Book Reviews, etc.

Californinger's Sage: Total Recall of Things Past

“There was a king named Fornjot, he ruled over those lands which are called Finland and Kvenland; that is to the east of that bight of the sea which goes northward to meet Gandvik; that we call the Helsingbight.”

“I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn”.

It wasn’t particularly The Orkneyingers’ Saga that was on my mind as I fell asleep, nor was it Remembrance of Things Past. Yet both of them related back to a single theme. Instead, I was thinking about the book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell.

I had heard a discussion of the book on an NPR radio segment a couple weeks ago, and have been trying to get a chance to write about it ever since. It is a fascinating project to record ever increasing details of our personal lives. All kinds of concerns were raised about this. If we keep all our memories online, will we lose our ability to memorize things? There were discussions about how memorizing things actually makes one’s ability to memorize additional things easier. If everything is recorded for us, does our mind atrophy? What about the privacy issues, if every detail of our lives is recorded will we change the way we behave? Will people tap that information for marketing purposes or as part of criminal investigations? Will it move us closer to a world of thought crime?

How does blogging fit into this, and do we run the risk of becoming simply diarists spending too much time looking at what was as opposed to what could be?

It seems to me that the real issue isn’t how much of your life you’ve recorded, but what you can do with it. The simplest part is, can you easily find and retrieve the information that you’ve recorded?

In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust starts out, “For a long time I used to go to bed early”. There isn’t a specific date on this. He doesn’t start, “On July 17, 1876 I went to bed at 6:47 PM”. He continues with “I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn”. He does not state that they took a particular turn at 7:13 PM, although scholars might be very interested in when he really did go to bed and exactly how long it took for these thoughts to take a peculiar turn. Instead, it is all generalized, a collection of rather
imprecise memories.

The Orkneyingers’ Saga is even less precise. ““There was a king named Fornjot”. While we know that Proust was born on July 10, 1871, the day or year of Fornjot’s birth is not easy to find anywhere. Yet The Orkneyingers’ Saga was an important part of early collective memory.

All of this comes back to a few different themes for me. First, is how do we organize, search, retrieve, and make sense of information? I’ve not read Total Recall, but it seems as if this is the interesting part that is overlooked. How do we make random associations? I suspect that not many of my readers have associated The Orkneyingers’ Saga with Proust and Gordon Bell before.

Beyond that, when we make our random associations in our efforts to make sense of information, how do we tell the story? This is one of my gripes about all these “future of news” discussions. Whatever the media, video, print or online and whatever the label, be it journalist, blogger or some combination of the two, we need to make sense of information and tell it in a compelling story. The Orkneyingers’ Saga did that. Proust did that. Yet so much of the minutiae of modern news is just that, minutiae that has not been fit into a bigger picture, a more compelling story.

There are many more places I could go with this, but while Proust went to bed early, I’ve woken up early. It is still dark outside. The rain is falling and sleep beckons me back to another opportunity for my thoughts to take peculiar turns.

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Confronting the Blank Page

Thursday evening. The digital display on the front of the dust covered cable box reads 9:11. The house is empty and quiet. Kim had to work late and Fiona, my youngest daughter, the only one that has not headed off to college yet, is out at a concert with a friend.

There are still thousands of unread emails in my inbox beckoning to me, but I have done enough on the computer today. I read emails, visited various blogs, wrote a few replies, comments on blogs and a post for my own blog. I also did a little programming for a project that is winding down with a frustrating denouement and did some investigating for some future projects and blog posts.

The hum of the computers adds to the empty feeling of the house. After I prepared my one person dinner; a steak I was supposed to eat with Kim last night, but worked too late to be home for dinner, along with some tomatoes from our weekly community supported agriculture delivery, I fled the house in search of something; something to foretell the next great adventure.

In less than two months, I will start on my next attempt at writing a novel. November is National Novel Writing month. I wrote a novel in 2007 which sits on my hard drive. 2008 saw false starts which ended up without a novel being completed. This year, I have my story in mind and the characters are fighting for recognition and definition.

One thing I did not like about my 2007 novel is that the characters were not as complicated as I would have liked. They did not grow or change as much as I wanted. I’ve been reading Irvin Yalom’s “Everyday gets a little closer”. It isn’t fiction. It is the recounting of a person in therapy with Dr. Yalom and provides lots of depth and growth of the main character.

A friend of mine is fighting leukemia. In a recent journal entry, she spoke about “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”. I checked online to find that it is not currently available at the public library. Yet I headed over there to see if a librarian might suggest a book somehow like that.

After a brief discussion, where we found most of the suggestions where also all checked out, the librarian suggested “The Reader” by Bernard Schlink. She mentioned that it was much better than the movie, which I hadn’t seen. Yet as I stood at the shelves, I decided to check out both, “The Reader” as well as “Flights of Love” by the same author.

I headed up to bed to quietly read while I waited for Kim and Fiona to get home. I was struck by the detailed descriptions in the beginning of “Flights of Love”. This is another area where I am weak in my writing and I’m thinking of trying to work on this as well.

I have been writing every day for my blog. I believe that the discipline has helped my writing, however, I still need to work extensively on describing setting and exploring the evolving characters in my stories. This is not something I really work on in my blog posts, but I may try doing more of that as writing exercises.

As I thought about this, my thoughts returned to Wednesday evening’s open house at my daughter’s school. Her teacher talked about how everyone claims to read with their children, but writing is also important and who talks about writing with their children? He will be sending home writing prompts for Fiona. I may get Fiona to put her writings in a blog. We’ll see. I wondered, should I write my own responses to the writing prompts? I don’t think that would be good. She needs to write her way and not have me writing about the same things. So, I will look for things to write about to expand my descriptive writing abilities.

The little display in the lower right hand corner of my laptop tells me it is now 9:40 as my wife walks in the door. The house is no longer empty the way it had been. I have confronted the blank page and written a long blog post. I will reread it and edit it in the morning.

Friday morning. I have completed my edits and will post the blog post. I pause to wonder about my audience. Many different people approach my blog from many different perspectives. What will they, what will you, get out of this blog post?

Follow Friday

@MaureenCole @shelisrael @lizstrauss @jdlasica @kdpaine @scottmonty @MissRogue @veronica @gapingvoid @sreenet @gartenberg @briansolis @stevecla @sncr @scobleizer @thornley @tobydiva

Well, it has been a busy Friday and I'm only now getting a chance to write my Follow Friday post. I actually started planning this post a few days ago, when I received a review copy of TwitterVille by Shel Israel.

I receive my share of books for review, and have noted that books that I receive about Twitter do not have the Twitter handle of the publicists or people being quoted. Twitterville is different.

@MaureenCole works is a "Publicist at Portfolio, the business book imprint of Penguin Group". The letter accompanying Shel's book provided her contact information, including her id on Twitter. Kudos to Maureen for including it. Then, of course, there is the author, @shelisrael. I've followed Shel on Twitter and in his other writings, so I already knew his Twitter id, even though I'm not finding it in the book.

The cover letter included 'Advance Praise for TWITTERVILLE' which had various quotes found in the book or on the cover. All of the quotes had the twitter ids of the people being quoted.

Inside the book are quotes from @lizstrauss @jdlasica @kdpaine and someone identified as a 'social media consultant' that didn't list a Twitter id.

On the back cover were quotes from @scottmonty @MissRogue @veronica @gapingvoid @sreenet @gartenberg @briansolis @stevecla @sncr @scobleizer @thornley @tobydiva. All of these people have important things to say about social media, besides simply praising Shel's book. Most of them I had already been following and are well enough known not to require any sort of introduction. For those that you don't know, check out their Twitter page. You can find more than enough information about the people there.

As I read through the book, there are frequent references to people in Twitter, and so perhaps I'll have another Twitterville related Follow Friday next week or in some subsequent week.

Let me end by saying that if you're new to twitter, these are great people to follow, to get a sense of what is going on with Twitter. With that, I'm off to my weekend. More later.

Liveblogging a Conversation about Reading Twitterville

Yesterday, I receive a review copy of Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods by Shel Israel. I started to read it beside the Country Club of Woodbridge swimming pool and thinking about how best to review the book. I'm only thirty pages into it so far, so I'm not ready to write a more traditional review.

However, one of the key points, at least in the beginning of the book is about how we are moving from an era of broadcast to an era of conversation. Twitter is a great tool to join into a conversation that may apply to your brand, your life, or anything else you want to talk about. With this in mind, I thought that it might be interesting to write a different sort of blog post, sort of like carrying on a conversation about the book and perhaps even like live blogging it.

So, I may have assorted posts up on Twitter about reading Twitterville. I'll also take time to share random thoughts about the book as I read through it.

This isn't a completely new idea for me. A while ago, I was rereading Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon. As I read it, I wrote blog posts about the places he had visited and what I could find out about them now via the Internet. You can read those posts in the Long Blue Tail section of my blog. Some point, I hope to return to this.

Meanwhile, back in Twitterville, the first thing that I noticed is that so many people are referenced by their twitter handles. If only to get a good list of interesting people to follow on Twitter, this book is worth it. I'll mention some of them in subsequent posts.


Shel starts off the introduction to his book by talking about when James Buck was arrested and posted that single word in Twitter. Arrested. It can mean to be taken into custody by the authorities. Yet there is another meaning to the word arrested. It can mean to stop. The moment that James' tweet reached Shel, through a serious of re-tweets, it seems to have stopped Shel in his tracks and caused him to rethink his views about Twitter. That is a great thing about Twitter. Through your network of friends you are likely, if you are open to it, to stumble across tweets that stop you in your tracks and make you think. To me, this is a good thing.

Joining the Conversation

As I noted above, an important focus about this book is on the conversations that take place within Twitter. Mr. Israel is a journalist who understands the responsibility of putting information into context, into a story that people can understand. I look forward to some of the stories that he will be telling. He also puts the nature of conversations into context as he talks about The Cluetrain Manifesto as a key book in getting people to think about the marketplace as a conversation. It made me think of all the discussions back in 2003 and 2004 about post-broadcast politics. Shel applies this to business and I look forward to seeing where he goes with it.

Twitterville examines the inefficiency of traditional marketing. It argues the case for using social media instead of ads. It argues that from a business perspective, Twitter is the most effective tool yet delivered into the growing arsenal of social media tools.

As I read this, I thought about the various Digiday events. I would love to hear Shel speak there.

The History of Twitter

One thing that always causes me to pause is when I stumble across comments about how Twitter Inc was formed in October, 2006. My first tweet was in October 2006 and I have to go back and double check, did I in fact tweet the first month they were incorporated? Yup.

Shel also does a good job of talking about how Twitter started, where the team came from and capturing some of the development ethos.

So far, I'm enjoying the book. Anyone else have a review copy and want to join the discussion? Do you have thoughts about what you've read about the book, either here or other places? Let me know.


@pistachio, @gruen, @geechee_girl

Do you know what #followfriday is? Do you know why I put a pound sign or hashmark in front of #followfriday? Do you know who @pistachio, @gruen, @geechee_girl are? Do you know why there is an at-sign at the beginning of their usernames? Do you know how I am getting this message to show up on Twitter and Facebook automatically?

Regular readers of my blog will recognize that #followfriday is a ‘hashtag’. It is a tag used on Twitter so that people can easily find it and other people talking about the same topic. On Fridays, people on Twitter often put up a tweet listing people that they follow that they think their followers might also want to follow. I post my message on my blog, and then use TwitterFeed to take the post and send it to Twitter. I use the Twitter Application on Facebook to take that tweet and then add it to my Facebook profile.

@pistachio, @gruen, @geechee_girl are three people from Twitter that have gotten together and written Twitter For Dummies. If you’re trying to understand what I’ve been talking about in the previous paragraphs, then this book is for you. If you’ve been to a party recently and wondered what this Twitter thing is that everyone is talking about, then this book is for you.

In the introduction, they write

We wrote this book for the first-time Twitter users. If you’ve already created an account that has some friends and followers, you can probably skip the chapters that talk about how to sign up and get moving – but you might find it useful to review the sections on how to dress up your profile. If you’re a business and have already gotten rolling on Twitter, you can probably safely ignore many of the starting chapters and check out Parts II and IV. If you’re a Twitter pro and could have probably written this book, feel free not to read anything, use this book as a doorstop and recycle it when you’re done. Okay, we’re kidding – it’ll make a great gift for the Twitter-skeptics in your life!

Well, I consider myself a Twitter Pro, I probably could have written this book myself, but I probably wouldn’t have done as good a job as @pistachio, @gruen, and @geechee_girl have. I get bored explaining to people how to set up user accounts, what CAPTCHA is, or how to customize a profile, which is another reason this book might be good for me. The next time someone looks at me cross-eyed when I try to explain Twitter, or the next time someone asks how to get started with Twitter, I can simply hand them this book.

I unexpectedly received a copy of the book for review the publisher and like Tara Hunt’s book The Whuffie Factor, I probably wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t met @pistachio at some social media gathering or another and decided to follow her on Twitter.

Yet this illustrates the importance of The Whuffie Factor, the social capital that people build up on sites like Twitter. Twitter for Dummies is a great book for starting to get involved in Twitter and building your own social capital online.

I must admit, I have not read closely the book. With a cursory glance, it looks like they have all the correct details of how to set up an account and get started. Instead, I spent more time paying attention to the tips, technical stuff and other brief paragraphs scattered through the book on how to make the most out of Twitter. These are useful tips and I wish more people would read and pay attention to these tips.

So, that’s this week’s #followfriday. Follow @pistachio, @gruen, @geechee_girl. Go out and get their book and either read it yourself if you are new to Twitter, or give it to that friend that you’ve been trying to explain Twitter to. Then, come back next week to find more interesting people to follow on Twitter.

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