Apr 252012

My thoughts on this matter continue to emerge.  Bring yourself up to date, if you wish, by reading this and its associated posts.

Just a couple more ideas to throw into the mix.

The social web’s major achievement seems to have been to convince people to work for global corporations for free.  Not only for free but also in exchange for handing over personal data such as names, locations, dates of birth and so forth.  We spend hours every day inputting what starts out as our data in a process whereby it essentially becomes their data – much of which in a discrete sense is of very little value.  But bundled together, as sparse data often has been over history, it takes on a whole new life and existence.

So where has that selfsame history brought us?  Whilst the 20th century was characterised by the multiple players of the industry of film taking over from the single authorship of the previous century’s novels, the 21st century will be characterised by a virtual sweat-shop of voluntary and addicted labour inputting its individually irrelevant datasets in order that algorithms and clever software manage to tease creative content out of the mix.

The creativity crisis both Chris and Rick speak so eloquently of is, in fact, no crisis at all – for there is plenty of employment to go around; the only slight problem from a living-your-life point of view being that it’s manifestly unpaid.

If we feel that the creative arts are inadequately funded, it’s because we’re looking in all the old places to create them.  The new and brightest locations for creativity exist in the online constitutions which convert the product of evermore humble data-inputters across the globe into interesting and engaging Web 2.0 content.  And funding isn’t necessary because the dumbing-down of process which characterises such corporate bodies everywhere has now also been applied to the end-users of such tools.  Which does beg the question: who, in fact, could justify paying anything to anyone for simply liking or commenting on an article?  In essence, we’ve been sold the donkey that what we do is ephemeral and worthless by itself – when in reality, using such dumbed-down processes which gather together and combine disparate data in new and unusual ways, it is really rather valuable, permanent and complex.

Are the machines on the point of taking over then?  I would argue, with billion-dollar stock market flotations and user populations in the hundreds of millions, the modern social web has already turned us into industrialised cogs – freeloading as it does quite brutally on the back of our own falling standards of living as we work for zilch.

This software I talk of serves to take the basest of another’s data and turn it into a financial gold which is then stripped of all authorship and right to proper remuneration.

A virtual alchemy finally exists, then, in the 21st century.  And its objects and goals – and victims too – just happen to be ourselves.

Oh, and one final thought to be going away with: if you believe in remunerating content providers properly but at the same time are thinking of using collated datasets of social content to run your businesses, think for a moment where all the latter information comes from – who produces it, under what conditions and how.

You may discover that the phrase “two-faced” comes to mind as you fight to impose your copyright laws on end-users of film, video, music and journalism – end-users who in a separate context you’re effectively employing unwaged in order that you might market better such legally protected products.

Yes.  Web 2.0 is a classic example of getting something for nothing.  Which doesn’t stop the most fervent supporters of copyright, even as we speak, resorting hypocritically to its charms.

Nov 192011

Faisal’s tweet first drew this piece of news to my attention:

Herman Cain said seriously “leader not reader” line The Simpsons scripted satirically for “President Schwarzenegger” youtube.com/watch?v=afMsXW…”

More background to this story from the LA Times here. Whilst you can see the Simpsons’ clip below.


So a potential candidate for the US Presidency proudly declaims that what the world needs more than anything else are leaders not readers.

Does make me wonder if the NYPD, anticipating the Zeitgeist, decided to take him at his anticipated word:

The Occupy Wall Street librarians tweeted the eviction all night: “NYPD destroying american cultural history, they’re destroying the documents, the books, the artwork of an event in our nation’s history … Right now, the NYPD are throwing over 5,000 books from our library into a dumpster. Will they burn them? … Call 311 or 212-639-9675 now and ask why Mayor Bloomberg is throwing the 5,554 books from our library into a dumpster.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, a similar – though rather more procedurally thorough – process is taking place, as libraries across the country are being closed down in their hundreds.

Interestingly, on Wednesday the Guardian newspaper reported that the destruction had been – at least temporarily – interrupted:

Campaigners attempting to stop the closure of their local libraries won a surprise victory in the high court on Wednesday when a judge ruled that the decision to axe services in Gloucestershire and Somerset was unlawful and should be quashed.

In his judgment on a judicial review brought by campaigners in the two counties, Judge Martin McKenna found that local authorities had failed to comply with their public sector equality duties when pushing through the closures.

To the gasps and muted exclamations of the campaigners sitting at the back of the court, he ordered the councils to revisit their plans. Failure to do so, he said, would send the wrong message to other councils.

“It is important to the rule of law to give due regard to these issues of equality,” added McKenna, before refusing the defence permission to appeal. Gloucestershire and Somerset county councils could still lodge a request with the court of appeal.

Issues of equality?  Now if we had leaders who also read, then more of this might be our lot than is currently the case.

Cain is wrong in what he says – for he constructs a false equation.  Yes.  It is true.  We need leaders at all levels.  But we need thoughtful, contemplative and reflective leaders – not the gung-ho illiterates who blast communities and nations out from their simplistic skies.

Leaders not readers?  No.  Leaders and readers.  Nothing better than a book to put all intelligences at the same level – and give us all an opportunity to better our environments.

Which is why, of course, the Herman Cains of this world are really not all that interested in that written and broadening legacy of our civilisation.

Too much real democracy really isn’t good for the ruling elites (nor, indeed, I might pointedly add, for those who would also wish to form part of such power).

Sep 182011

During the time I was studying to be an editor, great emphasis was placed on the importance of the front cover of a book.  Less so, perhaps, in these digital days – we aren’t seduced any more by the colours, the stamped titles on the sleeve, the weight of the book or the smell of the paper itself.

In fact, the technology doesn’t allow us to be.

But front covers, even so, continue to tell their story – as we search online for a connection that manages to make that final sale.

There are two books out there at the moment which I’m currently considering whether to invest in.  They are competitors too.  Reviews can be found for “The Purple Book” here and “What next for Labour?” here.  And the criteria which I’m using to weigh up the final decision include technology, cost, perceived inclusiveness and ideological approach – and therefore their covers, too.

I generally buy my books from Amazon – and, lately, via the Kindle.  But, even so, I tend to hunt them out and read up on them first – using my PC and broadband as in the olden days.  Thus it is that further investigation led me to these two pictures – here and here respectively – of the front covers of the books in question.

There is little I can say about the cover of “The Purple Book”.  I believe it’s mainly written by people from Progress (a self-denominated “[…] New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”) – and if not written by them, certainly sanctioned by this so-called party-within-a-party.  As Peter Watt says in his review of the second book I’m focussing on today:

I strongly recommend that people buy and read it. But there is a downside to The Purple Book: that it will, inevitably, be seen as being partisan. Because of course it is. Speaking as a fully signed up member of progress, I am completely comfortable with the direction of its partisanship. But the Labour party is a coalition (I know that this is a bit of a dirty word, but I think we may well have to get used to it) and there will be many therefore who dismiss The Purple Book simply because it is from the progress stable.

So what does the cover of the “The Purple Book” say to you?  Corporately impeccable surely; efficiently managerial too – this could, in fact, easily be an in-house publication from any multinational company out there.  From what Peter Watt says, this might not have been the intention – but, certainly, if you’re wandering randomly around a bookshop of bricks and mortar, this cover has a kingly version of New Labour written all over it.

I could never deal with purple as it’s always represented absolute power to me.

Obviously, then, if I’d been the editor of this book, and even keeping in mind Progress’s colours and public image, this would not have been the cover I would have chosen.  It says very few things – and the things it does say are wrong.

But then neither would I have chosen the cover for the second book, “What next for Labour?”.  A short time ago I had the opportunity to exchange a couple of tweets with one of its editors – and unhappily seemed to get him on the back foot, which really wasn’t my intention.  But one of his responses I really do have to take issue with – and it relates to the importance or not of a front cover:

@eiohel it is inside what matters and as has been said it has many women who have contributed inc 2 pieces on women, feminism and poverty

And I do understand how important the content of a book is; and I do understand how the cover is simply a frame.  But I also do most strongly feel that a frame is never simply a frame – and if we’re truly interested in selling our wares, the choices we make when we fashion that frame will, for better or for worse, also fashion our sales.  As well as the life, understanding and historical location our baby will enjoy from its public in the future.

So if you titled a book – most wisely in my opinion – “What next for Labour?”, what then would you be expecting to see on the cover?  Things relating to the past or things relating to the future?  Things relating to the 20th century or things relating to the 21st?  Leaders and pyramids or flat hierarchies and people?  Broadcast communication from the top to the bottom or networked dialogue of all in society?

Some of the latter, it has to be said, is to be found with the inclusion of what is presumably a computer screen.  But the rest of the image, at least to my mind, shows historical leaders who represent the past crouched around a very end-of-20th century way of accessing the virtual world which now commands our lives.

If the objective of the imagery used is to tell us that Ed Miliband is a bridge between the past and the future, then “What next for Labour?” is not the future but a reluctant present.

A reluctant present which is, currently, becoming a very miserable place to be.

In the meantime, whilst those of us who know Labour’s history – and even care enough to remember it – may dwell in its past with great intellectual and emotional enthusiasm, to the casual reader this book cover serves no purpose whatsoever: it signposts no young men, women nor children at all – nor indicates how they might explicitly form part of what’s on the horizon.

Which will I end up reading?  Probably “What next for Labour?”.  At least it has a Kindle version – even if at eight quid a throw it’s at the pricey end of digital downloads.  I’ll be able to search and easily highlight; flag up to my Facebook followers its wisdoms; carry it around with me wherever I go; and, alongside everything else I’ve got on the boil, drop in and drop out of its content whenever.

But if I do read “What next for Labour?”, it won’t be because of the cover.

The cover is to a book what the eyes are to a lover.  It’s the only way you can seduce a reader who has a million alternatives to choose from.

Remember that, dear political editors.  And try and do better next time.

Mar 152011

The Guardian has a perceptive report tonight on what the web delivers and apps threaten us with.  Three quotes as follows.  First:

Will news apps reinvent the future of journalism? “Oh god, I hope not,” groans Aron Pilhofer, the New York Times’ interactive editor.

“I’m sceptical about apps generally. It takes you out of the web. You come in to this isolated, one-person web. That’s so anti where we’re headed that I have a problem with it,” he told the SXSW conference on Monday.

And then this:

Although native apps tailored for the device had “some benefits,” Pihofer said, the “killer app” on every handset is the browser. “There’s so little you cannot do with offline storage in the browser environment that to me [the iPad] is almost not worth the investment.

“Community is a place where the web is your friend and the app is not. If you consider community to be part of the answer to the future of news then going into the partially-stilted environment of the application walks away from that.”


Khoi Vinh, the digital publishing design guru formerly of the New York Times, said on Saturday that the current generation of siloed news apps represent a mere footnote in the future of online reading. The future, he argued, is in the multiplatform browser – publishing’s “natural home”.

I would’ve thought that the rule of thumb – which, by now, everyone who ventures into the virtual world surely operates under and comprehends – really shouldn’t need repeating here.  Whatever you want to do automagically online, please work out first how to do it pleasurably – and, what’s more importantly, manually – offline.  Then see where the offline habits have taken us and meet up again with current online behaviours.

And if the individual experience of extracting and absorbing information by reading books in private has transmuted into the multiplatform tailing of information that is the nexus of PC, mobile phone and laptop/tablet/netbook, then apps truly are a footnote destined to waste the resources of those who would prefer to repeat old business models instead of invent, fashion and tailor new.

Yes.  An app is probably the closest we’ll get online to a traditional paper- or hardback.  But the real problem is that since hyperlinks invaded our imaginations some fifteen or twenty years ago we have begun to read in a completely different manner.  It’s not that apps aren’t a worthy successor to our beloved books.  It’s that those of us who truly enjoy reading traditional books won’t want to venture into an online substitute – whilst those of us who have already ventured into hyperlinked information on an open web will never want to look back.  For the latter constituency, apps will not be seen as worthy successors to paper (which, as I said, they are) but, rather, as a very poor replacement for the freedoms of a hyperlinked and now multiplatforming web.

Apps have arrived too late.

The hyperlinked web which is unfolding like an electronic octopus has already changed the way we think, structure, define, communicate and absorb information.  And there’s no going back.  The web will provide expanses of space in which to operate where apps will only ever wish to put up electronic fences which prohibit.

And from that, there is no getting away.

Feb 172011

Two pieces which have come my way this evening most serendipitously.  The first, via AdviceToWriters’ Twitter feed:

Alex Clark on “The lost art of editing…” http://bit.ly/fvBn2M #editing #publishing #writing

This lovely Guardian piece can be found here.  (Do I hear myself saying “Guardian, all is forgiven”?)

And the bit I most like from the piece runs as follows:

[…] In 2005, Blake Morrison wrote a long essay on the subject in which he noted that, despite the inherent fuzziness of the line between facilitating a writer’s work, with the occasional firmness and wing-clipping that entails, and the kind of over-editing that can result in a loss of authenticity and spontaneity, editing was vital to the business of writing and publishing. “When a book appears,” he concluded, “the author must take the credit. But if editing disappears, as it seems to be doing, there’ll be no books worth taking the credit for.”

Meanwhile, the crowdsourced book-oriented and context-enriching review website Book Drum sent me a heartwarming email tonight, which I reproduce in full below:

Hi there,

We’re delighted to announce the judges for the 2011 Book Drum Tournament. All three are highly distinguished prize-winning authors, who between them have written in a wide range of genres: literary fiction, young adult fiction, journalism, criticism, poetry, short stories, plays, historical fiction, online games and memoir.

Naomi Alderman Bridget Collins SJ Parris

Naomi Alderman (left) is the author of Disobedience (Penguin, 2007), winner of the Orange Award for New Writers and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. She writes for The Guardian, creates stories for online games, speaks regularly on national radio, and writes short fiction. In 2009 she was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award, and she has been named one of Waterstones’ 25 Writers for the Future. The Lessons (Penguin, 2010) is published in paperback in April.

B.R. Collins (right) is an actress, poet and author of Young Adult fiction. Her first novel, The Traitor Game (Bloomsbury, 2008), won the Branford Boase Award and was longlisted for the 2009 Carnegie Medal. She has twice won the Young National Poetry competition, had two plays produced, and has recently acted in an independent film. A Trick of the Dark was published in 2009, and Tyme’s End in 2011 (Bloomsbury). Gamerunner will be published in July.

S.J. Parris (below) is the pseudonym of journalist, critic and author, Stephanie Merritt. She was Deputy Literary Editor for The Observer from 1998 to 2006, and has judged the Costa Biography, Orange New Writing and Perrier Awards. Her first novel, Gaveston (Faber & Faber, 2002), won a Betty Trask Award, while her memoir about living with depression, The Devil Within (Vermilion, 2008), was shortlisted for the Mind Book Award. Her first historical thriller, Heresy (HarperCollins), was published in 2010, and Prophecy will follow in March.

Books by these authors are not eligible for the Tournament, but that leaves plenty of other choices. Who would like to profile Goldfinger? Or perhaps Gormenghast? Or The Golden Bowl? A wealth of great titles are still there for the taking – browse this list for some prize-winning inspiration. The deadline is rapidly approaching, so there’s no time to lose!

So then – all you bookworms out there – why not get reviewing!  And perhaps we shall yet save the world from that fate worse than death itself: the poorly edited book …

Jan 082011

This morning, I read that:

Absolute disgrace that up to 800 Libraries will close due to cuts.Everybody loses when a library closes.Librarians Rise Up I say #ukuncut

And responded thus:

Is it true 800 libraries may close ‘cos of cuts? Book-burning writ huge. What the Nazis didn’t achieve, the Coalition will.

Libraries may be burned through malicious fire or, alternatively, through overarching cuts that resist an obvious ownership and thus aim to escape all censure.  Here in Britain, we choose the latter.  But the end result is the same.  Where will all those books go?  Who will be able to share and lend them?  Will they end up in storage or will they end up in the vaults of unhappy and solitary collectors?

Or will they end up in some hapless corporate incinerator?

Who in government today understands the importance of learning for future prosperity?

Who, indeed, far more importantly, in government today is truly prepared and willing to take ownership for any of these destructive actions?

Why, no one of course!  For that, naturally enough, is the gameplan.  That is how you shift the blame for the destruction onto your opposition enemies.  Cut from above in helicopter view and let the real people who have to apply these awful realities take responsibility – as the grubby dirty detail takes hold.

That is how you can ensure that lending library books – our only final guarantor of a shared freedom of thought – are gradually defaced and removed from the public circulation that our society most needs.  The last recourse of a municipal society ultimately enters the exclusive domain of private sale.

And without those ultimately responsible having to carry an iota of blame on their unreasonably unburdened shoulders.

For what they are burning is not only our libraries and their stock of creativity and imagination.  What they are burning, quite deliberately, is municipal spaces and all that they mean – that is to say, public spaces of public usage – without truly recognising the pain they impose on our historical tapestry of discourse.

I fear that all that will remain for us after this Coalition government has had its way is those private spaces of public usage that Facebook and Liverpool One so categorically represent.  You give away your right to own where you tread and – eventually – you give away your right to determine what is done with your name, your postal code, your birth date – and your soul.

We must recover our municipal spirit before it is too damn late.  Corporations need it just as much as we do.

For they should remember that externalising costs is what makes them profitable.  And without municipalities to pick up the tab, little of this could take place.

So as we take a leaf from that communication book of all corporations everywhere, let’s prioritise this following piece of corporate speak and suggest our government does the same: ownership for one’s acts and self-awareness above all.

Update to this post: further background to the news which provoked this post can be found here and here from yesterday’s Guardian.

Dec 262010

Paul very kindly includes me in his Northern list of bibliophiles.  In order to comply with the requirements of the game he outlines, I think I should – however – widen the remit of the task assigned.

I would define a book as a coherent body of knowledge which narrates a story of some kind.  This story may be non-fictional or fictional – it may be virtual or made of celluloid.  These days, it’s more than likely composed of one kind of digital format or another.  How we read it therefore – the device we need to observe its sense and sensibility – is probably the least of the matter.

That, then, is my definition of a “book”.

Paul also suggests three lists we should recommend from: the top-ten non-fictional books, the top-ten fictional books and the top-five please-don’t-touch-me-at-all-whatever-you-do-next-year books.

So here’s my list of top-ten non-fictional “books”, which I have either read for the first time this year or had occasion to renew my acquaintance with:

  1. “Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang – overview and precision of detail as the tale of modern China is told relentlessly
  2. “Mythologies” by Roland Barthes – I never tire of re-reading these beautiful tales of clever thought
  3. “A Beautiful Mind” – this film redeems its leading character through its ingeniously accurate description of his painfully brilliant state of mind
  4. “The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors” by the Oxford English Dictionary Department – this book dates from 1981 and is one of my most dearly thumbed companions
  5. “Stumbling and Mumbling” blog – deep thought but never computerised
  6. “Though Cowards Flinch” blog – has me consistently out of my depth, but this is the kind of stuff I wish I could always understand
  7. “Slugger O’Toole” electronic magazine – a tale of a village I could never belong to nor deserve to intervene in, but one I will always have a great fondness for
  8. “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani – I re-read this book this year after a hiatus of a couple of years.  If you want to know why bad stuff happens to good people, read this
  9. “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger – I re-read this little book regularly.  It serves to keep my feet on the ground
  10. “WikiLeaks.org” (or wherever you may currently find it) – great publishing, awful choice of extra-curricular activities

Here’s my list of top-ten fictional “books” – mainly, I’m afraid (for the purists amongst you), films or film versions of what we more traditionally understand to be a book; nevertheless, I promise you I do read them just as carefully:

  1. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – I saw the film on the occasion of my wedding anniversary.  Every man who might ever consider forming part of a heterosexual relationship needs to see this film.  It is a tract – in every possibly positive sense of the word – on the subject of rape and its utterly unacceptable nature
  2. “Toy Story 3″ – pretty well perfect film-making: total control of environment and emotions.  At the pinnacle of industrial art (made me blubber at the end, anyhow)
  3. “Star Trek – the Original Series” – too many episodes to enumerate but never fails to disappoint me
  4. “High Society” – because of Louis Armstrong
  5. “Meet Me in St Louis” – because of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli
  6. “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker (well, it’s about what drives fictional constructs …)
  7. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F Scott Fitzgerald (other short stories by Fitzgerald too – but this one in particular always gets a re-read)
  8. “U.S.A.” by John Dos Passos (finally finished after having started it such a long time ago at university …)
  9. “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” by Edgar Allan Poe (Nintendo DS version)
  10. “Cracks” by Sheila Kohler

Finally, my list of the five publishing untouchables:

  1. Paywalls
  2. Paywalls
  3. Paywalls
  4. Paywalls
  5. Paywalls