I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time last year. This year I tried it. So did 302 THOUSAND others. Writing 50K words, for the sake of writing 50K words, was an odd experience, but I knocked out the basics of my 4th whodunit in the process and feel obscurely uneasy about writing my first ever potboiler. When I had written my quota I went to the relevant forum on NaNoWriMo to record it. I was – surprised – to see how many books had met that target on the first day of November. One day, to write 50K words. Gosh, those must be good books.
It got me thinking about how we overdo, well, everything. Every good idea becomes a fad, then the norm, and then excessive. Doing something the original traditional elitist way – oh, take the above example, pouring heart and soul into a book over months and even years, polishing it lovingly, and finally, after setbacks and rejections and re-writes, getting it published – becomes the exception to the rule.
I’m as guilty as anyone, no mistake. No finger pointing here. But it did start me thinking about what defines excess. In my childhood, best beloved, as a family we sent and received up to thirty Christmas cards, because we were at the other end of the world to most of the large and scattered clan, and if you couldn’t spend family time together, you at least wanted to be in touch. Last year, I received I don’t remember how many, but over a hundred, most from people I didn’t know. Quite interesting, mind you. Fancy Mary’s husband being called Urgen, and who would have guessed she had daughters called Bliss and Supreme?
When does more become too much? Christmas cards, how many is too many? Will I make eight – no, nine – cards by hand, write long chatty letters and enclose photographs? Unfollow all the people on Twitter who interest me not at all and hope that my favourite few will do the same and we can go back to the fun chats we had a few years ago, you remember, when getting a 50th follower was genuinely exciting ? Reduce my Facebook to people that I know? Grow my own vegetables, go fishing, set snares, slaughter my own livestock, or even just cook every meal from scratch instead of a few times a week? Ask my daughter to reconsider planning children because there are too many people already? Delete my own books and start a campaign for everyone to delete theirs? Er, no.
Instead, my predictions for the future.
Christmas card scanners will become the next gimmick, and people will scan and email their card(s) to everyone they know. The cards received will play in a constant loop across your choice of computer screen, TV screen, or a viewer mounted next to the holographic Christmas tree. There will be several hundred of them. Really expensive holographic cards will project3D images of family waving and smiling, and the youngest members of said families playing in the snow or on the beach (delete as applicable) / performing on musical instruments / singing or telling jokes.
A new social media called Chatter will allow you to select the categories in which you have an interest, and will automatically join you to everyone else in that category. This will instantly give everyone several million interest-sharing friends.
GM food patties of high nutritious content, available in nine exciting flavours and four distinct colours, will be delivered to every household on a weekly basis. Luxury foods will be available, at a huge price, from select outlets. They will inevitably be dried, frozen, pickled, preserved or tinned (canned). Youngsters reading old books will feel slightly queasy reading descriptions of raw food, while their parents will feel a momentary pang of nostalgia. Those who insist on keeping hens, or growing their own fruit or vegetables, will be considered slightly alarming eccentrics, and newspapers will run frequent stories on how many of them die of salmonella or eColi poisoning.
Books, magazines and newspapers will no longer be printed at all and readers will be encouraged to hand in the books on their shelves for recycling. All electronic books will be assigned to categories, where accredited reference books, including school books, have the highest rating. The lowest category of books will be the cheapest and largest, but books that earn above a set amount will move to a higher and more expensive category. Readers have to complete a detailed registration form and will then be offered a selection, starting with the most expensive, in their favourite genre. They will be expected to complete a response before they can buy the next; (a) could they finish the book just taken, (b) was it fit for purpose, (c) was it correctly categorized, (d) would they recommend it. Their answers will shift the books up or further down the popularity lists.
Many more people will be born. In about twenty years time flesh-eating aliens will start gathering hungrily around the planet. People with money or connections will be concealed for the duration of the emergency, with a good supply of GM patties and dried, pickled, preserved and tinned food. When they emerge there will be a few million at most, and their health will be permanently affected. It will take a thousand years for the human race to recover, along with new religions and new political structures, possibly overlapping.
There could be a book in this.