- Springtime for Amazon
- Confab images: Missouri Writers Conference
- More confabs: Buenos Aires and London
- Dial DRM for endless debate
- Facebook: Can it hit its Mark?
- Writing vs. marketing: Those 10,000 hours
- Writing craft: Rants ‘n’ raves
- Writing craft: Your pet muse
- Writing craft: How fair is your use?
- Writing craft: The well-structured story
- Writing craft: Blogging and listening. Huh?
- Romance: Brooking no put-downs
- Writing tools: Before the betas
- Last gas: Are you lonely tonight?
- A programming note
As the market evolves, Amazon is becoming a home for readers.
Say what? “A home for readers?” The Evil Amazon? Did the jungle drums just miss a beat?
There is so much for readers to do on Amazon – so much book-related content for them to peruse before buying.
There it was again. I could swear I just heard a friendly word for Seattle.
We have to ask ourselves, with the collapse of physical retail for books, which company will book suppliers want to deal with most? Just as iTunes supplanted record stores, Amazon is supplanting bookstores. Of all the bookselling options out there, only the remaining indie bookstores and B&N are more “bookish.” Should they eventually collapse (or transform or get sold), Amazon will be the most bookish place for readers to go to buy books.
You’re not hearing from some Prime-drunk refugee of the Borders wars here. These are the thoughts of Laura Dawson, Firebrand’s reigning Queen of Metadata, one of our best-regarded publishing specialists, and she’s packing knitting needles, don’t cross her.
In Why Amazon Will Be the Good Guy, Dawson is echoing a jazzy new counterpoint to the shrill call of the poison-dart frog we’ve heard so relentlessly in deepest, darkest Amazonia.
A new slant on the aggressive retailer is beginning to be felt. And this angle doesn’t always turn up along the same lines of debate, which indicates that a subtle but broad-based reconsideration may be underway. Dawson’s not dropping a stitch:
In the late 1990s, the American Booksellers Association sued Barnes & Noble and Borders over what they felt were unfair trade practices… B&N was the king of the discount. And for “bookish” folks, this was a source of friction – the cheapening of books made them seem commoditized, and our beloved independent bookstores were going out of business.
Hunker with me here. This is an argument many can’t see yet.
Amazon has been regarded as less than entirely “bookish” since its inception, when Bezos made it clear that books were just the beginning (and only because books were the easiest products to build a store around).
When any company is generating the bulk of sales for publishers, they are by definition “the good guys.”
There may be a pretty practical truth to that line. What do you think?
Keep listening. There’s more than one line of thinking being updated on Amazon at the moment. You hear it between the blind hate-Amazon monkey chatter and the reluctant growls of slow-moving traditionalists.
The nightmare narrative being spun by the publishing echo chamber is tragically unaware of how Amazon works. Maybe it’s because publishers imagine that Amazon will do what they would do if they had Amazon’s market power.
That artful zinger is launched by another of our community’s well-respected figures, Eric Hellman. In Publishing’s Amazon Powered Future, Hellman proposes one of the most intriguing rays of light to make it through the rainforest canopy, swatting aside the frequently heard fear that once most competitors have languished, Amazon will jack up its now-low prices. The emphasis here is his:
Amazon won’t extort huge sums of money from powerless consumers. Instead, they will ruthlessly bring efficiency to every process involved in publishing. And then they’ll invite everyone to use their ruthlessly efficient services.
What Hellman is saying is that the the real profit centers for Seattle lie in scale-enabling systems, the formidable tidal powers such as Amazon Web Services, which ebb and flow according to supply and demand. He has climbed way up to get a much airier view of Amazon’s corporate basin than most of us book-grubbing ground-dwellers have done.
A beta site dedicated to selling office equipment and industrial supplies to businesses. Amazon Supply offers more than 500,000 products, according to the company, including hose clamps, roller chain sprockets, drill bits, sheet aluminum, brass and other items. The site grew out of Small Parts, a supplier of equipment for science labs, Amazon bought in 2005.
How are we going to keep them down in Seattle, now that they’ve seen the Micro Essential Lab 94 Hydrion Spectral Insta-Chek Wide Range pH Test Paper Dispenser, 1 – 14 pH, Single Roll?
Stomping around our small clearing called publishing really may not be this giant’s greatest ambition.
Hellman’s work is always worth a full read, and I encourage you to take some time with his post.
Me, too. Quoting Hellman at length, O’Leary comes to this intriguing conclusion:
This is the reason publishers can’t beat Amazon: they aren’t even playing the same game.
pH Test Paper Dispensers, remember.
O’Leary goes back to Hellman for a second post. In What Are We About?, he credits Hellman for outlining “how publishers are fundamentally misunderstanding the retailer’s long-term competitive strategy.” And he ends by asking:
If Amazon is all about scale, what are we about?
Needless to say, there are disagreements on the forest floor.
In Aftermath — notes on the Amazon post, another fine observer of the realm, Baldur Bjarnason, weighs in with serious qualms. They don’t necessarily go head-to-head with Hellman’s conceptualization. But they indicate a mistrust of Seattle’s model.
Amazon is taking risks everywhere. They are treating their suppliers, publishers, badly, essentially behaving like monopolists before they have an actual monopoly. Their share price is massively overvalued by any measure. The more they rely on their private ebook format for some sort of lock-in, the more they cut themselves off a growing ecosystem of ebook production and development tools, which requires them to make their own development tools, which further drives down their margins.
And our friend journalist Philip Jones of TheFutureBook and TheBookseller is skeptical of what he sees as Hellman conflating Amazon Web Services and Amazon Publishing. In Scale and synergy do not drive publishing, people do, Jones writes:
I’ve heard time and time again recently that Amazon is all about scale, and it is this that will kill off publishers… But I am not sure publishing books is scalable, or will be greatly impacted by it: at least not on the creative side.
Oh, and in case you’ve felt the Department of Justice is losing steam with its lawsuit of the “colluding five” and Apple, outgoing Acting Asst. Attorney General for Antitrust Sharis A. Pozen wants to disagree with you. She was speaking (full text) at the Brookings Institute:
At its heart, this case is about protecting competition, not competitors. And most importantly, it is about lower ebook prices for consumers.
The series of handsome ecru slides you see in this edition of the gas are from Ether-eal host Jane Friedman’s deck for her recent presentation at the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference.
Friedman spoke, as did another sister in the Ether, Christina Katz.
In keeping with a back-to-basics trend you might pick up on in the writing/craft sections of the Ether, Friedman’s approach is an excellent examination of what to do — and what to avoid — on a manuscript’s first page.
And if you ever wonder why writers can seem so crazed about the difficulty of their primary task (that would be writing, Yuvi Zalkow will remind us a bit later), consider that all the points on these slides are meant to go into a marvelous Page One so that the reader does what? — blows right through it and turns eagerly to Page Two. Where the battle is fought again.
Jane’s the one in the flak jacket. Here is her complete slide deck.
TOC’s first Latin American Tools of Change charmed everybody who spoke up from Buenos Aires. Here’s my good colleague Julieta Lionetti making a key point about the lack of participants from Spain at the Buenos Aires Book Fair, in TOC Latin America: New Ideas and Energy, One Notable Absence. Her work is at Ed Nawotka’s Publishing Perspectives.
And don’t cry for Castro, Lionetti went to the mat to compliment her good work at the TOC event:
Liz Castro stood out among the ranks of speakers; her very practical and enlightening half-hour talk, “ePUB in the Wild,” unfolded tricks and tips to deal with the fragmented platforms and inconsistent devices typical throughout the industry.
In fact, Dawson came in for praise, herself:
Laura Dawson — aka Sister Metadata — gave another talk very much-anticipated among the geeks who man publishers’ oars through turbulent waters.
Lionetti also gives those of us who couldn’t be on hand these writes: Rights Trade Intensifies at Buenos Aires Book Fair and 2,000 Librarians Dispense $2.2 Million in Sales at Buenos Aires Book Fair.
Then, of course, there was the London Book Fair. Mike Shatzkin in Things learned and thoughts provoked by London Book Fair 2012 nails one of the main points about Pottermore beautifully, in talking of his visit with CEO Charlie Redmayne:
The key to Charlie’s disruption was his willingness to substitute watermarking for DRM. He said it definitely made him nervous to do it, but he couldn’t see any other way to achieve what he wanted for Pottermore. He had to be able to sell to any device; he wanted to be able to allow any purchaser complete interoperability. There was no way to do that and maintain DRM.
And when, on launch, pirated Potter ebooks started rolling through cyberspace, according to Redmayne via Shatzkin:
The community of sharers reacted. They said “C’mon now. Here we have a publisher doing what we’ve been asking for: delivering content DRM-free, across devices, at a reasonable price. And, by the way, don’t you know your file up there on the sharing site is watermarked? They know who you are!” And then the pirated content started being taken down by the community, before Pottermore could react. And very quickly, there were fewer pirated copies out there than before.
What a Rowling-esque tone our good Shatzkin takes on there, Jo would be proud of him. You could put a DRM-free baby to bed with such a nice story, seriously, although I’d like to know just how many pirated editions were shamed back into hiding by such noble peer pressure.
By the way, have you been to Pottermore yet? Bet you haven’t. Want to see what money can buy? Here’s the sneak peek video:
More on DRM from #LBF12, per Shatzkin:
I heard a rumor from a very reliable source that two of the Big Six are considering going to DRM-free very soon. The rumor is from the UK side, but it is hard to see a global company doing this in a market silo. Another industry listener I know was hearing similar rumors from different sources. Could we see another crack in this wall sometime soon, maybe this year?
And, lo, Macmillan’s mighty Tor made its move, right on cue. Nice segue, Mike, thanks.
Today, Tor Books, the largest science fiction publisher in the world, announced that henceforth all of its ebooks would be completely DRM-free. This comes six weeks after an antitrust action against Tor’s parent company, Macmillan USA, for price-fixing in relation to its arrangements with Apple and Amazon.
And a decree went out from Caesar Augustus… OK, well, it’s not quite that melodramatic, but faithful Cory Doctorow does catch the weight of the announcement he was making in Tor Books goes completely DRM-free.
These things happen in publishing on Tuesdays, have you noticed? Mild hysteria on wry hopes for lunch: this really was a big move, made by a key player in the establishment.
Not unlike the whispers Shatzkin stirred up in London, the good Doctorow talks of more to come, too:
I’ve had contact with very highly placed execs at two more of the big six publishers, there is suddenly a market for tools that automate the conversion and loading of ebooks from multiple formats and vendors.
And just maybe this puts us finally on the Yellow Brick Road to you-know-which-witch gets ding-donged at the end?
I think that this might be the watershed for ebook DRM, the turning point that marks the moment at which all ebooks end up DRM-free. It’s a good day.
Certainly, O’Reilly’s Joe Wikert is watching for a window of opportunity in any momentum that might be coming. In What if DRM Goes Away? he nails it with the single phrase, “Innovation is better than predatory pricing.” Then, Wikert goes on to write:
This is more of a rallying cry for B&N, Kobo and every other device and ebook retailer. If DRM goes away tomorrow nothing much changes unless these other players force it to.
The most encouraging nudge, though, may come in what he writes next:
But why wait till DRM disappears? It might not happen for a long time. Meanwhile, the opportunity to innovate and create a path to market share gain exists today. I hope one or more of the minority market share players wakes up and takes action.
And on Tuesday, fifty-two minutes before Doctorow pushed the button on his hosanna on that good day, the excellent Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent hazarded a coup of her own by introducing to us one “Exec,” a publishing-industry honcho prepared to tell us — from behind the veil — “Why I break DRM on e-books.”
I realize that when I buy an e-book from Amazon, I’m really buying a license to that content, not the content itself. This is ridiculous, by the way. I feel as if e-book retailers are simply hiding behind that philosophy as a way to further support DRM and scare publishers away from considering a DRM-free world.
There’s a curious mix in our buddy Exec of what seems like naïvete as well as savvy.
Don’t pro-DRM publishers realize this is one of the key complaints from their customers? I’ve heard plenty of customers tell me that e-book prices need to be low because they’re only buying access to the content, not fully owning it. That needs to change.
Exec has some pretty enlightened customers. Most of those readers we extoll so lovingly in these parts are a good bit behind Exec’s in their understanding of what they get in terms of ownership vs. licensing when they “buy” an ebook. Say on, Exec:
I think publishers should try it out so that they can see just how much of a waste DRM is. In about 15 minutes, anyone can unlock just about any e-book out there.
Breaking DRM is so simple that even a publisher can do it.
No wonder the ever-Ethernautical Guy LeCharles Gonzalez threw himself into a busy write headlined Why DRM is a Toothless Boogeyman, Ebooks are like Video Games, and Amazon is the Winner. Hear that? The drums just hit that funny little syncopation again. Told you — new slant on Amazonia.
Based on the steady increase in ebook sales over the past few years, it’s reasonable to conclude that the average reader doesn’t really care too much about DRM. They’re apparently bigger fans of the platforms Amazon, B&N, and to a lesser degree, Apple, have built to purchase and read ebooks, and the ebooks themselves don’t have the same emotional connection as those they buy in print to keep on bookshelves. As such, legitimately or not, from the consumers’ perspective, “lock-in” isn’t the factor many think it is, or desire it to be.
Gonzalez walks you through a video-game parallel, then works up a console’s worth of canny calls:
Now, the $100,000 question is: If Amazon has truly won this round (and I think they have), does that automatically mean traditional publishers have lost the fight? I don’t think so, but how they choose to get off the mat this time can’t be related to DRM, pricing schemes, or rope-a-doping the “traditional” business model.
Should Loudpoet et al have you fired up and ready to mount a few barricades, there’s a “Day Against DRM” ahead, on Friday, May 4.
The long-standing Free Software Foundation, a 501(c)3 based in Boston, is behind it.
I can’t help remember discussing a Day of Rage with my colleagues at the UN.
But that’s just me.
Facebook: Can it hit its Mark?
“Don’t tell my mother I’m working on the Facebook IPO. She thinks I play piano at the local whorehouse.”
We’ve now had a couple of weeks to try to get our minds around the notion that we live on the same planet with a 27 year old who can buy a 2-year-old company with no revenue and a few dozen staff for the same dollar amount as the gross national product of Belize or Monaco.
McIlroy keys off John Gapper’s charmingly headlined Facebook is scared of the internet in the Financial Times: “Yahoo took 18 years from being founded in 1994 to get into its current state. Facebook will be lucky to last that long.”
Then McIlroy goes on to remind us of newly learned info on the big buy:
The cool billion for the fellas at Instagram is in fact just 30% in cash and $700 million in Facebook shares, or to be more exact, 23 million Facebook shares valued at $30.89 each. The Instagram kids may not be the first to rue the day they didn’t hold out for more cash and a lower overall sale price.
It has close to a billion active users, but it makes a remarkably tiny amount from each one: about $5 per year. That’s not a lot, considering over half of those users visit every day. And while the amount Facebook makes from the average user rose in the most recent quarter, it only grew by 6 percent. Some of the marketing costs it is racking up are no doubt going toward increasing that number. But how much more can Facebook squeeze out of its existing user base?
In What if Facebook isn’t so special after all? Ingram nails what’s keeping potential IPO buyers awake at night:
The biggest question about the social network is whether it can grow in any substantial way from its already massive base. With almost a billion users currently, the upside for the company is likely relatively limited, unless you assume Facebook will eventually be used by everyone on the planet.
I was single back then. I didn’t have kids. I had the time and space to totally ritualize and fetishize the submission process while still having time to write and read and watch snooty foreign films and everything else.
Yuvi Zalkow, one of my fellow regulars at Writer Unboxed, does a monthly video contribution to the site. In 10,000 Hours he blithely admits he’s never been near a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, but he deftly uses its core concept of the 10,000 hours said to be behind most big success stories.
I’ve grown enough to see how much more I should have been focusing on the writing and not as much on selling myself as a writer.
I’m hearing enough of this from enough people that I think we may be entering a bit of a backlash among many writers against the drive to platform, platform, platform. And Zalkow takes it to the emotional interior dialogue with his usual finesse:
We writers (permit me to arrogantly lump you in with me…) are so compelled to obsess over the accolades we think we deserve before fully maturing our writing chops.
There’s the question: How much are we drawn to the platforming courses and webinars and books and gurus because visions of sugared plum fame dance in our heads?
Once upon a time there was a guy who loved pantslessness.
No, wait, wrong quote from the video. Sorry. Here we go:
I see too much of the “they must come and then I will worry about building it” mentality…Maybe it’s more like “work your ass off building it and then start ramping up your advertising campaign while simultaneously improving the quality of your work, and then they will come, and then you will deliver something that’s truly worthy of their presence.”
Zalkow thinks he has a fortune cookie message here. Me, I think we’re looking at an XXL T-shirt, minimum, for all that copy.
Gets me back to my stuff about not talking about your work, as I was saying recently to Jon Winokur when he interviewed me at Advice to Writers. (That’s the Readability link, it will give you an option to read it in Readability’s smart magazine format or the original.) “I’ve learned in the last year to shut up about my creative work, my non-journalistic work,” I told Jon. “You hear so many people sound like such self-delusional nut jobs talking about their own stuff. I’m trying to take that to heart.”
So I get what Zalkow’s saying, silent and clear.
Before you start to think I’m getting all preachy about it, I just want you to know that this is more of a reminder to myself to shut up and write than anything else. I’ve recently been getting a bit wrapped up in a lot of issues related to my upcoming novel. Even worse: in issues that I have little or no control over. And my writing shut down for a while. And so now I’m reminding myself to write more.
You sound like a very cynical person…Perhaps you believe social media exacerbates our negative qualities. That’s a more interesting argument than the one you’ve made.
That’s mild-mannered Jane Friedman, hashtag unto herself, responding to a commenter in her Three Horrible Mistruths About Social Media That Drive Me Insane.
- “Who cares what you had for lunch?”
- “It’s mindlessly narcissistic and ego-driven.”
- “It’s a time-waster.”
And it’s not too late for you to get in and add your pet-peeve mistruths about social media in the comments. In fact, Jane’s also asking this week What Makes You Anxious & Fearful About Tech?
She’s looking particularly for insight into why folks of “a certain age” are prone to be as tech-shy as they often seem to be. I remember my mother dove right in, while my father never was comfortable with anything past a fax machine.
Which brings up a secondary question I’d add — is it just me, or does it seem that in later life, women are more likely to be adaptors than men? If we tend to think younger guys are quicker to grab the joystick than girls, could it be that this reverses at some point, and the women take the techno-lead?
Our comments area awaits. Fill it up.
You can train your muse to perform on command, right? The secret is to think of it like a puppy. You know — cute, rambunctious, frustrating and surprisingly teachable. Like a puppy, your muse only seems unmanageable.
I confess, housebreaking your muse is a new concept to me. But agent Rachelle Gardner pulls it off in this, the first of three articles in a “Strategies for Writers” series, each well worth reading. Here they are:
Train Your Muse Like You Train a Puppy
Writing Methods: Have It Your Way
How To Cut Thousands of Words Without Shedding a Tear
The biggest (abuse of fair use) would be using more of the copyrighted work than was necessary. For example, if you are going to report on the death of Michael Jackson, some footage of the star may be included in the story and would likely be considered fair use. However, if you broadcast the entire “Thriller” video in memoriam, that would likely be deemed infringement and the fair use defense would not apply.
That’s attorney Miles J. Feldman talking with O’Reilly Media’s Jenn Webbin the informative Fair use: A narrow, subjective, complicated safe haven for free speech.
It’s one to bookmark for reference as needed, good clean commentary on the high points.
Like all the other acts, the third act opens with a bang, but unlike the other acts, it never lets up. From the 75% mark on, the characters and the readers alike are in for a wild ride. All the threads we’ve been weaving up to this point must now be artfully tied together.
That’s K.M. Weiland in the ninth part of her weekly series on story structure, one of the most clearly explicated doings of this material I’ve come across.
The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 9: The Third Act is, itself, an entry point. Weiland will have two more sections to her third-act discussion. As usual, Weiland’s lesson — and it is just that, Weiland isn’t afraid to flat-out teach, how refreshing — includes examples of her points from Pride & Prejudice, It’s a Wonderful Life, Ender’s Game, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World — two books, two films.
The third act is where stories are made or ruined. Everything that’s come before is important, but this is where the author’s mettle is tested. If we can deliver a solid third act, we’ve accomplished what thousands of novelists before us (even published ones) have failed to do.
It’s understandable that some people look at blogging as another way to broadcast their message, but broadcasting is the opposite of social media, which is interactive. Whether it’s your blog, Facebook, or your favorite social site, the activity is built around interacting with other people. Blogging is one form of social media, and the essence of social media, in my eyes, is the conversation.
In Author Blogging 101: Listening, Joel Friedlander takes on those bloggers we’ve all run across, the ones who never answer their comments, never seem to notice that there are readers out there — although those readers are supposedly the targets of any blog work.
Not surprisingly, Friedlander’s main interest here is in the blogger role, the person sending out material.
You do have to respond at some point. You have to show that you’re interested in what your readers have to say, to acknowledge that in a community all the voices need to be heard and considered.
But I also find this tendency not to listen, at least a form of it, in the way many people receive tweets.
Let’s say you send out a tweet. Then, rather than clicking on the link you’ve put into it to read the story involved, some folks will almost immediately reply with some supposedly clever answer … which has nothing to do with the material to which the tweet links.
Simply “listening” — by taking a moment to check out the linked content — can prevent a lot of embarrassment (“OH, sorry, didn’t realize that’s what that tweet was about”) and the time-waste of a few confused tweets back and forth.
These days, I’m taking to simply tweeting, “Please use the link in that tweet to see the content before responding.” Don’t take it personally. It’s just who has time for stab-in-the-dark knee-jerk tweet-backs?
In What I Just Learned from a Room Full of Romance Writers, Brooks freely admits he went in with some bad expectations.
I learned that from this point forward I will refer to the genre with a capital R. The genre is Romance. It deserves more respect than it gets outside of the club. The novels are legitimately difficult to write.
StoryFixer that he is, Brooks quickly gets into some real — and pretty fascinating — insights into the mechanics romance writers are using.
I learned that these writers care as much about the “outside” source of story conflict (the non-Romance plotline) as they do the love story. In fact, when we were offering and debating story ideas, hardly anyone gave the Romance plot any airtime in the discussion. I found that fascinating… it was as if the Romance plot (which occupies up to 75 percent of the contextual content of the story) was a given, an easy-deal, and it was the exterior plot that challenged.
Once grounded in the commonality of romance work with other storytelling, Brooks was able to put some points over to his new romance-writing colleagues:
One: elevate your concepts. Yes, Romance is driven by concept, too. The stronger the better. And Two: keep passion — you wouldn’t think I’d need to hammer this one, but I felt as if I did — as the driving fuel of the story. Not only to write about passion, but to write with it.
Then, whoa, he drove the pink Cadillac right on over the cliff:
My personal bottom line — because I am a romantic by nature anyhow — I think I love this genre. I think I might give it a go. I even have a pen name in mind, one that would look totally hot on a book cover.
And how did the Rose City Romance Writers of Portland, OR, receive Brooks?
Here’s Jenna Bayley-Burke writing up the session. You have to love her headline: Highlights from Larry Brooks’ 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters.
As Brooks suggests, it’s all business. Among the more interesting ideas Bayley-Burke offers from Brooks’ session in unadorned simplicity:
Even though you haven’t written it yet, write a book review of your own novel. What you want to be strong about your story will emerge on that page.
Right now we have two new writerly efforts in online services approaching beta.
In a good email exchange this week with Kathy Meis, whose Serendipite Studios in Charleston is building Bublish, we discussed how I’m not in a position to endorse a new project until I can actually see what’s there. If I rush to welcome all comers, then I lose my value to you, Ethernaut, as someone you have every reason to hope might withhold judgment until I know a spade is a spade.
Critics are like this, which, yes, is sometimes tiresome. It’s why you may notice I don’t do the “best ever” superlative crap we see all over various social media. It helps nobody when you over-praise everything that comes along. Because when the “best ever” thing actually walks in and sits down, what do we have left but self-immolation?
It is, however, quite possible and right for me to direct you to the spots online at which you can join me in signing up for beta announcements of these coming programs – I, like you, will be testing to see how they develop as tools for authorial progress.
- Meis’ Bublish (intended to focus on “helping authors more effectively find readers in today’s crowded, noisy book marketplace”) has this site at which you can register for beta announcements.
- And, as you likely know, Kristen McLean at Bookigee in Miami is developing WriterCube (“the first application created especially for authors and other book professionals who want a better way to take charge of their brands”). Here is the site at which you can sign up for beta announcements on that one.
- And, hey, anybody remember Bookish? Here’s the site to sign up for that one. Wouldn’t rush.
“These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” The problem with digital intimacy is that it is ultimately incomplete: “The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy,” she writes. “We don’t want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in ‘real time.’”
Yes, apparently we’re in for another round of the isolation! the isolation! of it all.
That’s not to say, however, that Turkle doesn’t have a lot of important things to say, and she says them well. I like Turkle. I also wish her research and analysis didn’t send some people into such spasms of breast-beating.
She gets into the Times with an op-ed headlined The Flight From Conversation, a long recitation of the anecdotes of her work. The business people who text each other instead of talking, the lovely little boy who professes that “I’d like to learn how to have a conversation” (do these things really happen to Turkle?), the family everybody loves to cite who sits at the restaurant table, each absorbed in his or her handheld.
While there’s not much new I can spot in Turkle’s essay, I do like one of her summary points:
Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.
The problem here is that there must be a problem. As with the best psychologist — or Methodist minister, having talked this over with my late pastor-father several times — Turkle’s livelihood depends on finding us in trouble with our conversation-vs.-connection. What’s she going to write next? “Never Mind, the Devices are OK, After All”?
I don’t mean to be disrespectful of Turkle, nor mean. Remember, I’ve got my own late father in there with her — he of the “helping professions” which must help whether it’s needed or not. That’s the problem. Professional helping experts are programmed to find and prove the need for their help.
Show me a therapist willing to say, “You’re done. No more sessions.” Amazingly rare.
Maybe Turkle needs a new shtick. Daddy certainly did.
And this is why I’ve brought along one more Turkle-related piece for you, Mathew Ingram’s go at the topic (and at Turkle) for GigaOm. His headline for this tiresome subject: Is the Internet making us more lonely or less lonely? Yes.
We have seen a rash of essays and articles in the mainstream press recently that take a somewhat scare-mongering tone toward social networks and digital communication of various kinds: a piece in the Atlantic raised the question of whether Facebook is making us lonely, and a New York Times op-ed by MIT professor Sherry Turkle a few days ago argues that all the texting and social-media usage we’re engaging in is bad for us as a society, because it is preventing us from having “real” conversations and connecting with other human beings.
Know why I like Ingram? Because he calls the question:
Is that really true?
Ingram brings in some research by Zeneyp Tufekci, a sociologist.
Tufekci argues the online world and the so-called real world are almost indistinguishable now, and in many cases they tend to support each other rather than the opposite.
I’m as much a creature of my own “anecdata” (thank you, Brett Sandusky) as anyone, but this sounds sensible to me. My own experience is that the on- and offline contacts I have support each other. I can move between them very comfortably.
And finally, it gets down, as Ingram indicates, to that thing we like least: taking responsibility for ourselves. Do you really want to be a victim of your online world? Or of your offline world? Do you honestly want to whine that you’re losing touch with the “real” world off the grid? Or that you find the demands of the flesh-and-bloods in your life to be overly distracting when you’re trying to enjoy your virtual life?
OK, I’ll shut up (you’re welcome) and let Mathew do it, he’s more patient with this sort of social-lemming topic than I am. Take us home, sir:
It’s how we choose to use these new tools that matters, and that is something we all have in our power to change, for the better as well as for the worse.
I’ll be at Writer Unboxed this weekend with a new piece posting on Saturday. Do stop by, we usually get quite a busy comments exchange going … weeping as we are, you know, out here in the vast loneliness and isolation of cyberspace. Send Kleenex.
Here’s the Q2 Music player for you. Q2 is an NPR-affiliated free 24/7 stream of music– living composers, many of whom write for Hollywood as well as for the international concert stage. Writerly music, via this player or in the Radio section of iTunes.
Key imagery: iStockphoto / Abinormal