Monday, March 14, 2005

Margaret Atwood's virtual autographs

Sometimes The New Yorker's Talk of the Town articles read more like a Harper's reprint of plainly weird stuff. Take for example a note on the March 7 edition of the New Yorker about Margaret Atwood's fabulous new plan to invest in a remote writing pen that would allow her to do signings without actually being there --

Honestly, this reads like an April Fool's prank three weeks too early:

"Atwood came up with the idea last spring, during an expensive and exhausting three-week publicity tour for her novel “Oryx and Crake.” She says that the invention, which will be manufactured by a new company called Unotchit (“You no touch it”), will increase both the safety of the writer-reader interaction—“My germs and my bio-material won’t be in the same place as your germs and your bio-material”—and its profundity: “I’m more likely to be gazing deeply into your eyes as I’m signing on the screen.” And she insists that there will be no appreciable lessening of an autograph’s authenticity, because writing is already only a distant cousin of thought. “The mind is the device that is thinking out the signature,” she said. “The hand is the extension of the mind, and the pen is the extension of the hand—so the pen is at two removes from the author’s mind already. This thing is just another remove.”

And of course, another blogger has already commented on it too:

And from Rake's Progress, a whole discussion about whether this is a prank or not:

The jury's still out on the authenticity of this little bit of Atwoodiana... Though it made it on Business Week Online:

"Autograph Hounds, Take Heart

Globalization has another discontent: Margaret Atwood. The author of such novels as The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake says online book sales have created an impossible demand for name-brand authors to be promoting books in several places at once. "The book tour has turned into a global black hole of energy that ruins you," says the 63-year-old writer.

Atwood has a solution: a gizmo that allows authors to autograph books from afar. The contraption combines a Webcam, a tablet PC, and a robot arm that can hold any pen desired. Fans could go to a bookstore where the machine is in place, describe the desired inscription directly to the author through video ("Please write: 'To Mary, Happy Birthday, Margaret Atwood' "), watch as the author jots it out on her tablet PC -- and see the robot arm duplicate the personalized message.

Atwood stresses that the device is still in the development phase. A prototype, which she put together along with some techie friends, was shown to a recent gathering of about 60 publishing execs. The prototype uses a writing arm similar to an architectural plotter to sign books. Atwood hopes to have an improved model that uses a robotic arm available for a fall demo.

Ultimately she expects a coalition of financial backers, perhaps including publishers, and someone "who's more business-oriented than I" to run her newly formed company, Unotchit.The apparatus should work to autograph a variety of products, Atwood notes: books, CD jackets, and T-shirts. But it may not be all-purpose. "I was once asked to autograph a belly," she muses. "I don't think it will work on bellies."

By Hardy Green" from

I guess somewhere these mythical publishing execs got a preview of the disembodied signing machine... I think I'll stay home for that one.


This edition of the New Yorker also contains a feature article on Dan Rather that makes him look and sound pathetic. The photo is totally unflattering, a full page tight shot closeup of his face with absolutely no retouching. It does fit the spirit of the article, which basically is about how he's a figurehead who puts on a show on the pressroom floor when he has visitors, even "lunging" for the phone (but then having to explain who he is to the callers...). In one word: pathetic.

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