Using Social Media.

It seems strange to me when people write about, ‘On Facebook’, or, ‘On Twitter’… or, ‘On Social Media’. I think it lends itself to the thought that people are above it. As if they have no responsibility for their actions and reactions, as well as what those reactions and actions cause.

In the same way, I’m not sure that ‘in’ social media is much better, because that lends itself to a thought of powerlessness – surrounded by.

Which is why I write, ‘using social media’, or, ‘using Facebook’, or… using whatever. These are tools, and unless Thoreau was correct about men becoming the tools of their tools…

We use tools.

So it may be semantic, but it might be powerfully so.

The Reading Problem.

Reading enlightensWe’ve all encountered it. We post an article on some social network and someone comments without reading the article, or not reading it properly.

As someone who writes, I went through the stages of grief about it. I can apathetically report that I don’t care as much as I used to about it. Many people tend to skim headlines, sharing them without thought, and then blaming the Russians or whoever the headline targets for everything.

As someone who reads, I’m confounded by it. When I read that skim reading is the new reading, some of it began to make sense:

…As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading… — 

The bad news is that anyone who read that didn’t skim it, and therefore doesn’t need to understand it on a personal level. The good news is that there are people thinking about it.

But there are other things, things that also need to be addressed. Some people don’t even skim articles, they skim headlines – and in a rush, for whatever reason, they share it. Before you know it, things with no actual truth to them, or just enough to be shared, inundate the entire web.

Issues, too, of framing with technology come into context.

And what it really boils down to is that, aside from how much we might like to think people who are demonstrably susceptible to all of this are ignorant, as a society we generate a lot of things to read. Publishers understand the need for sticky headlines and ‘cover art’, and are good at it.

People don’t have enough time to deep read things, and they don’t want to be left out of an accelerating world – but are proud of themselves when they can type out the 4 letters, ‘TLDR’.

People who figured all of this out long ago have capitalized on it. Fake News, coupled with Big Data analysis of what people are interested in, allows some impressive amount of sharing of information that should probably be tossed in a pyre of literacy.

So, what to do as a writer? Well, the answer to that is simple: Keep writing.

And, as a global citizen on the Internet? Deep read. Don’t skim. Encourage others to do it.

 

Let It Marinate.

downside www

One of the things that makes the rounds in the blogosphere as a ‘truth’ is that you have to blog every day.

In a niche, if you follow another ‘truth’.

This leads to all kinds of crap content. Really. People reblog other people’s blogs, trying to capitalize on something someone else wrote in the hope that they can write it in a more popular way so that their blog can get traffic so that…

Take a breath.

That’s the newspaper business model. That’s the 24 hour news business model. It’s driven by advertising, as many blogs are, and that incentive can actually cause a decrease in quality.

An example: I picked on sex toys in Trinidad and Tobago recently. The story the newspapers carried was rushed, was not well researched, and of course provocative. When Finance Minister Colm Imbert called it fake news the next week, I laughed – because, of course, he pointed out that there’s no definition of what a sex toy actually is. In the video interview, it was even said that a woman had her edible underwear seized by Trinidad and Tobago Customs. The joke from the peanut gallery was that it was a snack. My joke would have been that Customs didn’t know how to use edible underwear- you don’t seize it. 

As it turns out, a company named Websource had simply sent out a circular stating that imported sex toys could be confiscated, and were not permitted through their service. The government’s alleged ban was hearsay. Hearsay is heresy in factual reporting.

Waiting, sometimes, is the best thing to do. You don’t have to be the first to publish. You can simply aspire to getting it right before you publish.

So it is with any kind of writing, any kind of social media posting, any kind of sharing of information – even in person. You don’t have to fill what you perceive as voids with inaccurate or incomplete information.

You can wait.

More often than not, you should.

Write frequently, write well, and don’t focus on being first.

Focus on getting it right.

Global Audiences, Global Publishing

Cloudy Earth

I wrote ‘Local Context In All Context In A Networked World‘ a few weeks before I wrote ‘Writers Without Borders‘.

That there’s a common theme is not a mistake. On a planet where we now can know almost instantaneously know what is happening on other parts of the planet, we as a whole aren’t really that good at communicating across the very same planet. Beyond the obvious, where lack of internet connection is a problem, we face other human challenges.

Language remains a barrier. There have been strides in automatic translation, but it’s still far from perfect and may always be. Our language evolves, enough such that ‘figuratively’ and ‘literally’ mean the same in our newest dictionaries – both figuratively and literally. Colloquialisms defy translation because they are so easily misinterpreted in other parts of the world.

‘Paw paw’, using Google Translate today, translates to the Spanish ‘garra’ – which translates back to ‘Claw’. In Trinidad and Tobago, ‘paw paw’ is a colloquialism for ‘papaya’. A green paw paw is not a green claw, at least in Trinidad and Tobago.

Babel. It’s all meaningless babel. And in a world that makes more and more use of Natural Language Processing, such that large amounts of information are analyzed and presented to a human without human interaction, there could be a human at the other end of that software wondering why people in Trinidad and Tobago eat claws.

Then we get into different acronyms – there are so many acronyms around the world.

Now, one can argue that other people need to learn everything. One can spend a lot of time doing that, and being insulted by people who don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate – or worse, insulting people who don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate. Is the goal to fight over these things or is it to be misunderstood?

For me, it’s to be misunderstood. For corporations, it’s about being understood. For governments… well, maybe not, but at least some of us think that the goal of governments should be to be understood.

Think Global, Act Local‘ doesn’t make as much sense on a planet where we actually do act globally by sharing information.

We need to think global and act global – and still act local.

This is a hard thing to think about. It’s alien. Our societies evolved as much through distance from other societies as other things – in fact, the distance was a large part of helping define a society. Immigration departments have taken over that job, and while they do serve a purpose, I have yet to hear someone happy about immigration. In fact, if they were happy, immigration would probably detain them.

But… Writing?

But what does that mean for writing in particular? Honestly, not as much as one would think if writers adhere to some good practice developed over the course of the 10,000 year history of writing. Things like, when using a potentially unknown acronym, expanding it the first time. With technology that is now a few decades old, we can link to a reference.

We can give appropriate context. We can tag our content, and for the sake of the space-time continuum, we should have dates and times instead of simply, “yesterday” or “Tomorrow” or… These have been standard communication guidelines for centuries, if not millennia.

This is not hard.

Writers Without Borders.

Chimpanzee playing with a laptopWhen Renard Moreau wrote about the six things that baffled him, I had to respond – and I did. Yet there is more I’d like to say on the topic of, “Where are the bloggers from Trinidad and Tobago?”.

There was a time when I was considered to be a blogger from Trinidad and Tobago. Geographically, right now, I would have to agree to the fact that I’m blogging from Trinidad and Tobago. And I’d also have to agree that I’ve been writing a few posts lately that are about Trinidad and Tobago, because I happen to be here and I happen to notice things.

GlobalVoices once thought I was a blogger from Trinidad and Tobago, but then they realized I lived in South Trinidad and that I didn’t write incessantly about Trinidad and Tobago.

I lost clique status, quietly, and my feelings were not hurt. That’s just not what I write. And I also don’t write about places where unicorns dance around rainbows with leprechauns, for that matter, and much of what is written about Trinidad and Tobago seems to be that. Just like everywhere else I’ve lived or experienced. That’s just not what I see.

I believe writers are witnesses of a sort. What we witness defines what we write, be it science fiction, be it fiction, or be it obituaries.

I see dead people”, said the obituary writer.

There are more places to list than a single nation, and to define me by one nation is a little insulting.

The truth is that there are two things that legitimize a writer: Actually writing and not being horrible at it, and being read. My dues in that department are so old that the receipts add up to broken links.

But back to these borders, these boundaries that people want to neatly place other people in when their sock drawer is likely in need of more attention instead. I write. Others write. And when people write, certainly they color their writing with what has made them… them. Yet, unless they marched around under a specific nation’s flag all the time, it’s hard for me to imagine a writer to be from anywhere.

What writers write, though – that’s something completely different. If you write solely about Trinidad and Tobago, I’d say you’re a Trinidad and Tobago writer (small market). If you write solely about the United States, I’d say you’re an American writer (big market). If you write solely about Jamaica, someone’s going to annoy you with a poorly done Jamaican accent and tell you they love Bob Marley.

It’s the way of it.

So, while there are boundaries in this world, writers that I read are not limited by those boundaries.

Stories practically write themselves everywhere. Recently in South Oropouche, a man was dismayed to walk into his own wake – and I know the fellow. The sex toy ban has everyone murmuring with friends, laughing and joking, but the ineptitude related to that government and media conversation is something out of a Pink Panther graphic novel.

But that’s not what defines me as a writer. That I am a writer has taken over a decade for me to admit, even after having published through O’Reilly publishing, writing numerous articles, and so on. But I’m a writer.

And that’s enough, really. I’m not out there flying a flag for a nation. I’m writing what’s on my mind. Nobody’s paying me at this time – feel free to send me money – but don’t expect me to change what I’m writing.

It’s my thing. It’s what I do. And I’d like to think that writers themselves are larger than the borders they live within.

Writing Bios.

P1000895We live in a world where there’s video, where there’s audio… and there’s the writing.

Many people write every day. Some, not at all. Writing, like everything else, takes practice.

I got a message today from a close friend:

How do you write so seemingly effortlessly? I’ve been trying to write a simple staff bio for a website for the past 8 hours and I have one sentence. 😥

Years ago, I would have looked at this and been astonished that anyone thought that of me – that I could write ‘seemingly effortlessly’. Nowadays, I’ll take what I get. So I responded to her, told her to just write and write and write about anything – leave, then look at what you wrote. It’s called ‘free writing’…

Sadly, I don’t think my advice helped that much. Her response was that she was going to mow the lawn.

I’ve been there. I think any writer has been there.

And I think anyone who has had to write an awful bio about themselves most certainly has been there. The Geneva Convention should have something to say about that.

Bios are horrible. How do you want to be seen? Who will be reading it? What will they think of me? What’s the line between pretentious and confident? And what do they mean 3 paragraphs? Or just one?

How can you possibly boil yourself down into one paragraph? Or three? I think that most autobiographies started off as bios where writers didn’t stop.

But a bio is not too hard, really. Clearly you can’t show people the entirety of you in one paragraph – there’d have to be a very unimpressive you. So stop thinking about who you want to be seen as.

Instead, ask yourself, “Who would these people want to know?”

That’s the secret. Generally, people want to feel confident about the person that they’re trusting with… something. So, if you’re writing a bio related to baking, you might want to write how long you’ve been doing it, what sort of baking you’ve done, and where you’ve done it.

That’s not too hard. Done right, that’s one sentence. You have a few more sentences to go. What else about you would they want to know? Well, people want to know that you’re passionate about something (hopefully baking).  And what else? What makes you a human being? What makes you human like the rest of us?

Don’t say, for example, that you collect frogs. I did that once and it went sideways. I had a few plagues of frog related things from people for about a decade. Maybe you like photography. Maybe you read. Maybe you write. Maybe you spend time with your kids, or your nephews and nieces, or maybe you like to simply sit down and read a book.

So, here’s your bio so far:

[Insert name here] has been with the company for [?] years, and has been baking for [?] years. She spends her time reading Baking Technology websites and playing with her dog, Mr. Cupcake, who also requires gluten free pastries.

There. You have a basic bio. You could add some edge to it, depending on the company or organization, but edgy cuts both ways.

It’s not hard to flesh that out from there if they want a longer bio. Play with those two parts, stretch them, and then see what is worth keeping.

And don’t be too hard on yourself. That someone wants you to write a bio typically means that they think you should have one – so do your best.

Where Communication Fails

Communication is the keyIt amazes me how people make things more difficult through communication, enough so that sometimes I wonder if there is a special group of us that talks to ourselves for lack of anyone else receiving on the other end.

Exhibit A.

Last year, here in Trinidad and Tobago, someone asked me to be a reference on a visa application – which I willingly did because I know these people. I was at their house, filled out the form for their granddaughter and thought this was done other than a phone call. There was no signature, just the filling out of a name, address and phone number – as most references are.

Time passed – maybe a week. The grandfather calls me and tells me that they had filled out the old form and that they needed a new form filled out – and so, I told him it was a simple matter of copying the information over. He said that the new document needed a signature, which I was sure was not the case. He insisted, dropped by…

And lo! There was no signature necessary. It was as I expected, the form simply needing the same information that was on the old form, that anyone could have copied over. I showed him that, and he got upset with me. I filled it out anyway. We’re friends.

Why did he get upset? It took some time to unravel that. This 70-something year old man was upset because his granddaughter told him it needed my signature. She’s in her mid-20s, a product of an education system that apparently can’t distinguish between simply filling out a name and actually signing something.

It broke down to a functional literacy failure, something that I’ve found increasingly common.

Exhibit B

I was ordering a breakfast I normally order at a place I am a regular at, from a lady I normally order from and who is familiar with my order. The scene was tense for some reason as I walked in, having nothing to do with me. Yes, I asked, and she would have told me – which is why I value this relationship.

The sound of the AC was buzzing above the register, and the background noise of the busy place was at a high. I hear her say that there’s ‘No ham bacon’.

I’m puzzled by this. “Do you have ham?”

“No ham bacon”.

We go on like this for a few moments. She doesn’t speak up. I’m not understanding what she’s trying to tell me, and I know that she is trying to help me. After a while, it gets sorted out when she finally raises her voice a bit so I can hear over the background noise – when she spoke quietly, her voice was deeper and it merged with the underlying buzz.

She was saying there was no ham, only bacon.

But why couldn’t I hear her? Frankly, maybe I should get my hearing checked – I should get on that – but the other part of it was that she was upset and was making a conscious effort not to raise her voice because she was upset about other things.

This was a situational communication problem. Had we not known each other, it probably wouldn’t have ended with both of us laughing.

Exhibit C

I’d sold a piece of land to someone who was already on it – a simple solution (hack) to a silly problem caused by laws in Trinidad and Tobago – and a year had passed.

Out of the blue, I see this person is trying to contact me on Facebook messenger – by calling me (who does that?). So I message them back, and they message me that they were having trouble registering the deed. A year later.

Now, they had my phone number. After a year, this suddenly became an emergency – which is easy to judge someone on without knowing how their life is, but a year is a long time and I know that the deed registration had to have been done or I would have heard about it from the lawyer, who I do know, and who has done other transactions similarly.

Something wasn’t adding up, and it was already clear that this was a communication error.

I sent them my phone number – they should already have had it. Then they tell me that they don’t have my phone number. I respond that I just sent it. “Scroll up.”, I typed, even as I wanted to scream it.

11 messages and 5 phone calls later, they tell me that they’re at the tax office and can’t find the deed number. And this is where a lack of specialized knowledge created the core communication error – they were confusing the assessment number and deed number up, and finally, after repeating myself a few times, it sunk in. They blamed the government office for not telling them, but based on everything I had experienced with the person…

I was pretty sure that the person just wasn’t paying attention to what anyone had told them, written to them, or tattooed on their forehead. The whole situation showed over and over that they were not interested in finding out what they needed to know to solve their problem. They were happy just annoying people until someone held their hand and guided them to the right solution.

Maybe they were hugged too much as a child. I don’t know.

But this example shows not only a problem with understanding specialized things, but also the joys of dealing with people who do not listen well.

Exhibit D. 

In dealing with purchasing something, I ended up dealing with 3 separate entities who are allegedly working together: A lawyer, the seller, and the agent. During this process, I handed over documents required to the seller.

Their lawyer contacts me. They want me to come up and submit the very same documents to them. I explain that the seller has the documents, and the lawyer tells me that they can only receive those documents if I authorize the seller to release them.

The rub here is that the seller has their own lawyer that, by circumstance, I have to use. One would think that the documents that the seller had would be furnished to the lawyer. The lawyer explains that it’s to safeguard my privacy (nevermind all the photocopies of my IDs hanging around) – but it’s really a process failure.

In the course of a few hours, I get conflicting information from all 3 parties who were legitimately trying to help me around the process failure, which I ended up resolving by simplifying. I only need to deal with the lawyer. What she says is what we go with, in the hope that it all falls together properly.

So this was a conflicting communication error, caused by trying to work around a process failure. I have to wonder how many people get stuck in those loops.

So Many Problems.

This is just a sampling. All of these communication problems, at their core, are human problems. In an age when we can communicate so quickly all over the world – I remember a time when postcards were a big deal – we still don’t communicate well enough to make use of it.

We build things on communication. We build things on flawed communication. Technology is not waiting for us to get it right; it’s a wildfire of acceleration on all fronts.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Listen. Speak clearly. Know of what you speak of. Ask the right questions.

Communicate. The world actually does depend on it, and more specifically, your world depends on it.

Paper vs. Digital: a personal perspective.

Books in: R.A. Salvatore signed!Someone asked about whether people preferred reading paper books or digital on Twitter, and I responded ‘paper’ with a brief and slightly inaccurate explanation.

So I’ll be less brief here and more accurate.

This is, of course, my experience – and my opinion.

When it comes to what I read, I rarely read novels these days – novels smaller than the ones in the picture (picture less than 500 pages) are sort of like snacks for me. Louis L’amour novels are typically done in a matter of hours.

When I read these days, it tends to be on different specialized topics – my father would complain I read only textbooks when I contributed to our library when I was in secondary school. It got worse since then.

What happens with all that reading is that I end up with references – sometimes I’ll poke back to a book and find something I’m not sure about, or look for a quote, or try to align ideas from other books. To do this, over the years, I’ve used my memory of the books themselves – shape, size, even smell, weight… I remember the books like objects.

Here I am, someone who has worked with data for decades, and I can tell you that the digital formats are also objects. They are not dynamic, like software (well, some are these days), so the way I remember things with digital revolves around how something works – not how something sits there and does nothing.

What I have found is that with digital books, I cannot reference as easily. Maybe it’s a problem I have, maybe not, but it’s simply that way for me. I can look at a bookshelf, though, and find a specific book and drill down to what I was looking for faster than I can search a digital text.

I know there are tools for digital text. I’ve tried them. I’ve used them. I’ve Grepped like a maniac. But in the end, I may not remember the exact words I’m looking for… but I can remember page numbers, the weight of the pages on either side of something I noticed. I can find what I need in the books I’ve read, no matter how old.

Maybe the indexing system of my mind is antiquated, a holdover from the times before the Internet. It is, however, what I have, and what I use.

Paper wins.

Linux Journal Ends.

existenceWhen I got the news that Linux Journal has ceased publication, I had to take a moment. I’d been published through them a few times in the early naughts, had worked for the parent company at LinuxGazette.com and A42.com, had met some of the coworkers over the distances and had hung out at Phil Hughes, the former publisher, in Estelli where I broke his carafe and had to get a new one… before I could speak Spanish well enough to know that carafe in Spanish is carafe.

2005 was a pretty good year for me, transformative in many ways. It was great to work with so many people rowing in the same direction; that I went off in my own direction again as I have done over the years speaks more to my own life. SSC is good people, and were the right team for a time for me.

It wasn’t that I expected Linux Journal to last forever. I’d visit the site now and again, but my own path had lead me into Drupal, back into C++, back into VB, into corporate .Net – or better, ugly stabs at using .Net for things that Linux would have been better at. Bills are bills. The down-turned economy (thank you, banks) had me doing things I didn’t like doing, where work was work to do.

I know people that I knew there had since moved on. My Costa Rican connection had gone on to Wisconsin, my Panamanian friends are half in Florida and half in parts unknown, last making biodiesel. It’s easy to wax nostalgic about there and then.

That’s the trouble with the digital age. Things change faster, and we have to change faster than them to stay afloat – and I know that LJ was trying to do just that while I was there (some of the stuff I worked on and advised the publisher on) just as we all do in our lives. And sometimes entropy catches up with us.

But there’s a glimmer of hope in there. Maybe they’ll find a way. It’s hard to say what will happen, but you don’t announce your own demise lightly.

Either way, it is the end of an era. It’s also the beginning of a new one, whatever it may be. That’s just writing and publishing in a digital age.

Introspection (Writing)

ThoughtReviewing the statistics between KnowProSE.com and RealityFragments.com has been a bit revealing – empirically.

Between the two sites, I’ve done about 300 posts in the last year.

KnowProSE.com has 27 followers and 50 likes (WordPress) with roughly 5,000 views, averaging 2.5 visitors a day with 100 posts over a year.

RealityFragments.com, on the other hand, has 89 followers and 750 likes (WordPress) with roughly 2,000 views, averaging 1.4 visitors a day with 200 posts over a year.

I did not make goals on these sites – I simply allowed myself to post as I wished to, when I wished to, as often as I wished to so that I could see what happened – because, despite what your goal oriented classes have told you, the best thing to do sometimes is to see what happens. That some more technology related writing has gone to TechNewsTT.com isn’t really worth factoring in – my contributions there, while appreciated, aren’t numerous enough to affect things.

My non-technology writing gets more interest than my technology writing – we could argue that I posted less tech, but there are some other factors: KnowProSE.com has been my domain for over 10 years, whereas RealityFragments is only a year old (and doesn’t suffer the history OpenDepth once did, which was messing with statistics).

So what does it mean? Nothing, really. But it’s interesting to look at. It’s a datapoint.