Monday, August 29, 2011

what facebook is and isn't

I can survive on Facebook if I bear in mind it is a place for touching base, sharing plans and events, talking about recent experiences and showing pictures - all as quickly as possible. That's what it's good at.

I have problems when I want it to be more than that: conversations that last more than a few sentences, weighty subject matter that requires people to pull out of the fast lane and slow down and think, bringing up topics that take time to respond to. Yes, I've already been frustrated this summer by expecting all those things from Facebook but, the truth is, when people log on, that's not what they're there for. They don't want heavy - Facebook is lightweight. They don't want something that's time-consuming - they want instant, they want fast. They aren't looking to discuss the issues of the eternal ages - they want to laugh and skim and, if necessary, succinctly express sympathy (no less heartfelt for that).

So you touch base on Facebook, stay aware of what's happening in people's lives, connect with people you haven't seen in years and whom you wouldn't be able to stay connected to without Facebook. That's what Facebook is good at. The long talks, the weighty talks, are best done by phone (usually a land line as opposed to a cell, since a cell is also about FAST and INSTANT, unless a cell is the only phone you've got) or face-to-face.

Of course, the worry is that people will freeze into the Facebook Way forever and that long talks, listening, thinking and wondering will cease to be part of their lives. The worry is that the whole human race will go that way and that the human part of human being will be greatly diminished.

But I find that people who talk on Facebook still talk a lot in person. There may be those who are withdrawing into their virtual worlds but most people, I think, want hi touch along with hi tech - they want to be with real people in real time, face-to-face, as well as chat with them online. Maybe by 2050 it will be different but I don't think so. Regardless of the technology that's come our way over the past century, from cars to airplanes to computers, people still want to mingle with people, touch people, kiss people.

So let Facebook be Facebook. And when you want Face-to-Face move away from Facebook and get it.

If I just use Facebook three days a week to touch base, I'm okay. Then I don't expect it to give me what it won't give me - deep relationship.

For that we all need to go elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the final cut

Publishers live in the future. Books I am writing at the present time are scheduled for release in 2013. Books I wrote last year or early this year are coming out in 2012. If I pen anything this fall it will come out in 2013 or 2014 if I get a contract. Anything written in 2012 and picked up by a publishing house won't be released until 2013, 2014 or even 2015, depending.

So this month I am doing the final editing on two books for US publishers. I worked with a freelance editor for the Barbour book and that final cut is done and delivered. Now Barbour is fine-tuning the covers and asking what I think. Also asking if I can suggest endorsers. I start the Harvest House edit, with a senior editor from the firm, in about a week, next Tuesday.

The funny thing about the Barbour edit is I wrote the book as a kind of lark more than two years ago in the winter of 2009. By the time it comes out on January 1st, 2012, it will be one month shy of three years since I sat down to accept the challenge of writing a good genre piece: one that engaged the reader, entertained the reader and enlightened the reader. Bear in mind this is in the footsteps not of Harlequin romances or Grave Livingstone Hill but of writers like Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Mary and Bram wrote in the Gothic horror genre, Jane in the pastoral romance genre that ended happily with women being wedded to wealthy men, Conan Doyle wrote in the detective/mystery genre of Sherlock Holmes, Dickens the comic or tragic stories written in serial format in magazines that were published week after week after week, and Wells published in the sci-fi genre. My genre? Historical fiction romance. The trick is to play the genre game well so that it truly is an interesting tale, and perhaps a bit of a page-turner, but also has many layers of plot and story and character development so that it begins to actually transcend the genre. I have no idea if I have pulled that off but it is what I wanted to do. Readers will let me know to what degree I may have succeeded.

Of course I'm a different person in some ways than I was when I sat down to the keyboard in February, 2009 to produce the book that Barbour decided to publish on January 1st of 2012. And I've moved on to other different stories (I've written four other novels since then). So it was almost archaeological to go back to that first book and edit it two weeks ago. I still like the story and its characters but now my head is full of many other people who have come to life in my imagination whereas back then I had only a couple of novels out and comparatively few heroes and heroines bumping into one another in my head. When you help the editor make the final cut you are not doing it as the person who wrote it two or three years before. You are older now, you have written more things, so you approach the edit as a writer older and with more experience. So parts of the original story get changed because of that.

On the other hand, not much got changed in the Barbour book, not really. The story is substantially the same as what I produced in 2009. I did add a whole new chapter and that is the biggest alteration. An addition, not a deletion. I find that interesting - just because we're older doesn't mean something we created when we were younger needs to be treated as something less or inferior or substandard or in great need of extensive revision.

At any stage in our life things we do can have lasting significance, not just the stuff we do when we are older and perhaps wiser (or perhaps not). Youth has its own wisdom and courage as do projects we complete sooner in our earthly journey rather than later.

Despise nothing good you have done. Examine all. Weigh it against the balance of truth and depth and integrity. You will soon see how much of the core ought to be retained. You may be surprised at how much you knew once that you have since forgotten. But the words, spoken or written, are still weighted with the force they once had and are not lost. You may come to something you wrote once and say: "Oh, is that what I put in the young hero's mouth? How did I come up with that? Not a bad line of dialog. Hmm. I wonder if I would have had the same ability to write that today as I did then?"

At every stage of our life, we are somebody. And we have things to say that matter.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

so you think you can multitask???

When Deresiewicz looks at the research around multitasking, things become interesting,

“A team of researchers at Stanford wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it? The answer — they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find .. were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: The more people multitask, the worse they are not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

The researchers found that multitaskers are worse at every kind of cognitive function. “They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information.. they were more easily distracted. They were more unorganized, unable to keep information in the right conceptual boxes and retrieve it quickly. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking: switching between tasks.”

Deresiewicz continues, “Multitasking, in short, impairs your ability to think. Thinking.. requires concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea of your own… My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s..

From here Deresiewicz goes on to talk about concentration, attention and the importance of solitude...

what the internet is doing to our brains

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

In this short but informative, thought-provoking book, Nicholas Carr presents an argument I've long felt to be true on a humanist level, but supports it with considerable scientific research. In fact, he speaks as a longtime computer enthusiast, one who's come to question what he once wholeheartedly embraced ... and even now, he takes care to distinguish between the beneficial & detrimental aspects of the Internet.

The argument in question?

- Greater access to knowledge is not the same as greater knowledge.

- An ever-increasing plethora of facts & data is not the same as wisdom.

- Breadth of knowledge is not the same as depth of knowledge.

- Multitasking is not the same as complexity.

The studies that Carr presents are troubling, to say the least. From what has been gleaned to date, it's clear that the brain retains a certain amount of plasticity throughout life -- that is, it can be reshaped, and the way that we think can be reshaped, for good or for ill. Thus, if the brain is trained to respond to & take pleasure in the faster pace of the digital world, it is reshaped to favor that approach to experiencing the world as a whole. More, it comes to crave that experience, as the body increasingly craves more of anything it's trained to respond to pleasurably & positively. The more you use a drug, the more you need to sustain even the basic rush.

And where does that leave the mind shaped by deep reading? The mind that immerses itself in the universe of a book, rather than simply looking for a few key phrases & paragraphs? The mind that develops through slow, quiet contemplation, mulling over ideas in their entirety, and growing as a result? The mature mind that ponders possibilities & consequences, rather than simply going with the bright, dazzling, digital flow?

Nowhere, it seems.

Carr makes it clear that the digital world, like any other technology that undeniably makes parts of life so much easier, is here to stay. All the more reason, then, to approach it warily, suspiciously, and limit its use whenever possible, since it is so ubiquitous. "Yes, but," many will say, "everything is moving so fast that we've got to adapt to it, keep up with it!" Not unlike the Red Queen commenting that it takes all of one's energy & speed to simply remain in one place while running. But what sort of life is that? How much depth does it really have?

Because some aspects of life -- often the most meaningful & rewarding aspects -- require time & depth. Yet the digital world constantly makes us break it into discrete, interchangeable bits that hurtle us forward so rapidly & inexorably that we simply don't have time to stop & think. And before we know it, we're unwilling & even unable to think. Not in any way that allows true self-awareness in any real context.

Emerson once said (as aptly quoted by Carr), "Things are in the saddle / And ride mankind." The danger is that we'll not only willingly, even eagerly, wear those saddles, but that we'll come to desire them & buckle them on ever more tightly, until we feel naked without them. And we'll gladly pay anything to keep them there, even as we lose the capacity to wonder why we ever put them on in the first place.


I agree with the premise regarding what the internet is doing with our brains, but the author is not addressing the right question. The important questions are why are people falling for hype that the computer age is benevolent and why do people spend so much time with the internet. To discuss what neuropsychological changes in the brain occur by changing our symbol system the media ratios in our environment is easy.

What's hard is figuring out why people will do something that isn't good for them. I could describe the chemical and biological effects of various ways to commit homicide, but that isn't going to answer why anyone decides to do so, or I could describe the delivery systems of various weapons, but that won't explain why countries go to war.

Technological determinism is really just a small part of the equation, and note that the subtitle of the book is 'What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.' A better inquiry would be 'Why are we actively doing bad things to our brains by using the internet,' unless, of course, you believe there is no human volition that enters the dynamics of culture and communication.

Unfortunately, the volition that appears to exist is that of the people that exploit the medium for profit by creating such things as Facebook, twittering, and other overrated communication modalities. Sure, twittering is good if you're reporting on a revolution against an oppressive censor-ridden country, and facebook might be nice for scattered families, but most 'messaging' on these platforms is simply 'phatic communication.'

Why people spend their time with ways of interacting and thinking that are comfortable and lack any challenge is what should be looked into. And such ventures are profitable mainly due to trivial usage. The strength of the book is that the author tackles the subject. And being a fairly new argument, hopefully better books will come along in the future. I'd recommend any of S. Turkle or N. Postman's books for good, succinct evaluations of the important questions this book doesn't address.

Monday, August 08, 2011

i'm on facebook

I'm on Facebook now. If you'd like to connect with me there please send me a friendship request. In addition, if I don't know you, please send a message along with the request saying you visit my website and read my blogs or books so I know where you're coming from.

I have a writer's page as well as a regular page with a profile. I encourage you to drop by.

Thanks. God's vividness to you and in you.