Archive for the 'Essays' Category

The fetishism of books

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

We’re entering a period of information upheaval. The methods of storing, retrieving, and managing information are finally catching up to the available technology. With our collective knowledge and literature available to anyone with an internet connection, there is bound to be a flowering of scientific and artistic thought.

But we’re collectively stumbling with transitioning the technology and user interface of books.

This is important because books have grown up with our civilization to become the foundation of our complex society and advanced technology. We are all trained from an early age to harness the power of the knowledge locked up in those bundles of paper. Books define the concept of information management to such an extant that it’s unconsciously shaped the semiotics of our modern web-based system of knowledge storage.

We’ve been able to ignore the outdated book-based management system until very recently. The Amazon Kindle became the first ebook reader that married the long-form book format to the advantages of the internet and cheap storage. Now you can download a book directly to your Kindle, and store a full library in about the same space as a typical topical nonfiction.

The adoption of ebook readers has been slowed by people who feel they prefer old fashioned books to their new digital brethren. Despite the arguments, I don’t think this has anything to do with the comparative advantages of a dead tree book (no need to recharge, self-referential interface, leafability) – rather it has to do with our primal urge to hoard and the symbol of the book for knowledge. We feel safer with a physical representation of the printed word than one which disappears when the electricity stops.

This fetishism may be a good thing.

The length of the content inside books is determined by the technology itself. Authors are driven to flesh out a work to fit a standard size rather than match the minimal length that the subject matter really requires. The best example of this are business and self-help books: most of these could be cut down to have or even a quarter of the length and still get the message across – but the economics of publishing encourages writers of these works to expand their writing to book length, thus diluting the knowledge. This is why websites covering the same topics are so popular: they aren’t restricted to expanding the verbiage for reasons not related to the content.

By delaying the movement to a stable economic model for publishing knowledge online because some people still prefer paper books, we could hasten a change to short-form knowledge that better suits the technology with the added incentive of being easier to understand. A stable economic model is important because content creators need an incentive other than personal fulfillment. Right now most content online is supported by ads, while paid content is shunned. Until we come up with a method to financially support content, the evolution of information technology will stall. To see how hard of a problem this is, check out the Xanadu project*.

The process of evolving fiction to a non-book format is harder because fiction elicits a deeper emotional feeling in the reader.  The novel, for example, developed because it was the perfect fit for the age of the printing press: works were book-length, and authors were keen to make their stories longer, deeper, and richer. Currently the interfaces for reading anything longer than, say, 12,000 words induce eye-strain or lead the reader to distraction. We still need the book metaphor for an enjoyable experience. Short stories are different because of their length.

Right now we’re collectively working out how to order our written knowledge to take advantage of the new forms of transmission and storage. The web and ebooks may not be the future; however the system of web metaphors has been successfully used and improved upon for the last 20 years, so this may be it. The great thing about this process is that it’s done unconsciously by readers and writers, in the same way that language evolves and works itself out (which is changing because of the new information technology too).

What I’m getting at is that how we store and retrieve our collective knowledge is changing, and the outcome depends on the technology, how we structure the information, and how we incentivize its creation and distribution. To put this in perspective of the last revolution in information technology: Gutenberg hasn’t invented the printing press yet**.

*The most fascinating part of the Xanadu story is that it partly inspired Tim Berners-Lee in creating the World Wide Web, but he wanted information to be free…and was pragmatic enough to create a technology that’s ‘good enough’ to use within months.

**Eurocentric, I know, but Western Civilization was better at harnessing the power of the printing press than the Chinese.

If you’re going to read a self-help book, make it an old one

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Behind every change in technology, social rules, and history are the same basic struggles that every human in the last 10,000 years has had to endure. And someone smarter than us saw that and wrote down the best way to make it through, by their own experiences and mistakes. They wanted, just like we want, for the children to have it easier.

In the company of the wise men and women were people who claimed to have that knowledge, or had ulterior motives, or just wanted to profit. It still happens today, and gives the self-help industry a bad name.

But because every new human goes through the same motions of life, collectively we catch on to when we’re being fed bad advice. And so we keep coming back to the books containing true wisdom. Smart publishers see this and keep those books in print. Silently, unconsciously, we weed out the filler.

If you need a written guide to life, read something that’s old and still has an audience.

Any rule on how old is arbitrary, but if it helps I suggest reading books written earlier than 200 years ago. If you need further help, here are two books I suggest:

  1. The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin
  2. The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián

One advantage of old books is that you can find them free online (like here and here).

I picked those two books because I place great value on brevity and because they keep religious matters to a minimum.

But book wisdom isn’t as useful as that passed on by a living breathing human with personal experience. That’s why I’m only telling you where you might find advice, as I am lacking the requisite experience and wisdom. Think of these books as catch-up, for those of us not lucky enough to have a mentor early in life*.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a mentor now at whatever stage of life you’ve reached.

*I was a lucky, though squandered it some. One of my role models growing up was a scoutmaster who got involved because of his son but stayed to help other boys learn how to free-thinking, motivated adults. He was a successful businessman who always carried himself with dignity and authenticity. The biggest lesson he taught was how he taught: he led his life the way he wanted us to lead our lives: with honesty, compassion for others, and an eye on the next foothold (it also helped that we had the Scout’s Law**). And this is where I mention that I’m an Eagle Scout, and damn proud of it.

**Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

Culture engines

Monday, July 27th, 2009

rooster-costume

Culture engines are measurable groups of people who share a common set of values, tastes, and slang that become nebulous in creation of art, entertainment, and other culture artifacts. There is no way to predict when a culture engine will pop up, but their biggest cause is a period of ‘cultural drought’ where little to no lasting creative artifacts are made. For example, the stifling conformity of 1950s America not only caused the creation of the Beat Poets and their followers, but paved the way for the inevitable outpouring of originality of the 1960s.

The myth that geniuses are made in a vacuum, that their talents and abilities formed on their own is quickly going out of fashion (See Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers article and book). The truth is that many, many people are needed to create a genius – the most important is the late-stage group of competitive peers who encourage and foster even greater skill. This often happens in college, but can come from any group. Most of the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus met at Cambridge or Oxford (though not all at the same college or the same time) and their collective growth in those schools created a common sense of humor and style; whereas the Beatles formed by the stunning chance of growing up in the same city (Liverpool) and with the same music scene (Mersey Beat).

The internet takes away a culture engine’s necessity of geographical proximity and increases the chances of bright people finding each other to such a degree that our collective creative output is exploding so there is no way for one person to survey the entire cultural landscape of Western Civilization. Sites like YouTube, Flickr, 4chan, DeviantArt, and Tumblr make it easy for people to share their creations with other like-minded people no matter where they live, and spread other ideas as well. But these sites are limited by the type of creative media, whether it’s photography, video, or memes make it easy to spread and share, but a culture engine needs something more to facilitate a cohesive group.

One major component is community. Websites can only go so far in bringing people together. Nothing has yet fully replaced the usefulness of face-to-face meetings, and conversations need space to grow in private, with sub-groups, factions, and distinct cooperative groups to help develop more complex creations.

I believe I’m witnessing the formation of a very powerful and potentially influential culture engine that combines Twitter and Tumblr with good old fashioned face-to-face community.

A little over a year ago a website launched that kept track of users’ starred or favorited tweets on Twitter. The site, Favrd, ranked tweets by how many stars they received and introduced competition to Twitter, when most people only used the site for boring updates on what they were doing. It wasn’t the first, and because it was limited only to users who registered on the site, it was far from the biggest. But a funny thing happened: users of Favrd, created a community of funny, smart people who used the site’s competition to foster even more creativity.

In late December and early January of this year, large numbers of Favrd users started using Tumblr, which created interconnected blogs geared towards short updates and sharing of found images, audio, video, etc. Usage within this group picked up even more when a ranking system was added, thus adding a similar competitiveness to Twitter. Tumblr also made it easier to share the non-tweet creativity within the group and there are a few people more popular on Tumblr as a result.

This perfect storm of technology only needed people motivated enough to exploit the idea fermentation that’s possible with this set up. Turns out, the smarts needed to get noticed on Favrd accurately picked out people who aren’t afraid of ‘wasting’ time making funny or entertaining things for their friends*. What’s making this group succeed as a culture engine is the numerous ways people are finding to meet and create projects together. There are teams making things like podcasts and comics. Many have taken their public conversations on Twitter and Tumblr private, through Twitter’s direct messages, instant messages, and even phone calls. More importantly, those that can are meeting other people from the Favrd site in person, at what are called ‘tweetups’ but are really just friendly get togethers, as most of these people share a great deal of their life online (I know more about some of my Twitter friends than some of my real-life friends…which means they’re no different from friends normally met). These in-person meetings help  forge deeper friendships which only help in allowing a faster spread of ideas and greater cooperation.

This group, which I’ll call the Favrd Crowd, at its current state is an example of a developing culture engine. It’s sucking in talent and spewing out art and entertainment, but its impact on the outside culture is minimal. What I predict will happen is that a few people within the group, blessed with extraordinary talents, will break out and become popular to the outside world. Their style will be clearly imprinted with influence from the Favrd Crowd and will in turn influence the  larger society.

Predicting who in the Favrd Crowd will be the breakout talent is tough. It will very likely begin in two waves: the first, where someone already highly popular within the group will get the attention of outsiders and launch their career, with moderate success; a little later, one or more people in the group who are more on the fringes and not highly known will break out on their own and prove to have much greater talent and originality and bring more attention to the group, which will launch careers of others. This has happened many times before* in other culture engines, so it’s only likely that the Favrd Crowd will grow in the same way. I have a few theories on who will break out, but I have a personal policy of not publicly announcing my predictions**.

There is a chance that the Favrd Crowd won’t have the influence of other culture engines. There have been many groups of talented people in history who have failed to make an impression on the greater population. But I’ve seen what some of these people are capable of accomplishing, and in a few years I expect alumni of the Favrd Crowd  to become visible and influential members of the cultural elite. And they will take the poop jokes, nonsense phrases, mild offensiveness, and a certain practical philosophy to the larger population and make a lasting cultural impression.

A guide to the Favrd Crowd

The first place to start is Favrd. The main page shows the latest tweets with three or more stars from other Twitter users. The Leaderboard shows the most starred tweets of the day. Those who consistently rank at the top of the leaderboard can be considered the epicenter of the Favrd Crowd, and if you want to join in on the fun, I suggest starting by following those people, then look for friends of theirs or others on Favrd with similar tastes in humor or tweets as yours.

Tumblr‘s directory and ranking of their blogs includes far more people than are actually in the Favrd Crowd, so here are what I consider a few of the most important Tumblr blogs of the Favrd Crowd:

http://adamisacson.tumblr.com/

http://atsween.tumblr.com/

http://averyedison.com/

http://baileygenine.tumblr.com/

http://bliccy.tumblr.com/

http://blog.simoncrowley.net/

http://essdogg.tumblr.com/

http://everythinginthesky.com/

http://frageelaytwit.tumblr.com/

http://funsizebytes.com/

http://insooutso.tumblr.com/

http://inthefade.tumblr.com/

http://luckyshirt.tumblr.com/

http://milkglassmao.tumblr.com/

http://monkeyfrog.tumblr.com/

http://poeks.tumblr.com/

http://pomophobic.com/

http://sloganeerist.tumblr.com/

http://sniffyjenkins.tumblr.com/

http://tehawesome.tumblr.com/

http://texburgher.tumblr.com/

http://thememegeneration.tumblr.com/

http://toldorknown.com/

http://venomousporridge.com/

http://weselec.tumblr.com/

http://yowhatsthehaps.tumblr.com/

Some of these sites also show what Tumblr blogs they are following, so I suggest you explore those to find more people in the group that may be to your liking.

Keep in mind that the group is larger than the number of relationships a normal person can conceivably keep track of***, so don’t feel obligated to follow everyone in the Favrd Crowd.

A special note to Favrd Crowd members:

I love all of you! If I didn’t mention your Tumblr, don’t take it personally: the right people will find your site regardless of who links to it.

*An often-heard comment about Twitter and Tumblr use by people who don’t spend much time with either tools is that those who are active on these sites are wasting their time making frivolous things. That’s unfortunate, because nearly all forms of entertainment and art are ‘frivolous’ and done in place of spending time on other ‘more important’ tasks.

**Contact me privately if you want to know my predictions.

***The number of relationships that a single person can keep track of is around 150. This is called Dunbar’s Number. You can keep track of more people – and technology can help extend that even further, but most people will be able to have meaningful relationships with about 150 people at a time.

(Edited to add http://poeks.tumblr.com/ to list of Tumblr blogs because it’s an excellent example of someone in the Favrd Crowd making great things and I wanted to include it in the original. Also removed second instance of http://averyedison.com/.)

You aren’t the same person you were a second ago

Friday, May 15th, 2009

I’m standing on a piece of land with a lake on one side and a river on the other. If I put my foot in the lake, the water only moves to displace my new presence. But when I put my foot in the river, there’s new water every instant replacing what was there when I first entered. Life, the universe, and everything is like the river. Even the lake.

Impermanence is about the only thing anyone can count on from birth to death. It’s the source of most of our pain, both physical and mental. It can force people to relive the past, dream about the future, or exist in the present, but it’s the latter that we’re all doing anyway. The river is rushing by us without stop and we have two options: we can move to the shoulder of the river that’s calm and slow moving, or we can let the current take us down stream. We can try and go upstream – but in this river, there are no boats, flappers, or anything to help us but ourselves and the water. Eventually we’ll tire of trying to fight the current and go along with everything else.

As with any analogy, life is more complicated than being a giant river. There are choices, opportunities, and the incessant messiness of being alive. And unlike a river, nothing is predestined – there is no single direction or destination, save for death. There’s a scene in the movie Synecdoche, New York where an actor playing a priest at a funeral gives a speech that explains this better than I can (I’m including the passage in its entirety because the entire message is important):

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I’m so angry and the truth is I’m so fucking sad, and the truth is I’ve been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen. 

That’s life, well aspects of it. The only thing I can add is that the negativity and sadness of life as embraced in that passage can be countered with a special kind of happiness. This is the happiness that comes from being alive and being conscious enough to get to experience the whole thing. You may be suffering; hell, we’re all suffering for one reason or another, but being able to feel the suffering and still be alive is better than to not exist.

I’ve always understood impermanence as an intellectual concept, but only felt its realness in short bursts. However I can see a vast difference from the person I was two months ago (about when I lost my job) who I am right now writing this post. The change is even clearer when reading this blog and my two finished short stories.* My understanding of Twitter is not the same as when I last wrote about it. I no longer think Bloc Party’s album Intimacy is as good anymore. I’m not the same person who wrote those. A piece of him is still here guiding my understanding of all the new things happening to me. But as of this moment I am something new, and by the time you read this I’ll be someone else, riding the river’s current just happy that I get to go along for the ride.

*Trust me, I know those stories are bad. I’d tell you about my struggle to finish the next story, but it’d be better to just finish the next damn story.**

**And working on a better footnote system.

Saturday Night Fever

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Saturday Night Fever

It’s not about the music. It’s not about the clothes.

It’s all about the bridge.

Saturday Night Fever should have been a throwaway movie about a fad. Instead it uses the disco scene as a backdrop to the universal story of someone trying to escape to something better. Tony Manero is stuck in a place where his parents have one vision of what he should be (like his older brother, a priest who ends up leaving the clergy, well on his own path) while finding happiness only when he’s dancing and no way to translate his drive for that into other parts of his life. He has friends who are racist, misogynist, and homophobic – though I suspect that comes from their frustration of being locked in by a perceived lack of opportunities. That’s certainly the case for Tony – he wants something more than a job at a paint store and living with his parents. Enter the bridge.

Tales of yearning play a major role in American culture. Ever since the days when someone actually had the ability to move out West and start over with a clean slate and make something of themselves, we’ve been raised that everyone has the opportunity to be successful. To Americans, there will always be an open West waiting for those with the determination to exploit its riches.

In Saturday Night Fever, the West is Manhattan and the journey is the bridges crossing the East River. Tony understands this almost before he is consciously aware of it. There is a scene where he effortlessly recites trivia about the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge* as if he’s been quietly saving up whatever knowledge might be needed for the day he crosses a bridge and moves onto a new life. He knows he has to leave, and it takes a certain tiredness, and a girl, for him to go.

My life doesn’t even come close to paralleling that of anything represented in Saturday Night Fever, except for the urge to leave home. Even if I can’t say I’ve accomplished anything significant yet, the act of leaving Iowa and coming to Boston was one of the most important events in my life and was necessary for my own personal journey.

I had to cross the bridge.

 

There are plenty of other interesting things about the movie, and I suggest you read Roger Ebert’s original review and his revisit for the addition to his Great Movies list.

Other interesting things to note:

  • This film came out in 1977, a crazy year for New York City. A heat wave, a crime wave, Son of Sam, a blackout, and a World Series. For a first-hand account, I highly recommend Michele’s (aka @abigvictorytale of her experience that summer. She also has a great story about being on the rock side of the Disco wars.
  • The much-parodied opening sequence of Tony walking down the street is exactly how you introduce a character like Tony in a movie- we learn that he’s always showing off his good looks and style, is really trying to use the moves to pick up women, yet he works at a paint store.
  • Also, we’ve all done that walk. Feel free to use any music, but “Stayin’ Alive” is always the best choice for strutting down the street.

*This is a bridge that goes to Staten Island and not Manhattan, which makes no sense in the context of the movie. The only reason I can think that it was used for the shot was because it’s a nice shot and is the same bridge used in several other scenes.

The dying of the gay subculture (and why it’s a good thing)

Monday, May 11th, 2009

There really is a gaydar. The mistake that everyone makes though is that clues to a person’s sexuality can be gleaned from the way a person walks or talks or what clothes they wear.* Using those visual cues works only for those who are a part of the gay subculture. The home of musicals, dance music, and fashion consciousness infused with effiminancy and a non-sexual love of women. It was a place where gays could belong without being as harshly judged by bigots, and as a identity with which to find other gays. That culture is slowly going away as a distinct group, and that’s a good thing.

A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today. We’re living in the beginning of an age of marriage equality, where government accepts and provides support for one of the most common social constructs among humans, long-term monogamous relationships. There have always been heterosexuals who never had a problem with their gay brothers and sisters, but it’s increasingly becoming more acceptable to be openly and vocally supportive for their rights.

Some will lament this subculture’s passing, especially those who grew up to identify closely with it. However groups like this should be based around common interests and beliefs, not sexual orientation. If this subculture morphs into something that less aligned with a perceived gay lifestyle, it has a more legitimate reason to exist. This is already happening, with the unintended consequence of straight people having their sexuality questioned just because they like musicals or dance music or have a flair for design.

What this really means is that gays are becoming a more tolerated and even celebrated part of the greater society. The voices of hatred for those who are different is being drowned out by reason and tolerance. The most visible representation of this change is the counter-protests to the Westboro Baptist Church.

There still needs to be support systems for people coming to terms with their sexuality, but the need to belong to a specific social group is no longer necessary. It’s a good time to be gay and not want to fit any old-fashioned stereotypes.

And now for some random pieces of gay cultural history I’m itching to share (and they provide some extra perspective):

Judy Garland had a large gay following not just because she was a great singer, but the pain that she felt could be heard in her singing and she was a voice for the unhappiness most repressed gays felt.** Most of the effiminacy of gays from the 40s through the 60s can be attributed to gay portrayals in movies*** – gays could only appear as comedic elements or heavily coded to pass the censors. For a boy growing up in a small town with few visible role models, the movies were often the only way for many to find their identity.

Twentieth century gay subculture was defined by several important events: the Pansy Craze of the late 20s and 30s, World War II (it was the first time many gays discovered there were others like them, and the subsequent conservatism following the war brought invigorated repression), the political activism of the 60s and 70s, and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. A set of slang, symbols, and philosophy of life developed that created a unified gay identity. This was crucial because of the cruel way American society treated gays and lesbians during the period; by having such a group to belong, it created a tremendous support system for a group of people trying to shake off the commonly-held belief that their sexuality meant there was something wrong with them. It was also an identity to align with, one that accepted people openly and judged more on their actions than expectations.

*So how does the gaydar really work? It comes down to non-verbal cues like where someone’s wandering eyes follow or facial expressions in relation to certain topics discussed, as well as verbal cues – the most obvious is the ‘pronoun game’ but there are others like an absence of certain topics (like chasing girls). Of course the easiest way to tell if someone is gay is to ask them and they give a straight answer (no pun intended) or you see them having sex with someone of the same sex, like yourself.

**If you haven’t heard any of Judy Garland’s later recordings, I suggest you check out Judy at Carnegie Hall or any of her later recordings of “Over the Rainbow” – the heartbreak is so strong it never fails to get me teary-eyed.

***For an overview of portrayal of gays and lesbians in movies, check out the great documentary Celluloid Closet.

I can’t tell stories

Friday, May 8th, 2009

There is something about remembering a joke or telling a carefully crafted tale, that my mind mangles and the result is either I am perceived as a bad storyteller, or I wind up with a new creation only vaguely related to the original concept. On occasion, I’ll recite a poorly-remembered quote or joke or song or whatever I felt worth committing to memory for the purpose sharing: the result is better than the original. The more common result is a joke with no punchline, a story with no outcome or piece of interest to the listener, or singing that has little resemblance to anything recognizable to anyone else but my own.

What I suspect is happening: whatever thought is committed to memory is only added in fragments, often only the most interesting or most unique bits. When retold, my mind fills in the blanks the same way it might take care of a blind spot on the eye. Then it just comes out of my mouth (if I write the thought down I have more time to better fill in the holes or do the research necessary). 

I have tried to either fix this malfunction or find a way to use it to my advantage. One major hindrance is the tangled methods my memory associates things. Tangents come easy to me because I link memories in an arbitrary fashion. The way the sunlight looks through a window may remind me of a song I heard that was tinged with melancholy, or the way someone talks about a movie triggers some story I want to tell about some crazy person I saw on the street. Neither of which has an obvious connection to the trigger.

Also, I lack the skill of attribution. Unless the source is built into the thought or is from someone or something which I consciously try to remember (such as a friend or favorite artist), there’s little hope that any of that information will be remembered.

To change how I think is nearly impossible and filled with unforeseen consequences. I accept who I have become and think that any attempt to consciously change who you are, especially when it’s a skill or trait that runs deep, is always the worse choice. This is the biggest flaw of any self-help advice on living one’s life.*

Which leaves making an inability to re-tell stories an advantage. One way is to write fiction. I’m finishing and posting stories that are built from the half-remembered ideas that clog my memories. But that project is hindered by another of my hang-ups: self-doubt. But self-doubt is often disarmed when met with action. My first reaction to an upcoming new experience is fear, which usually goes away immediately after the event has begun.

Perhaps self-doubt is what this post is really about.

*My rule for any self-help books is that if it’s younger than 100 years then it’s not worth reading. A good judge of great work is time, and when it comes to advice on how to live one’s life, the longevity of an idea is very important. I may talk about this in a later post.

The trouble with finding new talent online

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

finding_talent_online

Awhile back I sorted through my YouTube descriptions and found a user that made unique and moderately-disturbing-but-in-a-good-way videos had recently uploaded two new videos.

The artist has really grown in skill since his earliest creations. Both videos were amazing in that they both had great video concepts and appealing music – but terrible lyrics. Bad enough that I won’t share the artist’s identity.

One track in particular sounded like a hit record complete with hooks and well-composed music, and the video had interesting special effects and a music video quality story line (quite an accomplishment for being entirely filmed in a finished basement). But the song: the song had a commendable subject, but the vocabulary of a fourteen year old boy (I’m not talking about swear words, but the word choices were limited). The artist is eighteen.

The extreme unevenness of the artist’s work presents a confusing situation for me. I enjoy finding new things and promoting them to others – it’s important to pass along new and interesting works of art because why carry the burden of not having given an idea or an artist the chance to flourish? The artist has huge potential – I can see him pulling off a full act of music, style, and vision in the same tradition as David Bowie, Madonna, and others who carefully constructed an iconic personality and style.

However the artist still needs time to develop. He needs to make more music and videos and work on his lyrics and his presentation. With a few years of work he could be as big of a cultural force as Lady GaGa currently commands.

Yet he’s out there on YouTube and MySpace (and even Twitter) distributing his work to others. Hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to his half-baked work – when even ten years ago the exposure would be limited to small audiences at local establishments, limiting the impact of the poor work upon whatever he may create later in his career. The localized nature of the exposure limited the impact of any bad work, and it kept a larger audience from reacting negatively to works produced during the developmental phase of an artist’s development.

Perhaps this isn’t an issue at all.

History tends to remember the victors and forget the rest. When it comes to art and entertainment, this trend is reinforced by the relative high cost of production and distribution of works. A writer needed to get published by someone who has invested in a printing press and distribution methods to get any amount of exposure. Musicians needed a business to make, promote, and sell records; filmmakers still need financial backers and distributors to get their works seen. This is no longer a problem. With the internet, the barrier to entry is so low that anyone can publish their works online – this blog stands as an example.

Maybe it’s not too terrible to expose mediocre works to large audiences. The larger the feedback group, the greater chance to improve and become better. And if the artist starts out mediocre but develops into something worth keeping, the only audience for the lesser works would be hardcore fans and archivists.

This means that I can justify sharing with you the artist in question…but I won’t; if he gets better and no one still isn’t noticing, I may become his manager and profit off of my discovery! The real reason is that my tolerance for quality is not shared by many others, and my preference is to back a recommendation that I enjoy much more than the best work of this artist.

Here’s what I’ll do: if my ‘discovery’ makes something that doesn’t have any glaring deficiencies, he’ll get lots of free promotion from me. Persons who have the potential to create something great need just as much promotion as established artists – we aren’t starving for content, but there is a lack of substantial quality in today’s art and entertainment*.

*This is worth a separate post.

Getting things done by not giving a fuck

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

When I began Budaeli a little over three years ago, the original plan was to use the site as a vehicle for my fiction writing. Today, over at fiction.budaeli.com – I’m finally opening up my stories to everyone. The first story is up and while I make no claims to the quality, now anyone can read my work.

How Budaeli Fiction works

Comments are enabled on every new story for discussion and constructive criticism. Comments will be moderated for relevancy, but I want to leave an opening for readers to tell me what they like and don’t like about the works, or to discuss aspects of the stories and writing. Over time stories may be revised and if they reach a state where I don’t want to work on them any more, they’ll be retired to a permanent page on the site. All works will be published with a liberal copyright adapted from a Creative Commons license because I don’t want to artificially limit the distribution of any of my ideas because they could be improved upon by more creative people.

Oh right. The title of this post needs an explanation.

Over the years that I’ve been writing, I’ve only shown one or two pieces to other people. And for a long time I never bothered to finish anything I started (this was a problem for a lot of other projects, and is a recurring theme in my life). About a month ago I was laid off and suddenly had lots of free time, so I devoted part of that time to getting back into writing and launching a site specifically for my fiction.

This time the problem wasn’t procrastination so much as a fear of failure and a perfection complex. Over the last several weeks I’ve accrued about a dozen great starts and no completed stories. But today I stopped worrying about whether my writing was good or not or whether the story was interesting or not and just wrote out a vignette published it. I finished the site design and layout for Budaeli Fiction weeks ago but it was useless without content.

By ‘not giving a fuck’ I’m settling with a state of my writing that is complete enough to be presentable. I may not be a good writer, I’m probably a terrible writer at fiction – but I won’t let my misgivings hold back any work from being published. However, I accept responsibility for anything published with my name, meaning it will be authentic and adherent to my personality and beliefs.

There is a chance that I’m a terrible writer of fiction. If, after a decent attempt at writing fiction, the stories are as horrible as they are right now, Budaeli Fiction will shut down and I’ll find something else with which to spend my time.

The first story is a vignette, “Only Once”. Let me know what you think in the comments or contact me at correspondence at budaeli dot com.

Note: since Budaeli Fiction has been shut down, links to the short story and the copyright page have been changed to the current versions on this site.

No Compromises

Monday, December 8th, 2008

I work in the marketing profession. That means I try to stay on top of the latest trends that marketers are using. Keeping abreast of things like email marketing, social media marketing, Twitter marketing, etc.

Almost all of it is bullshit. Thinly-veiled fads. In reality, we don’t really know what makes products and services sell, we can just convince people to buy part of the time. And what may work one day will be ignored by consumers the next.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

There’s a lot of people starting blogs and signing up on social sites who aren’t there to connect with their friends. These people are there to sell stuff and try to make money. It’s only inevitable that consultants are hawking Facebook as the next great sales tool.

As a result, those of us marketers who write and blog about marketing are getting in on the whole business by giving ‘advice’ on how to take advantage of social marketing. It’s just like moving to California in the 1840s and selling groceries or liquor instead of mining for gold: in the end you’ll be the one making the money.

Here’s what they’re saying:

  • Create a blog that focuses on a single topic, preferably in your field of expertise.
  • Create accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and ‘friend’ other people in your profession.
  • Use Twitter to sell yourself.
  • And other silly rules

Please don’t listen to them. You’ll turn all of those tools into chores and it won’t be fun or interesting at all.

Instead, think of the reason blogs and social sites were created: to communicate with other people.

If I were to follow the advice of my fellow marketeers, Budaeli would be writing about marketing and workplace culture, my Twitter account would be hawking my posts and my employer’s products, and I’d connect with every sleazy marketer on LinkedIn – while my posts and tweets on technology, music, movies, and gay rights would be relegated to separate blogs. “Oh no,” they’d say, “you can still talk about those topics, but you should concentrate them – more people will read your work.”

Bollocks, I say. This blog still exists because of the fun I get from occasionally writing on whatever interests me – and it’s all interesting, so I’ll write about every little subject area that worth writing about. Since having separate blogs, or just writing about a single topic is unappealing and so goddamn boring to me that I won’t do it. Hell, if I want to diss people in the same field of work I’m in, I won’t be stopped.

All I’m going to worry about is not doing anything that will get misconstrued or doesn’t represent who I really am.

What this means to you:

Do what feels right to you, personally. If you shine with a 140-character limit, but can’t form complete thoughts in much larger blocks, stick to Twitter. Even if you’re not that great with Twitter but you’re comfortable with the limit, there you go. Perhaps you are more compelling when speaking: start a podcast.

Just don’t compromise.