ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Cursive Nonsense, Nostalgia and Neurotransmission

A cursory (not cursive) relapse this morning into the pre digital age of handwritten correspondence and refrigerator reminders and maybe even illicitly passed classroom notes and mysterious marginalia

The Lost Virtue of Cursive by Mark Oppenheimer (Source: The New Yorker, October 22, 2016)

“The Lost Virtue of Cursive” (Source: The New Yorker, October 22, 2016)

Mark Oppenheimer’s reflection on “The Lost Virtue of Cursive” touched a poignant and sympathetic chord with me.

I can’t escape the conviction that cursive—writing it and knowing how to read it—represents some universal value… This is sheer nonsense, of course. (Source: Mark Oppenheimer, The New Yorker, October 22, 2016)

I totally get his perspective. I’ve become a knee-jerk apologist for alternatives to digital communication. Not because I’m a Luddite. Quite the contrary, in fact. I’ve embraced the digital evolution since I was a youngster. I’m a digital native, thanks in large part to my parents who raised us on proto-PCs and insisted that we learn to code (remember Basic?) and touch type at a time when it was odd. Geeky even. For a couple of decades I’ve logged an unseemly portion of every day on digital keyboards.

And, of course, keyboarding has swallowed my handwriting whole… But when I do use my cursive, however seldom, it’s with a small rush of good feelings. Cursive, to me, is those letters at camp, and, later, letters from my parents at college… (Source: Mark Oppenheimer, The New Yorker, October 22, 2016)

So is it nostalgia then, a hankering for a patinated past that evokes my yearning for  pre digital alternatives? For cursive missives and fountain pen personalization and DNA dripping doodles? Probably, at least in part. But I refuse to believe that it’s just nostalgia. Nor am I willing to concede that writing and reading cursive is valueless.

Maybe I’m just stubborn. Or maybe, just maybe, cursive and hugs have something in common?

I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or any other stripe of scientific savant. Nor am I qualified to opine on the neurochemistry of happiness, not by a long shot. But I can’t help wondering if there isn’t a pretty potent connection between cursive communications and the blessed buzz of oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Maybe handmade communications provide a profoundly important bridge across the increasingly impersonal, even slightly aseptic modes of interpersonal communications that connect/isolate us in this exciting introduction to the 21st century. Could inky cursive and fingerprinted doodles and just-at-the-right-time hugs be distant cousins?

More than Hugs & Kisses

In response to this post my father, Gordon Davis, emailed me John Donne’s opening to “To Sir Henry Wotton”.

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls,
For thus, friends absent speak. ~ John Donne

Spot on. Thanks, Dad!

New Tech, New Wants

A Sony WM-FX421 Walkman, for stereo cassettes.

Sony WM-FX421 Walkman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology creates our needs faster than it satisfies them. (Kevin Kelly)

My Monday morning muse for your ruminating pleasure is actually not mine at all. It’s a quotation from Kevin Kelly’s 1998  New Rules for the New Economy. No longer new, of course, but if you missed out before you’ll find that it’s still relevant and eerily prescient. And did I mention that the blog version lives on his website? And that it’s free?

According to Kelly, we’re hurtling forward, inventing technologies to satisfy our desires and — in the process —  discovering new desires.

Our wants are compounding exponentially… technology creates ever new opportunities for those desires to find outlets and form. (Kevin Kelly

Although the illustrative example, a $50 Sony Walkman (remember cassette tapes?), seems practically ancient, I can’t help but transpose an iPad or even a Kindle Fire.

When a merchant sells a consumer a new Sony Walkman for $50, he is in fact creating far more demand than he is satisfying–in this case a continuing and potentially unlimited need for tape cassettes and batteries. (Paul Pilzer)

Transposed for the digital age:

When a merchant sells a consumer an iPad, he is in fact creating far more demand than he is satisfying–in this case a continuing and potentially unlimited need for digital products (ebooks, videos, games, apps, etc.), physical accessories (from practical screen protectors and card readers to fashion carrying cases), non-physical accessories (warranty extensions, maintenance contracts, customer support, etc.), software updates/upgrades, and–let’s be totally honest–hardware upgrades because sexy new models with more memory, faster processors, longer lasting batteries and retina displays are the MSG that keeps consumers coming back for more!

With writers, publishers, editors, agents and booksellers wandering the Wild West known as the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm, it’s more evident than ever that technology creates more demand than it satisfies. Increasingly tech-centric publishing and storytelling is catalyzing an avalanche of new non-book formats to satisfy consumer demands. New options are invented daily, and yet we’re only beginning to glimpse the world of storytelling possibilities around the corner. Technology is simultaneously sating and creating new demand, seeding storytelling innovation and inventing new consumer desires… Suppose I’m bullish on storytelling in the digital age?!?!

Digital You

“Like it or not, a digital you is out there.”
Lawrence Joseph

Lawrence Joseph’s latter day truism is sandwiched between layers of post-9/11 offal like a slather of mustard or a thin slice of onion, a piquant but ancillary ingredient trying to mask the repugnant meat of the poem.

Digital display 2

Digital display 2 (Image via Wikipedia)

It fails. The poem “So Where Are We?” (Granta, Issue 116) and most of the other sketches and reflections in Granta’s Ten Years Later, edited byJohn Freeman, are deeply disturbing. But that’s the point, I suppose, looking back on a decade that scrambled and irreversably transformed much of the free world.

And yet Joseph’s assertion about digital redundancy clung to me. The notion of digital clones has become ubiquitous. It needs no explanation. It is a contextualizing, familiar point of reference that justifies the grotesque world conjured in this collection.

Like it or not, there’s a digital you out there. In fact almost every aspect of your life is probably reflected in some computer somewhere. You could say that information, that data, has a life of its own. If you have anything to do with modern society, you are no longer a purely biological, analog being. (New York Times)

I’m not altogether uncomfortable with this idea as the name of my blog plainly suggests, but I am fascinated with the implications of this analog/digital duality. I’ve said before that we’re living through a storytelling renaissance. Though we don’t always see it that way (teachers lament ever shortening attention spans for reading and literature; publishing executives panic as books become ebooks become Vooks become…), the proliferation of digital selves and the near universal acceptance of digital identities suggests a convergence of real world and narrative world. We are becoming our stories. Or vice versa.

The one big idea from the original “Tron” that maintained relevance was that some binary version of you is running around out there in all those ones and zeros, to a certain extent under your control but also, in a profound way, forever beyond your reach. Now we can all have multiple identities all the time: just make another user name, and you’re someone else, right? That conceit is not always accurate… (New York Times)

Are you keeping track of your digital selves? Are they still in your story, or have they defected? I’ve seen a few new faces wandering around in my own stories lately after all.

Are You Getting Used?

“Back when I first got on the Internet, I saw networking as the next great leap in human evolution, that we were moving towards a new networked organism. And I’m amazed at how few of us have actually decided to participate in this project. In a digital age, or in any age for that matter, whoever holds the keys to programming ends up building the reality in which the rest of us live… If we don’t seize the opportunity to remake our world, I promise you someone or something else will do it for us.”(from video trailer, above)

Boo! This book trailer for Program or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff(@rushkoff) might startle you — should startle you! And if it doesn’t, you may already be programmed. Passive. Absorbing, consuming, yielding, surrendering…

“If you don’t know what the software you’re using is for, then you’re not using it but being used by it.” (from video trailer, above)

This promises to be a provocative read. And Rushkoff is presenting at Mediabistro’s eBook Summit on December 15th, explaining “why he left his traditional publisher for a new house — exploring the struggles of an author and journalist in the new publishing environment.” I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

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It’s the Stories, Stupid!

Chris Camp at LavaCon (video via

“It’s the stories, stupid. So, how you relate to people? How you connect to people? It’s not the data; it’s not the dry content. You’ve got to be throwing engaging content, stories, emotional connections that people can relate to… They want to hang out with experiences. They want to relate to humans. And we’re not just tags and data and facts, we’re people!” ~ Chris Camp

Chris Camp’s LavaCon take-away should be a familiar reminder to all at this point. Right? Wrong? Then watch the video again. Web 2.0 (as well as all effective media, marketing, teaching, etc.) needs to humanize and personalize their message. Real content for real people. Give your audience a reason to care. Tell them stories. Listen to their stories. Weave these stories together and you’ll begin to develop the sort of relationship you need if you want to conect in the digital age.

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Why You (Still) Want an Agent

I enjoyed Eric’s lighthanded but thoughtful reflection on the merits of working with a literary agent in the digital age.

The times, they are a-changin’, mes auteurs. The digital age means more books are available in more ways than ever before, which in turn means two things: first, you have that much more competition for eyeballs, and second, you need some way to differentiate yourself from the crowd such that all those eyeballs are reading your book.


In short: regardless of whether [or not] you’re going (exclusively) digital, you want an agent… an agent’s multiple talents, myriad connections, and considerable experience will all be great assets to you in your quest for publication. This is true for more than a few reasons…

  • If you’re dealing with an editor, an agent is worth his or her weight in gold in terms of contract negotiation (not to mention that going with an agent in the first place generally makes it much easier to get an editor’s attention). This is doubly true as the details of e-rights are being hammered out.
  • An agent will secure you a publishing house by way of said editor, meaning he or she is basically getting you editorial input, a marketing team, a publicist, a sales team, and an art department capable of making you a Truly Fancy Cover. Unless you’re the aforementioned Jack/Jane of all trades, this is a huge bonus for you. (You also won’t have to worry about getting your e-book fed out to Amazon, Apple, and the like.)
  • You’ve got a buffer between you and your editor/publisher. This means that you can spend your valuable time writing while your agent spends his or her time talking to the editor/publisher (pitching your next project, hounding them for royalty statements, finding out why the awesome cover they helped you negotiate isn’t showing up on Barnes & Noble’s website, &c).
  • You have a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. Your agent has a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. If you both add links to your book to your websites/blogs, you get that many more eyeballs reading about (and hopefully soon reading) your book. Agents go to bat for their clients in more ways than one.
  • Finally, you get a measure of that e’er elusive brand recognition that separates your book from Joe “DIY” Lunchbucket. If you self-publish on-line, the only one vouching for your work is you. If you have an agent and an editor, you’ve got at least two organizations behind you vouching for your talent and credibility as a writer. (Pimp my Novel)

I wish that Eric had plunged a little deeper into the changing role of a literary agent in this brave new digital age. (This echoes the comment I left for him, so maybe he’ll feel inspired and take this up in a subsequent post?) Perhaps only hindsight will clearly define the transition, but it’s increasingly clear that agents will be assuming some of the responsibility for guiding and shepherding writers once handled by publishers. Agent/publisher roles will blur with the former actually gaining in influence and value while the latter declines. Of course, as in all things, the range will be huge, from nitwit agents shilling for a slice of the pie in exchange for zilch to publishing industry sages with vast networks, market wisdom, assertive negotiating skills and the nose for winners. In short: disposable pay-for-companionship copilots on your publishing adventure OR superagents who will eventually displace the mentoring and power brokering of yesterday’s publishers.

Or so it seems from my misty knoll… today. What do you think? Are literary agents slipping in necessity or are does a writer need a good agent like never before?

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Why Not Offer Literature Inexpensively?

I can’t help wondering what Penguin Books founder Allen Lane would think about the advent of digital publishing. Of e-books. Of vooks…

It’s one of the best stories in publishing: how Penguin Books began 75 years ago and became what is arguably the most recognized imprint and colophon in the world.

In 1935, Allen Lane was 32 and worked for The Bodley Head, which had been founded by his uncle. Returning from a weekend visiting Agatha Christie and her husband in the country, he had nothing to read and perused a railway bookstall. While looking at the dime novels, pulp fiction and expensive hardcovers, his little grey cells went to work, as Christie’s Hercule Poirot might put it, and he thought: Why not offer literature inexpensively?

Back at The Bodley Head, he proposed publishing high-quality books for six pence each, the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. Many publishers thought such an approach would ruin the business, but The Bodley Head approved the plan.

The first major hurdle was finding a name. (Shelf Awareness)

In keeping with Lane’s logic, publishing in the digital age will once again recalibrate the cost of purchasing literature. Seventy five years after Penguin Books waddled on stage, which digital publisher is likely to become the “most recognized imprint and colophon in the world”?

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Digitisation and its Discontents

Stuck in a time warp (image via The Economist)
The Beatles (Photo credit: The Economist)

The band of analogue holdouts is gradually dwindling. Because they are so few and so large, the holdouts are valuable: any technology firm that can persuade the Beatles to go digital will reap fat rewards. Theft provides another stimulus. All the analogue holdouts are widely available online—just not legally. That seems to be persuading even Harry Potter to look more closely at digital distribution. As Neil Blair of the Christopher Little agency, which represents J.K. Rowling, admits, holding the books back from e-readers “is not the best strategy for combating piracy”. (The Economist)

The Economist’s July 22 look at media’s analogue holdouts such as “the Beatles, Harry Potter, Bella magazine and the grizzled crew of the Northwestern, an Alaskan crab-fishing boat”. These “digital resisters refuse to distribute over the internet” at least in part because the financial view is decidedly more bleak than the analogue realm where they’re managing to endure. At least so far. Of course, pirated content circulates the net illegally, and this means that there is value being lost by not digitizing. Is the exodus from analogue to digital inevitable?

Are Cells the New Cigarettes?

We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.

~ Maureen Dowd (The New York Times)

Memes, Microblogs and Vooks

Photograph via

Welcome to the digital age. Do you speak 21st century social networking lingo? Language is shifting before our eyes, absorbing new terminology and references so quickly it can get a little confusing. If you’re feeling a little foggy on digital vernacular, John Brando’s “25 New Tech Words You Need to Know” is a must read. And a must print, carry in your wallet, demystify the water cooler cheat sheet. A few highlights: co-creation, ideation, mehsayer and lifestream. Oh, and if you haven’t discovered vooks yet, you haven’t been reading my posts!

What tech-talk terminology are you sick of hearing?

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