June 28, 2004
Back in 2001 a group of us from Forum for the Future, Demos and Ethical Media created Vitamin-e: a kind of First Tuesday for digital sustainability types (there are more of us than you'd think).
One of the speakers was Pat Kane (formerly a pop singer with Hue & Cry, remember Looking for Linda?). Pat gave an empassioned speech about open access on mobile networks and explained that he was about to publish The Play Ethic, a book arguing that humans are naturally playful and not only happier when we are playing but more effective, creative beings.
As is the way with publishing (I got a rejection note today for a book proposal sent well over six months back) it's taken a while for The Play Ethic to arrive, but arrive it (almost) has replete with email 'network' and blog. Pat is definitely doing the right thing to market the book in blogging about the idea of play and creativity day in day out, going so far as to categorise posts by relevance to book chapters - something I haven't yet seen.
The Play Journal is worth a look because I can't help but think we all need a bit more constructive play at work and though I haven't yet read it, the blog in itself offers plenty of arguments why. I'll leave you with an example: If it's not work...
May 11, 2004
Racing through the slow book
I am currently commissioning authors for a book on time and sustainability: does a sense of time make an understanding of human impact on the planet easier? Do we need a different perspective on time? Do other cultures think differently about time? Can we control our use of time better?
So when listening to the radio as I took a multitude of boxes (packaging left over from my recent house move) to the municipal tip near the river Thames in Wandsworth and heard Canadian journalist Carl Honore talking about In Praise of Slow I was delighted - this confirmed that we are clearly onto a good thing.
Curiously, though, the book has very large type and thick paper, making what ought to be a 250pp book into a 320pp tome that is somewhat of a terror on the tube in the rush hour (perhaps intentionally). The effect is, though, that for something that could be a leisurely read, I am positively racing through it.
May 01, 2004
When - freshly arrived in the metropolis - I began working in London in a temporary capacity for a management consultancy, there would be days when my time would lie fallow and I would browse the net. This was a time before you could assume anyone else had an email address and when the sheer newness of the internet felt to many like a guilty secret.
As later on in a different job I read Doonesbury to keep the mind ticking over, in this one I feasted for several otherwise tedious days on Geoff Ryman's 253.
253 takes the form of a novel (and is still available on Amazon) in which one page is given over to each of 252 passengers and the driver of a Bakerloo line train as it hurtles towards disaster. Each character is linked in one way to another on the train and a complex network of pain, happiness, frustration and passion is played out in which ever order you wish.
The site is almost old-fashioned in its pure html with few graphics, harking back to a previous age online. At the time (six years ago) some people took 253 and other online fictional experiments to herald the end of the paperback book, which clearly seems premature today. Still, recently there have been lively discussions about fictional blogs spiced-up by with the 'is it/isn't it' debate about Belle de Jour.
The web hasn't killed the book, but I'm certain there is plenty more scope for books to embrace the web than we've seen hitherto. If you feel like being inspired, you could much worse than heading to 253.
April 20, 2004
Oh, hobbledehoy... of course
I slept badly last night: shortly after I turned out the light and shortly before I fell asleep, a strange memory floated to the surface briefly, then disappeared. It is a puzzling memory from a decade ago, in which I was not absolutely certain what was going on: unable to read other people's – and particularly one other person's – intentions.
I didn't dream about it, but instead worried about how I was to post an entry to the Commonplace this morning. Half-formed dreams repeatedly harried me with unreturned comments on some nameless but very popular website. Nothing I saw or read really grabbed me yesterday (except the seed of an idea to write on the new Trollope TV adaptation on BBC1 on Sunday evening) and the blogging addiction has been curiously rapid in its annexation of my spare time.
The 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope almost certainly did not sleep with his friend Kate Field. She liked him. They corresponded frequently. They saw each other as often as they could, which, given that Trollope lived in Britain and Field in America, was not often. Trollope was enough of a public figure to generate some tabloid press over the non-affair. He was happily married, and faithful. For all that, I have no doubt there were times when Anthony and Kate sat across from each other and he wished she would jump out of her chair and into his arms. Kate was stunning, funny, an early feminist, and altogether formidable. He wrote of feeling his heart flutter in her presence. Everything remained platonic – the novelist had often written about hobbledehoys, and at the core of hobbledehoydom there is a commitment to reasonableness, a tempering of one’s acts if not one’s thoughts, all born out of terror in the presence of beautiful women. So he sat. Had he moved at all, Kate might have responded favorably. Who knows? He did not dare. He was a putz, a coward, a Charlie Brown, a hobbledehoy.
On reading this article everything fell neatly into place. Though different in circumstances, this was the word to describe my situation all those years back, and Martinez writes beautifully in exploring what it means to him and to Trollope. For perhaps now I look back, it was in seeing He Knew He Was Right the other day that dislodged the fragment. The hero, Louis Trevelyan, does what he thinks is correct even though he is uncertain how to read his fellow characters or still more importantly express himself effectively.
Trevelyan is a hobbledehoy, though not in quite the same way as Martinez argues Trollope himself was, but he is a 'putz, a coward, a Charlie Brown' all the same, just as I was in that fragment, which now rests back where it belongs.
April 08, 2004
Lessig's new book is free to download
It will hardly come as a surprise if you are aware of intellectual property crusader Lawrence Lessig's work, but his latest salvo against the corporate control of culture with code and the © sign is available for free to download from the Free Culture site.
Not, of course, that he isn't selling copies: I can't really see myself ploughing through the 352 pages on my Mac so I'll be ordering a copy. Still, as a taster, its good to see someone practicing what they preach.
From the preface:
"...the argument here is not much about the Internet itself. It is instead about the consequence of the Internet to a part of our tradition that is much more fundamental, and, as hard as this is for a geek-wanna-be to admit, much more important.
"That tradition is the way our culture gets made. As I explain in the pages that follow, we come from a tradition of “free culture”—not “free” as in “free beer” (to borrow a phrase from the founder of the freesoftware movement), but “free”as in “free speech," “free markets,” “free trade,” “free enterprise,” “free will,” and “free elections.” A free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights. But it does so indirectly by limiting the reach of those rights, to guarantee that follow-on creators and innovators remain as free as possiblefrom the control of the past. A free culture is not a culture without property, just as a free market is not a market in which everything is free. The opposite of a free culture is a “permission culture”—a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.
"If we understood this change, I believe we would resist it. Not “we” on the Left or “you” on the Right, but we who have no stake in the particular industries of culture that defined the twentieth century. Whether you are on the Left or the Right,if you are in this sense disinterested,then the story I tell here will trouble you. For the changes I describe affect values that both sides of our political culture deem fundamental."