To Bangor today, to give a talk on transliteracy at the National Institute for Excellence in the Creative Industries or Sefydliad Cenedlaethol er Rhagoriaeth yn y Diwydiannau Creadigol
It was an interestingly transliterate experience for the following reasons:
1. I drove there via the M6 Toll Road, my first trip on that road, and very enjoyable and spacious it was too. It was amusing to remember reading that this section was partially built with pulped romantic novels – see M6 Toll built with pulped fiction – the first transliterate road? 🙂
2. I am staying tonight in accommodation in the new Management Centre, which has bi-lingual elevators announcing the floors first in a Welsh elevator voice and then in English. If I stayed here long enough I think the Welsh for 'Ground Floor' will be firmly embedded in my brain. Transliterate lift?
3. My talk turned out to be more transliterate than I would have liked. Last night I printed it out from Googledocs and, I admit, I didn't check every page. Giving the actual presentation I was shocked to discover that certain sections of the talk had printed out as garbage, whilst the rest of the document was fine. Required some quick improvisation! Over-transliterated?
I went to TOC2008 to look for evidence of transliteracy in the publishing community. I found a little, but less than I would have liked. Across the two days the digital divide was always among us, visible on the bewildered faces of those who had come to try to gain a foothold on the slippery slopes of social media. But I also spoke with some inspirational people – marketing directors, editors, even an investment banker, who clearly got it and who were frustrated by the glacial speed at which the publishing world is becoming transliterate. I've written about a few of them in previous posts but I just want to mention two more – Tim O'Reilly, who despite his godhead status as father of Web 2.0 was around and involved the whole time, and Sophia Stuart, Mobile Director at Hearst magazines. Sophia, who is English but now living in the US, must be the most scary and impressive woman I've come across in a long time. She is not only seriously clever, but she certainly knows how to monetise transliteracy. And Tim O'Reilly – well, he's just quietly impressive. You can almost watch him think. Transliteracy is certainly alive and well in the land of O'Reilly.
But one last question – where were the literary agents? Or rather, where will they be in our new media future? Nobody seemed to have an answer to that.
Alison Norrington, along with Jo Howard and Toni le Busque, is one of the first graduates of the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media so I was proud to see her present her dissertation project Sophie Staying Single at Tools of Change. Alison has a fluent understanding of how social networks can be used to create fiction across a range of platforms and her talk was lively and refreshing, especially when she shared some of the responses her character Sophie had received from readers. The presentation got a great response and attracted the interested attention of several publishers. It was very encouraging to see one of our very first students do so well in such a competitive industry environment.
Update: Alison's presentation is now online here.
The second inspiring talk on Day One of ToC was by Douglas Rushkoff. Rushkoff is a synthesiser – he puts together ideas in a way which immediately makes sense and forces you to wonder why you hadn't seen it that way before. On this occasion, he didn't have any Powerpoint slides or other accoutrements beyond a flip chart, which he used twice. First, he drew a single and enormous upcurve, announcing that this chart represented all the other charts that were being shown at the conference i.e. all the numbers are increasing all the time. He then flipped the page and drew a second identical upcurve, which represented the total of all the charts that used that same curve. After that, there were no more charts – just Rushkoff talking. And his message developed that of Stephen Abram an hour before. Abram had said content isn't king in the new media world, no, context is king. No, said Rushkoff, contact is king. Of course! Damn, why didn't I think of that? (This thought is called 'the Rushkoff Effect').
What makes the net different, said Rushkoff, is that it offers the chance to socialise and to break down the barriers of mass media which were created to intermediate – to put something between people e.g. buying their oats from a company called Quaker rather than, as in the past, from Joe the local miller. The same thing happens with TV, which has increasingly split families into people sitting alone in different rooms of the same house. And lone individuals buy more because the purchases are substitute people.
The internet is, therefore, a remedial technology for people who have lost touch with each other. It is not interactive, it is interpersonal. People interact online around a certain product or idea or community less because they care about the focal point and more because it gives them an opportunity to get interpersonal with other people. So content is not king, contact is king. This seems like a pretty transliterate notion to me.
The lesson we must draw from this, he believes, is that people today are lonely and if we want them to visit our sites and buy what we have to sell there, we have to create excuses for them to interact with each other. He gave as an example a project from some years ago (will look up title and add later) where he did not invite people to write a book with him, but he posted up his pre-written manuscript and invited users to excavate it as if they were literary archaeologists from the future. They were asked to write footnotes to it, and in doing so they became their own community. I remember watching this happen around the Million Penguins Wikinovel in 2007 when the community which arose amongst the writers, editors and critics of the work became its most important element, and certainly much more important than the work itself, I suspect.
So this is his message for today – create opportunities for contact, and they will come. Of course, we all know that, right? But there's just something about the way he says it that makes me think I didn't understand it as well before the talk as I did afterwards. Must be the hypnotic effect of all those upward curves…
11 Feb 2008: A couple of inspiring presentations this morning at the O'Reilly Tools of Change publishing conference in New York.
I really enjoyed Stephen Abram's talk Information 3.0: Will Publishers Matter? where he answered the old chestnut ' but can you read it in the bath?' with a terse '95per cent of Americans take showers – get over yourself' which warmed my heart. He then went on to tell us by by 2020 an iPod will be able to hold all the content ever created in all media – can you get your head around that? Abram's main point was that, rather than content, context is king. Interesting. I'll come back to that in the next post. He calls kids 'millennials' and says that today 'social trumps everything else'. He adds that in the nonfiction world the article economy has become broken down into selling chapters and paragraphs, which is something my Creative Nonfiction students might be interested to hear. In his views, 'social trumps everything else'. Today, he says, we have the opportunity to create a sustainable social network for life. And his advice to publishers? 'If you're not in there experimenting and playing you're not learning enough to be able to evaluate it.' He closed with a great image of lines of desire, those footpaths we make ourselves across lawns planted by other people trying to force us to walk around instead of across, and points out that DRM and such-like are attempts to fence those lines of desire so we can't use them. It won't work, he says, and I agree. Here are his slides. He pointed us towards his site Stephen's Lighthouse if we want more. I do. I'll be visiting!
I've run out of time now but will be back later to write up the second inspirational moment. More soon.
Thinking about the Transliteracy Workshop and the question(s) of/about literacy, here are some interesting and current points of view on literacies.
For Doug Belshaw (based on his teaching experience):
"True literacy is predicated upon some type of intelligence and intentionality of action. It's about communication and selecting and deploying the correct tools for the job. Students may be well versed in Bebo, MySpace, MSN Messenger and the like but this does not mean that they can be classed as digitally literate in any meaningful sense. The ability to abstract from those very specific applications is unfortunately sorely lacking in a good number of cases."
For Troy Hicks:
"It makes no sense complaining about the decline of the printed word. As it becomes just another medium, we are moving to a kind of multimedia literacy, where capability with print becomes no more important, or useful, than capability with image. […] We are not witnessing the decline of literacy, simply a new type of literacy."