e-mail address while doing international business seemed a bit extreme. I’ve known her long enough to realize that she’s not only a strong independent woman, but also a New Yorker not to be reckoned with (talk about real fear . Therefore, I dropped the evangelizing for a while and went back to work.
We struggled through over six versions of the proposal (as the book evolved) and numerous versions of the collected manuscript, printed it, and then package it in an industrial age format, just so Jayne could receive a hard copy to review and send to the few prospective publishers. I found myself driving around aimlessly looking for one of those funny looking blue colored metal boxes with the eagle symbol on the side (I do vaguely remember their purpose), then dropping the package inside the darkness within. It felt so foreign and incomplete, not having any type of instant confirmation of its delivery.
This seemed ridiculous; I could just have e-mail it to her, instantly and free, if she just surrendered to modern technology and got a computer. “No way, don’t need one; don’t want one, “was her reply, or “well, maybe someday.”
After a while, e-mail was requested of Jayne by a couple of the techno-savvy book publishers. [Clarification: the techno-savvy book publishers that I’m referring to were so inclined because the extent of their technical ingenuity included having had an e-mail address.]
There wasn’t really a single solitary “last straw” that drove me to insanity. I recall a meeting, over cocktails with her and one of my other editors, where she went on about how the Internet creates a society of “hermits” who develop “anti-social tendencies,” while hiding behind e-mail addresses to conceal their inadequacies and shortcomings. At that point, I realized that this was wrong.
My attempt at a debate started with something like – “The Internet does not push or pull people away! It brings them closer together, by giving them more ways to communicate – to connect – to interact and share.”
You’d think I’d get used to being satirized and looked upon as if I was from Mars, but I only succeeded in frightening them off. It was a very short meeting.
Repent, for the end is near!
In any event, I knew that it was time to take action into my own hands. Therefore, I went into my basement workbench and grabbed some weapons. One of my old Macintoshes and signed her up with a free ISP service that didn’t require a special software download. I reinstalled the OS, for a simple, crisp, clean start and promptly shipped it to her. Everything was free, so there were no barriers to entry. She had to try it now. [Insert maniacal laugh here]
There were many hours of customer support issues in regards to problems logging on, and software limitations, but she was now online.
She’s comfortably joined our network of people, places and businesses, but she refuses to expand too quickly, taking only baby steps into the 21st century. Although I feel, her new computer had little to do with it, and that it was her wisdom and determination, she successfully sold our manuscript as a hardcover business book.
Being the Internet evangelist that I am, I enjoy getting people jump started into the new millennium, but to this day; she still appeases my tirade to upgrade by calling me her “hero.”
Oh, she’s good.