Thursday, June 09, 2011
Exploring the Intertubes
With my return to blogging, I am trying to formulate some “big picture” understanding of what the internet is today and where I can best apply my energies. In this endeavor, I have asked you, my readers, for input, and I have received some valuable leads and insights here and in private emails. I have also scoured the new book section at the local library for titles on the topic. I found three: Pull, The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform your Business, by David Siegel; You Are Not a Gadget, a Manifesto by Jaron Lanier; and Say Everything, How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters, by Scott Rosenberg. Since this is the public library, “new books” tend to be six or more months old by the time they hit the shelves, and, indeed, these books were published a year or two ago. Which is a long time in the ongoing transformation of the Web, but hey, it’s a start.
The first one, being a book on how to improve one’s business, I can dispatch rather quickly. The panacea for business success is--metadata. Pay attention to the particular metadata that your industry attaches to your product or service, and you too can harness the power of the semantic web. I read the chapter about the publishing industry and pretty much ignored the rest. I learned a few things about marketing in traditional publishing, but not much I can use.
The second one is the chewiest of the three. Lanier was an early developer of virtual reality and has toiled in Silicon Valley for a long time. His views on software engineers and the early days of the personal computer are interesting, as is his take on the state of the internet today. It’s a book I’d probably have to read again to fully understand. But who has time to read anything more than once these days? And I fear I might not be able to understand it better with a second reading anyway. That’s because of Lanier’s writing style. It’s rather choppy. Ideas are introduced and dropped without, first, an adequate explanation of what he means by them and, second, any way to tie them into a larger picture. Even words like “person” get short shrift. (“Being a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith.” Yeah, right. So why’d you bring it up?) Also, he likes to illustrate abstractions with more abstractions. I’m not sure there is a point to the book other than the impression that Lanier is disgruntled and slightly wary of the state of technology today.
But I almost did get something valuable from his manifesto that relates to my novel-in-progress. That is, in disparaging the Web 2.0 and its “cybernetic totalists” with their vaunted open culture, Creative Commons anti-context file sharing, and derivative mashups of a previous generation’s work, he implies that there is an opposing point of view. I, myself, have looked askance at the whole open culture paradigm (hey, I want to be paid for my work), but I didn’t know there could be a counter position, other than the old, dead, litigious rearguard of the music industry (suing grandmothers for pirated music on their hard drives). So I eagerly read on in hope of discovering what this other camp might be, only to be left in the dark. Likewise, he speaks of the Singularity as being a religious tenant of the cybernetic totalists. I have taken a contrarian POV toward the Singularity in my two novels (not that anyone noticed), and I touch on it again in my current book. So I was keen to hear how a modern technologist might argue against it. But again I was disappointed. Lanier seems to be a dualist at heart, though not necessarily a theist. He seems to be saying that humans are the exceptional animal; though a part of Nature, they participate in the ineffable (i.e. they are “spiritual but not religious”). Might as well go to a UU meeting.
The third book, Say Everything, was the one most germane to my investigation, and from it I’ve drawn several valuable conclusions. First, I’m probably not a blogger, and this blog may not be the best way for me to reach my PR goals. Blogging is a form of writing in itself. This is not to say there’s a single approach to blogging. There are three, more or less, and there may be more variations in the future. One of the original impulses in blogging was the first-person, self-revelatory, diarist approach. Ordinary people were suddenly presented the tools necessary to publish their thoughts about everything and anything to their friends and the world at large. No more gatekeepers. Rag on your employer, reveal family secrets, obsess about your body parts, chronicle the family vacation. Whatever you like. When I asked my readers for feedback about what you’d like to see in my blog, one of the replies I got was to steer away from this True Confessions/home-movie type of blogging style.
A second approach, exemplified by the excellent Boing Boing blog, is to make a digest of links to interesting stories on other sites.
A third is to offer up a running commentary on a particular topic, like politics, religion, collecting sports memorabilia, or whatever, usually with a highly personal POV. This type has been commercialized, as with Gawker. When attached to a news/magazine site, like Salon, HuffPost, and the Atlantic, they take the form of essay or commentary.
None of which I’m interested in doing. Why? Because it takes time. It has taken me two days to write each of these few recent posts (except for the previous one on foreign releases). That’s two days I should have been writing fiction. Also because it’s not my preferred form of writing. I am totally wrapped up in writing the long fiction form--the novel. The hours I spend working on a novel each day make me feel good. I think that my mind is especially shaped to excel at novel writing, that novels can be things of lasting value. Having my name on a finished novel is fulfilling. So, that’s what I should focus on. And with any luck, the novel form will survive in this ever-accelerating world. Short stories might not. They’re in the same length niche as blogs and other forms of web reading. But the long form is a form unto itself, and people like to sink themselves into unfamiliar universes every now and then.
So why am I keeping this blog? Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll quit. I laid out my goal for it a few posts ago. Traditional publishing is dead. I may have to publish my next book myself, and if I do, the one skill I lack is promotion. There are 300,000 or so new books released in this country every year; who’s going to even hear of mine? And with the gates to epublishing thrown wide open, there’s bound to be two and three times that number soon. YouTube made everyone a videographer. The Kindle and Nook are making everyone an author. You can download thousands of books for free.
OK, I’ll keep updating this blog, at least until I find something better. One of the things a fellow suggested in the comments is that I start a forum. I’ve given that a lot of thought, and I like the idea. Not that I would start a forum myself. I don’t think I could pull it off. Rather, I’ll look around the web and find the most popular science fiction forum going, and I’ll join that. More on that later.
Where do you go to chat about science fiction? Let me know.
The photo at the top is a demonic moose that visited me last December.