Writing a Book

Steven Johnson has another book due out shortly – “Everything Bad Is Good For You.” He writes:

For me, at least 50% of the challenge — and the fun — of writing a book is dealing with the unique relationship that the author has to his or her reader. If they’re truly reading your book and not skimming it, you have several things happening: you have their undivided attention; you have hours and hours of that attention devoted to you; and you have that attention organized along a linear path, reading the book from start to finish. It is a remarkably intimate, private kind of exchange, and its power lies precisely in the commitment of time and focus that the book demands. The problem for an author is that books are not written the way they are read. They usually take years to write, from original proposal to final proofs; they are rarely composed in sequence; and by the time you submit a final manuscript, you’ve invariably read every page dozens of times, mostly out context.

So for me at least, the trick of writing a book is somehow shedding all the layered, time-shifted contortions of writing, and somehow recreating what it would feel like to sit down as a newcomer to the book and start reading. Anyone who has ever written a book will probably recognize the challenge here: you write a new section at the end of a chapter, and as you’re writing it, it seems like you’re producing some great material. And then you sit down and read through the whole chapter a few weeks later, and the new section reads like it’s been pasted in from someone else’s book. Or you think you’ve constructed a perfect opening argument for the introduction, and then you sit down to read it and realize that you’ve neglected to mention the most important — though also, to you, the most obvious — point of all.

Most of the time, you can only catch these things if you’ve tricked your brain into approaching the book as though you yourself were a new reader, entering into that private, linear, slow exchange that is book reading. And private, linear, slow is exactly the opposite of the experience of blogging. What’s great here is the remixing, the group mind, the hypertextuality, the fact-checks, the trial balloons. It’s an amazing environment, but to me it’s directly antagonistic to the mental state you need to make a book work as a reading experience, and not just a collection of facts and ideas. It’s like trying to compose a new melody in your head while standing in the middle of a full-throated choral group. And so when I’m immersed in writing a book, I try to keep these worlds separate, even if it feels like I’m betraying the blog somewhat with my silence.

What Newspapers Need To Do

Dana Blankenhorn has some advice:

Newspapers have always given away their content. Always. The money you pay for your daily paper goes only toward its distribution costs. The ink, the paper, the printing, and the entire editorial budget (which is just 8% of the total, although publishers act like it’s the whole thing) — that comes from advertising.

Where does the money come from? Many sources:

* Display ads next to copy, which papers now know how to get online.
* Help wanted ads, lost to specialist sites.
* Real estate ads, lost to specialized sites.
* Automotive classifieds, lost to specialized sites.

Then there’s a very, very important type of ad, the advertising insert. Newspapers haven’t even tried to replicate this online, although they could.

When newspaper publishers say they want to end subscriber “freeloading,” they are showing an enormous ignorance of their own business, not just the Web.

They have already hurt their circulation dramatically by requiring registration of all users. This also causes a lot of people to lie, to trade registrations, and lowers the value of the papers’ registration database. It can cut online circulation as much as 60-80%.

Add a toll gate to your stories and you cut that circulation again, another 90%.

So what newspapers are in the process of doing is destroying their circulation base, using backwards logic, and providing a wide opening to any competitor who can maximize online ad revenue and keep the gates open.

IT in Education

Educause writes:

So, what is the appropriate role for IT in education, in the broadest sense? As always, ITs role is to augment (not to replace) the teacher, to provide human-centered tools that encourage and support adaptability and flexibility, and to enable appropriate modes of learning (e.g., small team interaction and not just individual task performance). Principles such as situated, active learning (i.e., learning by doing rather than just by listening)principles that foster interactive involvement of the learner with the educational materialsare well supported by current technology trends. However, one size does not fit all in educational software. Unless new tools allow exploration at multiple levels of detail and accommodate diverse learning styles, they will be just as limited as ordinary textbooks. But this is easier to say than to do: there is no collective experience in authoring at multiple levels of detail and multiple points of view. Such authoring requires the development of skills and tools of far greater power than we have experience with to date.

The most important task in the application of IT to education is to author stimulating content that is as compelling as twitch games or even as strategy games appear to be. New content dropped into existing curricula typically shows no improvement in outcomes; we must also redefine curricula to support learner-centered, on-demand exploration and problem-solving, and we must break down traditional disciplinary boundaries. We must also train educators to take advantage of these new capabilities. This will require massive investment, on a scale we have not encountered heretofore. This content creation, curricula adaptation, and educator training will also require a long period of experimentation, as well as tolerance for the false starts that are an inevitable part of all innovation processes.

Content and curriculum alone are not sufficient. We must provide support for all aspects of learning, in both formal and informal education, not just in schools but in all venues, ranging from the home to the office and the factory flooranyplace where learners gather, singly or in groups.