I just read today that the LongPen, a virtual signing tool for writers and celebrities, will have a trial run in major bookstores in Toronto, New York, and London this fall. Famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood came up with the idea for the LongPen, which comprises a video screen and digital writing tablet on the writer’s end, and a video screen and automated pen on the other end. Using the LongPen, fans can interact with and get virtual autographs from their idols, who can themselves remain comfortably ensconced at home.
Atwood has received criticism from some quarters for her invention, mostly from people who don’t think fans should miss out on actual interaction with their favorite writers or celebrities. Atwood insists she isn’t trying to do away with book tours and signings, but is just providing another opportunity for connection when it isn’t otherwise possible. For example, those who aren’t able to travel for one reason or another could still be present in virtual form. And for celebrities concerned about the effects of frequent global travel, the LongPen could be a way to reduce their carbon footprint.
I’m not sure how to feel about the LongPen; I do enjoy meeting authors in person when they are on book tours, but it’s interesting to think about how many otherwise famously reclusive writers might make themselves available for LongPen sessions. And even though at this point I would find a book tour thrilling (meaning that I had in fact published a book), I can imagine one growing weary of the endless travel once you’ve done it a few times (and Atwood has written thirty books). I do think the LongPen could be a boon to famous introverts for whom public appearances hold little appeal, but I don’t think it can replace the real thing. For those of us who get tongue-tied in the presence of our idols, you just can’t substitute virtual embarrassment for making a fool of yourself in person.