Sunday, February 13, 2011


Mt. San Miguel is on fire.  San Diego County w...Image by slworking2 via Flickr
A culture of oppression (whether corporate or government), excessive income inequality, unemployment, and lack of social concern, tends to have consequences.
Could the fire for genuine democracy kindles in Tunisia and Egypt, travel here?

Reportedly J.M. Barry, author of Peter Pan, The Admirable Crichton and a slew of other books and plays, wrote half a million words a year – all by hand. Not sure that is literally true but either way, the man was impressively prolific – not to say successful.

Apart from sharing the goal of most writers, which is to write as well as my brain tells me I can – but which is all too often contradicted by my fingers (which, being Irish are of an independent cast of mind) - I have long been concerned both to be as productive as possible, and to compensate for my cognitive deficiencies. Regarding the latter, I was diagnosed as suffering from a form of dyslexia in my fifties and certainly my brain seems to work in unorthodox ways. Some are advantageous, in that I have an excellent strategic sense and am pretty good at deductive reasoning. Others are a menace and include an inability to remember strings of numbers which makes performing some very simple tasks like dialing a phone number extremely difficult for me. However, most of us have quirks, and since I don’t sprout hair and howl like a wolf every full moon (or certainly won’t admit the fact) I consider I’m ahead on points, albeit I need all the help I can get.

I have tried to work around my deficiencies in various ways with varying degrees of success, but have probably achieved the best results with computers. Now that is ironic given that I have no innate talent for that area, but I have stayed with it resolutely pending the arrival of a guardian angel with a perfect memory who can type at speed. Overall it has been a long and painful journey which got off to a false start in 1981 when the IBM PC I ordered arrived without even a BIOS, and where the company I subsequently ordered a Mac from subsequently went bust. In the end, in 1986, I was kindly given a PC clone by a friend and was thus started – doubtless with the best of intentions - like most of us who opted for cheaper machines instead of Apples, on a road to computer perdition. Bill Gates has a lot to answer for.

There were various reasons why I didn’t switch to a Mac at various times – normally to do with lack of money or too much of an investment in PCs – but there were also periods when the future of Apple looked dicey. However, the primary reason why I didn’t switch to a Mac was that I was entirely hooked on a program called askSam which is a free-text database that I have now used for an astonishing 25 years and which functioned for all that time as an extension to my memory. In fact, I still use it although now in conjunction with other tools like Evernote and Google Notes.

Back in June 2010, I made the decision to go Google as far as possible and then in mid July started an intensive investigation of the Internet (what I call the Digisphere) to try and ascertain where the book business was likely to go and how I needed to adapt. Little did I know what I was getting into. I knew and used the Internet, of course, but up to then I had failed to appreciate the sheer scale of the transformation taking place and, in particular, the evolution at high speed of software tools, most available to rent for a surprisingly low monthly charge. In effect we are being given access to the greatest increase in cognitive leverage since the Dawn of Man; and it’s only beginning.

I wouldn’t have come to this conclusion if I had continued my traditional approach towards – to learn only enough to enable me to write and keep track of my research material. Instead, this time I set off on a much more open minded voyage of exploration and put much more time into learning as I progressed. And I worked fourteen hour days and didn’t try and write while this was going on. It was a fortunate strategy because it yielded a much broader perspective than might otherwise have been the case.

It now seems to me that we need to rethink how we do pretty much everything; and that our traditional organizational models – whether they be government, religious, academic, social or religious - need overhauling drastically.

And yet our politics and very culture seem to be mired in greed, bigotry, partisanship, an indifference to the plight of the less well off – and something remarkably akin to business as usual.

Does that remind you of anything? Mubakek’s mindset comes to mind.

If those who run these United States of ours don’t begin to appreciate what is happening – and adapt accordingly – we’re going to see the fire that was lit in Tunisia and Egypt making a sea journey and coming here.

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American IdolImage via Wikipedia

Department of Adequate Length.
One of the many good things about the current digital revolution that is sweeping the media world is that it seems is if long form journalism is making a come-back.

Personally, I have long believed in the notion that issues are worth exploring at adequate length, and that brevity, for its own sake, tends to be destructive; but traditional publishers were concerned about the cost of paper (and believed it should primarily be used for ads) and were decidedly unconcerned about informing their readers adequately; so short became categorized as ‘good,’ and long as ‘bad,’ virtually regardless of the complexity of the matter at hand.

Enter the decline in the quality of American life which has been such a feature since the Seventies; insidious and largely hidden at first, but recently glaringly obvious.

Is there a relationship between a sound bite approach by the media to a public that seems incapable of discussing and resolving most issues more complex than American Idol? I advance that proposition. Clearly it is not the only factor – blatant commercial manipulation, outright propaganda, ingrained prejudices, and the nature of our educational system play no small role, but the absence of adequate homes for pieces which could really get to grips with a subject has, in my opinion, long been a matter of serious concern.

Department of Good News: Kindle Single Store and The Atavist.
Apart from the intrinsic flexibility of digital content (such files cost virtually nothing to store and reproduce) two recent developments give grounds for optimism. First is the introduction of the Kindle Single Store which is publishing pieces between 10,000 and 30,000 words in length. Second is the launch of The Atavist Let me quote their own words:

“The Atavist is a boutique publishing house producing original nonfiction stories for digital, mobile reading devices. We like to think of Atavist pieces as a new genre of nonfiction, a digital form that lies in the space between long narrative magazine articles and traditional books and e-books. Publishing them digitally and offering them individually — a bit like music singles in iTunes — allows us to present stories longer and in more depth than typical magazines, less expensive and more dynamic than traditional books.

Most importantly, it gives us new ways to tell some inventive, captivating, cinematic journalism — and new ways for you to experience it.”
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