Category Archives: technology

5

“We are in the business of communication!”

The title of this post is a phrase I find myself using all the time.  We “communicate” all day long by texting, by emailing, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc., but I wonder if we are really communicating. Even phone conversations seem to be a dying art.

The other day when I opened my e-mail in the morning, I found a very concerned message from an editor suggesting that one of my clients’ manuscript was deeply flawed and he suggested that he was going to have to reject it.  I reminded him, again by e-mail, of the clause in the client’s contract requiring the publisher to provide a list of the problems and to give the writer a chance to rectify the situation.  Over e-mail the issue certainly sounded dire and unfixable.  But then he and I talked and he suggested that we call the writer together.  He said he was going to tell her that one of her options was to put the current manuscript aside and begin a new one.  This was a person whom he had only e-mailed with and whom I had also mostly communicated with by e-mail, so we had no idea how she would react.

First, the editor e-mailed my client to make a date to talk.  This naturally freaked her out and she e-mailed me and asked what was going on.  I told her a bit about the problem (again by e-mail) and said we would cover the rest in our talk.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure she would participate in the conference call at all.  She did, though, and when she was told on the phone that one of her options was to put the current novel aside and begin again, she was hugely relieved.  She and I had a subsequent lovely and constructive conversation and we all “walked away” feeling good about what had seemed like an unfixable problem at the beginning of the day.  We all felt much more positive and moving forward.

This all goes to prove that picking up the phone and talking can be far more effective and satisfying than e-mailing as this article in Forbes suggests.

It’s true that phone conversations take longer than e-mailing but often they get more accomplished.  I don’t know about you, but I am going to try to talk more and e-mail less from now on and see what happens.  I would be curious to hear what you think about all of this.

2

Collaborating with the best

You’d think that after all this time, the things you can do on the internet would cease to fascinate or greatly amuse me. Highly untrue.

I remember when a friend first introduced the collaboration feature of Google Docs to me. While the technology behind this is probably light-years less complicated than most of what’s out there, the idea that two or more people can write together, edit each other and share ideas on the same word document or spreadsheet at the same time brings a feeling of side-by-side mentorship that is lost in the world of solitary existence in front of computers.

Of course, it can also be used for fun and silliness—I can’t tell you how many ridiculous, probably unreadable stories I’ve “co-authored” with friends using this tool. A bit like Exquisite Corpse, but over the world wide web instead of with pen and paper.

Writing silly stories with your friends is all well and good, of course, but I’ve recently discovered a more…literary…collaboration you can try out. Google has done a demo where you can practice writing stories with the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe. They’ll edit your words to their tastes and chide you if you slack off. I think my favorite is Charles Dickins’ accusation after too long a pause, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”

While this is really just a fun game you can play with yourself, I wonder if it also couldn’t be an exercise in trying out various writing styles and formats. Not that writing with Shakespeare’s prose or Nietzsche’s vindications is really anyone’s aim (or maybe it is!), but seeing how a simple word change or structure alteration in your own words can give an entirely different effect to the narrative is certainly eye-opening.

I suggest trying it out, whether for fun or for discipline (okay, it’s going to be fun regardless) and posting your favorite “edits” in the comments!

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

3

Changes in Reading

My last blog entry of 2012 focused on a community who refilled the shelves of their recently shut down local library. This heart-warming story illustrated the importance that underscores the presence of a library or a bookstore in a community. Books can be found in and contribute to creating some of the most elegant stores in the world. These are buildings that house a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion that are to be found in books.

Now let me swing to the opposite side for my first post of 2013 and tell you about a building that houses a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion but does not possess a single printed book. Bexar County, TX is set to open the first book-less library this summer. The library will allow its residents to have access to electronic titles and let them check out e-readers. One of the architects behind the BiblioTech has reasoned that “The ever-changing landscape of technology means that literacy is no longer about picking up a physical book and being able to comprehend the words…Technology is changing the way we read, learn and thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.”

I agree with the sentiments behind this reasoning but I wouldn’t put it so didactically. The development of technology gives us options for how we read. It caters to a whole spectrum of taste, lifestyle, and needs. I don’t think we have to negate one to have the other or have to stand on a particular side of the fence and declare our allegiance. While I am grateful to be able to slip out my slinky e-reader whilst being crushed on the morning subway, I am just as thrilled to be able to ease back in a comfy chair, put my feet up and thumb my way through a hefty print book.

This is why I was intrigued to read this article that highlighted the presence of e-readers in traditional book stores in the UK. Essentially, e-readers sold at the bookstore would see the bookstore take a cut of future e-book sales, giving them an added revenue stream. Not confined to the UK, a number of US indie bookstores are also getting in on the act and through your reading device you are able to purchase e-book titles through independent bookstores.

For me, the development of technology has given us more options in the way we read. I have not been forced to choose one or the other and am excited to see if the conversation about print and electronic versions of books will begin to embrace one another rather than remain diametrically opposed. After all when you mix technology and books together and get this, it’s worth staying optimistic.

Are you embracing the best of both worlds? Or are you set in your reading ways. I’d love to know!

Building Books

As December rolls around, the perpetual question of “What would you like from Santa” is to be found in e-mails from supremely organized family members.  Just as well, then, that a compendium of “Best of 2012” lists abounds, and over the last few days I have been taking a gander at these lists, most obviously the lists for best books.

One of the ubiquitous occupants of these lists is the “book” BUILDING STORIES by Chris Ware. Although, in one review I read, calling Ware’s work a book, would be doing the book a disservice. BUILDING STORIES comes in a box and is compiled of fourteen pamphlets that readers are free to read in whichever order they choose. Readers are then able to re-order the sequence in which they read the materials again and again. In a sense, where is the last page of this book?

Or does there necessarily have to be one? Ware’s book in a box certainly grabs your attention through its inventiveness, but should we be at all surprised? With the expanding array of reading devices, the way we read books is growing ever more diverse, and what we read is becoming ever more multifaceted in the digital world. Books such as HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER have grown to become an interactive nest of audio, pictures, archives and art.

With these new forms of storytelling, where do you stand as an author? Is Ware an author in the traditional sense, or more of a compiler of artifacts? What do you think of multimedia being a part of your reading material? Is the digital reader set to become a digital explorer?

10

In praise of writing by hand (legibility not guaranteed)

No bones about it, I have terrible handwriting. I think it’s legible for the most part, but no one would ever call it nice. I don’t mind so much, but I do get handwriting-envy on more occasions than is normal (I think).

HOWEVER. Despite my poor penmanship, I still love writing things out by hand. I’m always fooled by the keyboard, thinking that I’ll be able to organize my thoughts better, more quickly and in a more logical fashion, but it rarely turns out to be true. Yes, the legibility decreases the more I write, as I find myself scrawling faster and faster so as to get the words out before my brain moves on to the next thought, but I find I care less.

When I’m typing, I’m completely conscious or every typo, spelling error or other sort of mistake that I make and am constantly frustrating myself by going back and correcting things that have really nothing to do with the ideas I’m trying to express. In the end, nothing you write the first time over ends up being the final product, so why should it matter if you’ve typed something wrong or skipped a word or letter here or there? Because things are clearer and because there’s that annoying little red or green squiggle under every mistake made in a furious rush to get the words on the page, every clerical foible takes precedence over the actual flow of script.

According to this article yesterday in GalleyCat, I’m not alone in my thoughts. Apparently, children in a particular study who wrote longhand, wrote “more, faster, and more complete sentences” than when they were faced with a keyboard and computer screen.

I promise you I’m no literary genius, hilarious person, venerable stringer-together of words or class-A wit, but I will say that when I read over notebooks I’ve kept over the years, I surprise myself over what I find there. I’m better pen to paper than I am on a keyboard, but the ease of typing still wins out time and time again, despite this knowledge.

Obviously, final products are pretty much required to be typed in today’s world, and I would feel sorry for the poor person who had to read more than one page of anything hastily scribbled by my own hand.* Ideas, though, personal journaling, observation and sudden flashes of inspiration are so much better served by pen and paper, no matter the legibility. After all, who’s going to really care what it looks like or how much your hand hurts if what comes out is the best thing you’ve thought of yet?

*Sincerest apologies to all of my high school teachers, particularly those of you in the English and history departments. You surely have suffered worse, but condolences just the same.

16

Finally! I have an iPad – now what?

So after coveting an iPad ever since it was introduced I finally acquired the latest version.

As soon as this one was announced, I ordered it online from Apple and was so excited when it arrived.  A day later, after one of my very techno savvy colleagues helped me set it up, we realized it was broken and had to be replaced.  Problem number one!

That crisis was resolved and after receiving an initial tutorial, I was off and running.  Less than a week later I realized that I had used up my monthly allowance of 4G!  How could this have happened?  Because I had no idea what I was doing.

Oh well, time to experiment.  I have changed my subscriptions to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal so that I read them on the iPad and have found this to be an entirely different experience than reading the actual physical papers.  Frankly, I am not sure that I prefer the digital versions, although over the weekend I found a wonderful review of one of my titles, American Icon by Bryce Hoffman, in the digital version of the Times and it wasn’t in any paper I had that morning (I still receive the physical copies of the paper on the weekends).

What I’m clear on is that there is going to be a learning curve for me and it might be steeper than I initially anticipated (after all I adapted to my iPhone immediately and it has truly changed my life).  I have begun to read books on my iPad but because I am reluctant to take it on the subway, where I do a lot of reading, I still depend more on my kindle for that reading experience.  And many of my friends and colleagues who have iPads tell me they rarely use them outside of their homes – how odd, I think.

Still, I am determined to learn all about this newfangled contraption and so I have scheduled an appointment this week at the Apple store for a tutorial on how to best use my iPad and maximize my reading pleasure as well as using all its other assets and apps.

I would love to find out whether you are enjoying using your tablet devices (iPads or others) especially as reading tools.

16

Is technology bad for reading?

I can’t stop thinking about how technology is making me crazy. While riding the bus to NYC recently and thinking about my large, overwhelming reading list on my Kindle, it occurred to me I had to first check email, then look something up online, where I found an article I’d been meaning to read, which led to a twitter and Facebook check, and so on. Before long the tunnel is approaching and I’ve reached my destination without opening my Kindle. Sound familiar?

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from Technostress, a word coined by my client Dr. Larry Rosen in his 1997 book by the same name. Even back then, he writes “The constant stream of incoming and outgoing messages means that businesspeople end up spending more time trying to communicate than actually doing.” In his upcoming book iDisorder he looks into how technology really can dramatically increase the likelihood of exhibiting sometimes severe psychological symptoms related to the stress brought on by technology in our lives. Sure it makes a lot of things better, easier, more efficient and all that, but it also makes us distracted, disengaged, and often unable or unwilling to take a real break which is bad for our bodies and our brains. A piece by Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic a few years back called Is Google Making Us Stupid? talks more about what technology has done to our reading culture, and it’s not good and certainly hasn’t gotten better with time.

So, I’m wondering where your thoughts are as the reading public. Do you think people are reading fewer books because they are more distracted by technology, or are they reading more books because of the ease that technology brings to reading by offering books anywhere, anytime with the click of a button? Do you read more books now than you did 5 years ago? And if you do, is that because of the easier access technology brings to reading? Have your reading habits stayed the same and you still go out to a bookstore or library every time you want to get a new book just as you did before? Or do you read fewer books because, well, there’s just so much else to do? And what about book length? Has a compromised attention span made shorter books more appealing?

Personally, I struggle with it. I read a lot and have to for work, and instead of printing out manuscripts, I now read them on my e-reader, which is great. But, if there’s a new book I want to buy (and I do buy books, often), I usually order a hard copy to have on my shelf or my bedside table.

As far as actually reading the books, and how that’s changed, I am definitely more splintered in my attention and have to be disciplined in planning my reading time—a lot more than before. I think this is in part due to technology trying to draw me back in to the vortex of my digital devices, and in part because I have 4 little kids who demand my time and attention (unless, of course, we give them our iPad which keeps them quiet for hours!). I do my best reading after hours in the comfort of my bed when I’ve put my phone and computer to sleep and can focus on a book or a manuscript, or usually several at once.

I’ll sign off and go grab my Kindle. Manuscripts and proposals beckon; there are books to be read!

9

Enhanced reading

With tablets and eReaders approaching ubiquity as the holiday gadget-buying season commences, the conversation over eBooks vs. print, or even “what is a book,” continues to take on different angles. So far, though, one of the big losers in eReading seems to be the “enhanced” eBook, where readers can access ancillary content that’s either embedded or clickable through hyperlinks. The fact that some publishers actually admit this is pretty damning, as publishers typically sing the praises of all things e-related in public.

But maybe there’s a different way to feature enhanced content? According to a Marketwire press release, business author Jeffrey Hayzlett’s forthcoming book Running the Gauntlet will feature SnapTags at the beginning of each chapter, “offering readers a direct connection to unique video content further explaining the core concept of each chapter.” Evidently SnapTags are like QR codes, those blobby barcodes you see on everything these days (for the uninitiated, check out Lauren’s post on QR codes from earlier this year), only these seem to link to specific multimedia content, rather than a website through your phone’s browser.

Now, will readers actually sit with the book in one hand and their Smartphone in the other, using both in conjunction? I have to say, on the face of it, it sounds a bit clunky—but then again, on a recent train ride to Philly, I saw plenty of people with books and newspapers on their laps, phones in their hands. And while I personally don’t get the thrill of QR codes in the first place—always seems like a lot of steps, which was one of the problems with enhanced eBooks in the first place—maybe other readers will find the separation of hard copy and e-content easier to digest? I imagine the SnapTags are less distracting than the links in an enhanced eBook and don’t interfere as much with the strict reading experience.

What do you think about SnapTags or QR codes in a hardcover book? Intriguing? Intruding? Useful for certain subjects? Worth a look-see, or just another e-gimmick?

8

One day I’m going to want to use the word “growlery.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is getting too big. Those people at Oxford who decide all about what words are actually words and what are just silly sounds people make when they talk are in a fix. They really need to add important terms like “mankini” and “retweet” to their formidable tome, but there’s just no room! Some words have got to go.

It’s a strange concept, isn’t it? Removing words from a dictionary? What makes these terms no longer acceptable to use? Of course, words fall out of common parlance first and then are no longer even seen in text, but they’re still words, aren’t they? What’s most interesting is that one of the words that will be removed from the most updated version of the reputable dictionary is “cassette tape,” a name for an item that while no longer in high demand, is still tucked away in quantity in many homes and shops.

I don’t mind so much that I will no longer be able to look up “brabble,” defined as “a platry noisy quarrel,” in the OED, should I ever come across it even once in the rest of my life, but it’s still a pretty fun word. Now that I know it exists (or, I suppose, existed) I kind of want to use it. That’s what language is—discovering and using new or old words to express not only meaning but your particular personality in writing or conversation.

These particulars, these words, help define authors and writers in specific styles. For a prolific or very distinct novelist, it’s not hard for readers of their works to be able to identify a passage as coming from that author, even if they have never seen the text before. New writers are compared to older, more accomplished authors if they use similar words or structure. Words and their definitions are more than a printed ascription in a book or online—they are defined more by their relevance to an era or place and by their resonance with an individual emotionally and personally. Why else would writers agonize for hours over the perfect word to put in an important dialogue or narrative?

I have nothing against, then, the addition of words, no matter how silly or trendy they might be, to the dictionary, but I do not understand the necessity of removing anything (save its unwieldy size) Words fallen out of use are still words and the ability to look them up upon reading or to use them in a piece of writing should not be curtailed. What do you think? Does it matter, really, in the long run?