Readers may recall a column I wrote recently about how the Ottawa Christian Writers Fellowship became much more active after the Ottawa (Canada) Christian bookstore closed.
 
It wasn’t that the bookstore had been doing anything particularly wrong. Rather, people continue to read but the Internet has changed how authors and readers find each other.
 
Sensing that we needed to take outreach more seriously, we had decided to put on a conference. As only a handful of people came to the monthly meetings at the bookstore, we hoped for perhaps fiv people other than ourselves (the five organizers).
 
Forty or more showed up. We ran out of chairs—and spaces in the church hall window well. The attendees loved the conference, and we will most likely need to form several different subgroups to meet the needs of writers who are now either self-publishing or writing for online services. Therefore, they need free, honest feedback from their peers (not their reviewers, later!), plus on selecting a self-publishing firm advice on promoting the book affordably.
 
Does our good fortune seem counterintuitive? Well, when a model isn’t working well any more (the bookstore, the royalty publisher, the book available only in print form… ), it creates an unmet demand. Sometimes a larger one than we think. But we can’t know the crowd’s approximate size until we try to locate it.
 
This applies to many fields impacted by the Internet: A good example is free MOOCS (massive open online courses), for example, as opposed to adult night school for a modest fee. Many more people signed up when they could take the course at home online for free. Professors are currently exploring ways to offer more credit courses as MOOCs.
 
My own presentation was “Can you be a writer in the age of the Internet?” —an obvious assignment for me because I make a living writing for online sources. I told the crowd that it has never been easier to do research or find clients, if one is committed to doing so. (I plan to prepare the talk for the Word Guild blog, when my turn comes up to post again, and will let readers know when I have done so.)
 
The downside of writing for the Internet is the same as the upside: It brings together people who would otherwise never meet. That has led to an upsurge in demands for laws against hurtful or hateful speech, and serious projects in the United States to limit the First Amendment. It is worth considering that prior to the Internet, many aggrieved persons would simply never have been in contact with those against whom they demand action.
 
By way of analogy, years ago, a religious freedom expert pointed out to me that in France, it was a crime to say that the Armenian genocide had never occurred, but in Turkey, it was a crime to say it had. (See also: “Armenian genocide denial poisons Turkey’s relations with the world”) The conflict between perceptions and resulting laws only came to much notice because Turkey wants to join the European Union.
 
I warned that writers, whether for their job or as a business or a hobby, may face more serious attempts at censorship in the future than I knew in the past as a result of these contacts with people who are greatly offended by what we may consider a reasonable and uncontroversial opinion.
 
We need to remember Albert Camus:
 
A free press can of course be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad. –“Homage to an Exile” (1955)
 
The late Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) offers salient thoughts on attacks on free speech:
 
 
 
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger who writes for MercatorNet. She appears here under a Creative Commons licence.

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