Recommendation: Joe Marchese on the attention economy

This is an interesting piece from REDEF on what happens next in the competition for our ears, eyeballs and thoughts, with a link to a reading list at the bottom.

Recommend.

Organic food became a multibillion-dollar industry as people took a greater interest in what they put in their bodies. The markets will be even bigger that are shaped as people begin to pay greater attention to, and regain control over, what they put in their brains.  The government may even play a role here, but will not need to be as heavy-handed as has been suggested. The solutions that come next will represent a new age of media companies: quantified-self applications for your media habits to help you optimize your “attention diet.” New Operating Systems for recommending entertainment (aka new “TV Guide”). Technology that better values people’s attention and data. Technologies that help people better connect IRL (In Real Life).

Joe MarcheseThe Attention Economy Crisis: The Future of Content, Commerce and Culture

Joseph Conrad on art, writing and reaching your audience

All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its highest desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

Joseph Conrad – Preface to “The Narcissus

How, in your everyday work, in your next report or meeting, can you…

  • Appeal to the senses (to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions)?
  • Shape what you do so that the ‘light of magic suggestiveness’ may be bought to play over the commonplace surface of old, thin words – or actions and routines?
  • Enable with your audience (partners! friends!) to find there a glimpse of truth for which they have forgotten to ask?
  • Perhaps, better still – can you find that glimpse of truth together?

Quick emails

There are two types of quick emails.

There’s kind where you can handle it in five or ten minutes and…

  • the job’s finished;
  • someone else can get on with their job, so you avoid becoming a bottleneck;
  • you can help someone out by being on-the-ball and courteous with a quick and efficient reply;
  • you can hand it over to someone else who can deal with it and forget about it.

In these cases, if you’ve already opened your email it’s probably worth just finishing the job. You’re already distracted from whatever else you were doing, and you’ll save far more time and energy by reducing mental overhead (you won’t be carrying another ‘to do’ on your growing list) and emotional friction (you’ll avoid feeling bad about yourself or the people you’re holding up) than you’ll spend on the task itself.

The other type aren’t quick emails. Often they’re asking for the quick summary of a long thought process that you haven’t worked through. I think the best way to deal with these is to work consistently to keep your house in order, to spend time on those thought processes, to do them well enough – and perhaps document them well enough – that you won’t have to revisit and revise them the next time someone asks you the same question.

Postbox: good info

Crikey, it’s a very long photo of a postbox – read on for some thoughts about information architecture and the Royal Mail.

From a distance

  • Everyone knows what a postbox looks like – if you’re looking for one, they’re easy to find
  • Anyone who isn’t looking for a postbox can ignore the postbox at no cost to their time and attention
  • Most local people will remember where this one is even if they’ve never used it – so they know where to go when they do need it, or when others do. (Top British Question: “Excuse me, but do you know if there’s a postbox nearby?”)

Close up

When you want it, when you’ve found it, it’s got all the info in the right place, in the order you’ll ask for it:

  • Is this postbox in use? (answer implied)
  • When’s the next collection?
  • What’s the latest I can drop my letter today and have it collected? (If I’m happy with this, I can stop reading straight away).
  • If I’m in a hurry, where’s the nearest place I can go for an earlier collection?
  • If I’ve missed that too, what’s my last chance at a collection?
  • If I have other questions, where can I find answers or who can I call?*

*With apologies that I was in too much of a hurry to architect the second photo well enough to include everything!

Typo (2): error rate

The other thing about typos is how few we actually make relative to the attention we pay to them.

A single spelling or grammar mistake in a thousand words leaps off the page – is embarrassing – but makes no difference to our understanding.

We pay errors far more attention than they deserve as signals of the quality of a piece of writing – and in most contexts a 0.1% error rate is considered excellent anyway.

Polish is important – but not as a substitute for workmanship.

Typo (1)

I was reading an article – a thoughtful, well researched, nicely structured, neatly expressed piece of writing about something important – when I came across the typo.

“Ha!” ran my interior monologue. “This person is an idiot. I am smarter than they are.”

Of course, it’s better if a text is error-free. But typos and spelling mistakes are probably the least important problems a piece of writing can have and are by far the easiest things to fix.

Perhaps that’s why we’re trained to pay them so much attention: it’s a lot easier to teach kids to spell than to help them learn to think, to have something worth saying, and to say it convincingly or winsomely.

Inwardly ridiculing the idiot who misspelled a word or two is a cheap trick we use to feel good about ourselves – with the added benefit that it allows us to hide from the fact that the writer in question (smarter or not) has taken the time to write something, and we haven’t.

Five Questions: Krissie Ducker

1) Introduce yourself: who are you, what do you do, and why is it important?

I’m Krissie Ducker. I am a screenwriter for TV, and one day I’d like to write a film that actually gets made (I’ve written many un-produced movie scripts).

It’s important (for me) because it was my dream to do this, and the fact I actually get paid to work with people I admire and who inspire me makes me joyous at least 35 seconds if not more of each day.

It’s important (for the world) to provide an escape, a fun distraction from the grey that can descend on life. There is so much content being created at the moment and I think it’s a result of people craving connection – and they get that from watching the same show and being able to share it with others, or from watching human connections on screen even if in a heightened environment.

2) What’s your most valuable skill?

Being able to navigate a path to where I wanted to be and not getting distracted from the main goal even if the journey changed. I guess the skill in that was learning to be adaptable.

3) Describe a tool, technique or practice that makes a difference to your work.

Creative vulnerability. I have been in many writers rooms with successful and intimidating brains and I learnt quickly that I should just say everything that comes into my head and not edit myself when it comes to story ideas… yes, some of them are terrible but that terrible idea might spark something in someone else that we end up using. So the initial mortification of the room going silent with my bad idea is ultimately bearable if it’s for the greater good!

4) What advice do you most need to hear?

To have patience. I am always worried about where the next job is coming from because the industry is so crazy – getting a show green-lit and actually made relies on so many people that anything can happen. So patience and keeping faith!

5) Suggest an interesting/humorous/endearing question for question number five – and answer it.

Q: What was the last thing you googled?
A: “How exhausting is it to murder someone with a butter knife?”(Research for a murderous TV show, I assure you!)

Machine. Ecosystem. (7) – Style is content (text as system)

Style is content.

Poet Marvin Bell reminds us that the content of a poem is not the same as a poem’s contents, reminding us that when we paraphrase what a poem is about (its contents) we are not talking about the poem itself (its content or meaning), losing sight of what it does to us as we read it. The same is true of sentences.

Or, to put this another way, the informational or propositional content of a sentence is not the same as the sentence’s meaning, since sentences don’t just carry information, like putting objects in a canister, but do things with it and to it, shaping it to particular purposes and effects. In this important sense, sentences work like verbs, doing things, taking action, rather than like nouns that only name.

Most of us have been taught to think of style and meaning or form and content as two different things. We think of content as the ideas or information our writing conveys. We think of style as the way in which we present those ideas. Many aphorisms and metaphors have been used to describe style, ranging from “Style is the man himself” to “Style is the dress of thought.”

If we have to use a metaphor to explain style, we might think of an onion, which consists of numerous layers of onion we can peel away until there is nothing left—the onion is its layers, and those layers don’t contain a core of onionness but are themselves the onion.

Brooks Landon – Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft (amazon)

He’s right, of course. I’m not ready to dismiss propositional content just yet, but the danger more often comes in the opposite direction, as we try to reduce the irreducible, rather than living with complexity.

Texts are complex adaptive systems: the whole is more than – and different from – the sum of the parts. They change, too, as the meanings, ideas, feelings that we bring to them change. They change even as we read them, because we’re changed by the very act of reading.

If it’s nonsense to speak of the meaning of words outside of text, or of sentences in isolation, then it’s nonsense to speak of trees apart from forests, or people in isolation from their contexts, or cars in isolation from the ecosystem that they’re part of.

And yet… we do, and frequently find it useful or necessary to do so. The important thing is to see that the lines we draw are arbitrary (although some work better than others). The best we can do is try to hold the whole in mind even as we think about the parts, avoiding both the trap of mechanistic, reductive thinking, and the equal-and-opposite trap of of using complexity as an excuse to avoid the hard work of paying attention to detail.

The Daily

If you haven’t, go and read Seth Godin’s posts here and here.

It sounds hard, but daily turns out to be easier than weekly or fortnightly. If you do it daily, you don’t miss.

Daily writing. Daily exercise. Daily prayer or meditation. Daily time with the right people.

Daily accumulates by a magnitude. Low bars and high cycle-speeds will see you on your way far more effectively than the fits and starts of enthusiasm, and one day you’ll find yourself, if not at the top of a mountain, then at least on a small hill with a breeze and a half-decent view.