Today's topics include live-tweeting, the transition of traditional books into Book-Like Things, and the world wide internet, according to Prince.
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Ed Levine: It must be an interesting moment for you vis-a-vis what's happened to food media just in general when it comes to, I mean the internet has changed everything.
Alton Brown: Yes.
EL: And I was wondering about when you think about what you do, do you have to think about it in a different context? You know, before it was like, "Okay, I'm going to do a book," or "I'm going to do a TV show" or "I'm going to do this," and now we're at this weird moment, you know, last night at the Beard Awards, people were tweeting when I was talking to somebody; they would take a picture and that would become a form of media. And so it's basically a 24/7 media world and I was wondering how, when you think about what you do, like do you think about it differently as a result?
AB: Yes, I think about it differently. It used to be that the act of creation and the act of consumption were separated, now it's like what you were talking about at the awards with people tweeting and actually becoming part of the event. Imagine reading a book where a picture of you reading the book was in the book. That's kind of where we are, and so everything's folded in on itself in a way that changes everything. It's funny, you use words like "TV show" and "book," both of which seem like charming anachronisms to me now. People ask me, "Are you doing a new show?" And I don't even know if that's the right word any more. As someone who's lived exclusively in media and was in media long before I was in food, as were you in your own way, I'm sitting back not so much right now watching what's going on in food, but what is going on in media to try to decide what it even is any more. Because we are at a tipping point of communication and deciding what the next forms are going to be, or what is valid. You know, I may turn around and grab a film camera and go back out and shoot a 16mm film of something just to back away and live in the analog age a little bit longer. Or I might turn around and never write another book on paper again, I don't know right now.
EL: It's funny, we talked about that very briefly on the phone in relation to books because you have, there is a huge community out there of people who know and appreciate your work. So...
AB: A small but thriving community.
EL: But it changes the equation in terms of what a traditional book publisher is supposed to do, so all of a s...you know, we talk about it here because we did the Serious Eats book for a conventional publisher and when we think about the future, there is no shortage of ideas for book-like things.
AB: Book-like things.
EL: But book-like things...
AB: BLTs baby, BLTs. We're heavy into BLTs right now, book-like things.
EL: But book-like things will not, may not look like books.
AB: Or if they do, I mean, as I look around here I'm showing my age because I'm made more comfortable by the presence of these devices, books. You and I are both of an age where one, if one has ideas that are validated by society you have these. The whole point of books at one point was going to be that if a publisher thought you were good enough, then they would publish your work and that gave you the validity. And everyone followed that validity: "Well Random House has published this book. He's an author, he's good." Now, it's like, "Random House is waiting to see whether the digital version goes viral before they even print any of the damn thing." So I think that what we may end up seeing is, I mean I can easily imagine a time when we go back to simply allowing people to somehow print their own. "You want my book? Here, do this and you can print it yourself. There, you've got the book." I think that books will be with us always.
EL: The 500lb gorillas in the room were Viacom, Scripps, Newscorp. Now the 500, now they're thousand pound gorillas, are Google, Apple, Facebook.
AB: They're all technology companies, they're not content companies.
EL: It's fascinating and it's up to us as people who create things to figure out how we fit into their universe, you know, and how, it's a...
AB: I don't know that I want to fit into their universe. I want to make them fit in my universe, which I just haven't figured that out yet. I mean, there are so many different ways of doing it.
EL: So when you think about, and does the internet sort of make you think differently about video as well?
AB: That's probably the thing that plagues me the most, is that my connection to everything and food at least, well everything has been based on the fact that I was a filmmaker first and so I'm always thinking, I think in term of shots, I think in terms of sequence, I think in terms of visual things. And the internet makes that, it's funny, even using the word internet, sounds old to me for some reason.
EL: It's true.
AB: The internet, the world wide web, remember that? Is a confounding place, because of course it minimizes and demeans almost everything at the same time. Certainly if you're working in moving images, it's a strange and scary place because coming up with ways of making it vital and high quality and useful is difficult, and technology changes relatively quickly. And I'm not sure, honestly, I could see myself pulling back, grabbing my 16mm, making a documentary and just going on the film festival circuit and pulling away from the internet for a while till that gosh darn thing settles down. Besides, Prince said it was over. Remember a couple years ago? Prince said the internet was dead and I kept thinking, "Well, Prince would know." It hasn't come out yet, it hasn't hit bottom.
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