New Year’s Reading Resolutions

Love & Terror on the Howling Plains to NowhereI’m pretty dismissive of new year-related resolutions—they’re too superficial and too fleetingly discarded. I’m more of the mind that you should set your goals and refresh yourself on them daily. That’s what I do. And yes, I understand if you want to slap me. What a prattish, self-congratulatory thing to say.

But I will admit I am using the impending new year to add a two-part goal to the list—one I’m a bit annoyed and ashamed I even have to add.

And no, it’s not lose a bajillion kilograms and get fit and toned. That’s a perennial. It’s that I need to make time to read (see below for the books I’m thinking I should start with and please feel free to suggest any).

I’ve read very few books for pleasure this past 18 months, which is entirely out of character for me—I’ll hands down always choose a night in with a book over any party.

I’ve been excusing away the not reading by saying I’m swamped with reading for study. That’s partly true. And yet it’s not. These days I spend an inordinate time reading, perusing, generally going into the black hole that is the internet and social media.

The Paying GuestsEven that is for work and study—when I’m not trying to eke out a living as a writer, I work as a social media strategist.

Meanwhile my thesis is exploring how author–activists may use tools such as social media to better tell such issues as climate change. So yes, I need to spend time wading through the quagmire of hyperlinked-to-the-hilt social media.

But I spend too much time doing so. I’m on there even when there’s nothing to read. I’m reading things I really, really don’t need to.

And my attention span has been whittled to a time so short I’m guess it’s around the minute mark, if that. This from someone who used to lose herself to reading without raising her eyes or shifting about for what was probably hours.

I can’t even count how many times I scurried off to check social media in the time it’s taken me to write this article. It was—no exaggeration—probably each time I finished writing a sentence. And that isn’t counting the times I hit the Facebook icon to refresh the feed even when there wasn’t anything to refresh.

I’m not going to say the internet and social media are ruining the world—quite the contrary if they’re used well. I’m just saying I’m not using them well and have instead allowed them to overtake and eat away at me.

I’m particularly worried about what this means for my concentration span in the short term (Think how much of my silly thesis I could have written by now if my attention span wasn’t these days my enemy!), but also my reading long term.

Animal LiberationI used to read at every available opportunity: in a quiet moment, on public transport, and to send myself to sleep—although when it was a particularly gripping book, it often did the opposite of helping me drift off.

But I digress.

Now, I not only don’t carry books with me—not physical ones and not even electronic ones on an iPad, despite the fact that both are readily available—I rarely read them at home. Every ‘spare’ moment is possessed with using social media. I even, I’m ashamed to admit, Pinterest myself to sleep.

While I’m a huge advocate for social media—it offers author–activists, in particular, some fantastic boons in terms of connecting with audiences and getting our socially and environmentally minded messages out—I’m also aware I’m these days not using social media to best effect.

So, my resolution is to spend less—a lot less—time on social media specifically and the internet more broadly this coming year. I don’t mean go away from it altogether. I simply mean being savvy about my usage.

This Changes EverythingWhether that means limiting it to a couple of times a day or only on my phone or using block-out tools such as Freedom or removing the social media apps from my phone or simply turning off the internet at the wall in my home…I don’t yet know.

Either way, I’m putting it in writing so I can be called on it this time next year: I through that in 2015 aim both read more books and to wrestle my attention span back.

Books I’m thinking I should start with including (any suggestions welcome):

Review – Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson

9780007488728

There have been a plethora of books on the brain; how it changes, how to rewire it, what it can do and how we still know hardly anything about it. At the same time there has been much written about the growth of The Internet, social media and advances in computer technology and how this is undermining our brains. As we let computers do the thinking for us and as we use The Internet and social networks to answer questions we are losing the ability to think for ourselves and as a consequence we are getting dumber. Clive Thompson argues in this book that this couldn’t be further from the truth and in fact we are becoming smarter than ever before.

Clive Thompson also shows that these fears are also not new. With every piece of new technology human’s have invented there have been bold predictions about what these inventions will lead to, positive and negative, and time and again both sets of predictions have been off the mark as our everyday use of these technologies often differs greatly from what the technology was intended for. Television, radio, the telephone, the telegraph and even the Gutenberg press were all ushered in with some people decrying the negative impact they would have on human’s ability to think and interact with one another. Nothing has changed with today’s technology

Thompson’s key argument is that our fear is human functionality is being replaced by new technology but what is actually happening is that we are integrating with this new technology. The book opens with Thompson looking at the quest to find a computer better than a human at chess, something humans have been doing for over 100 years. And while yes there are computers now than can beat a chess master there are also people becoming chess masters at younger and younger ages. And even non-chess masters who can beat computers and chess masters alike by using a combination of skills, human and technological.

This is true for new everyday technologies. We don’t use Google at the expense of memory we often use it to jog memory. It even helps us prioritize our memory. If we know something else will remember a detail or fact for us we won’t waste valuable space trying to remember the detail, we will try to remember where the detail is stored. Rather than The Internet, text messaging and twitter eroding literacy it is actually making us the most literate generation of humans ever. And social networks are also making us more socially aware, online and in person, not just of our friends but the whole world around us. And it is also allowing us to collaborate in ways we couldn’t ever have imagined before.

Thompson is not all glowing about what is happening. For every potential positive there are pitfalls and drawbacks. The technology that helped foster the Arab Spring is also being used by other regime’s to clamp down on people’s rights and maintain their power.  Some social networks can also  lead to homophily, where we only communicate and interact with those of similar opinions which can create massive echo chambers that serve to reinforce a belief, rightly or wrongly and can foster fierce partisan politics.

But technology, like humans, is ever evolving and as we learn more and more about ourselves and the technology and use it in different ways we get different outcomes that will shock us, surprise us and lead us in bold new directions. It is all about making the best use of technology. One of my favourite examples in the book is about a group on NZ High School students whose teacher got tired of the same, stock standard essays and reports being handed in. Instead she got the students to post their essays and reports publically online. At first nothing changed but as the students became aware that other people outside the school could also read and comment on their posts (parents, friends and even authors of books they wrote reports on) their writing began to change. More attention was paid to their research and more time was spent on their reports. Their writing improved.

This was a wonderfully thought-provoking book which reminds us all that rather than fear and deride what is new and changing that we should take time to look at the whole picture not just what bubbles to the surface. Because, one person’s silly cat meme can be another person’s only way to protest…

PS
I found out about this book via Rebecca Schinsky on the Bookrageous and Book Riot podcasts. Check both out they’re awesome.

Buy the book here…

Dabbling in digital storytelling at drabbl.es

drabbl.esCanberra writer and entrepreneur Ellen Harvey has launched a new global platform for writers who can cope with word limits. The drabbl.es website, which is live but in alpha testing, invites visitors to create 100 word stories in one of dozens of subject areas, from journalism to crime and chick lit to biography. It’s an addictive format, and one that will appeal to writers of all genres and experience levels. Ellen took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions about drabbling and literary start-up life for Boomerang Books. 

How and when did you come up with the idea for drabbl.es? 

The idea for drabbl.es came about as I was thinking of a way to write, collect, share and get others to do the same with 100 word stories. My writing group at the time loved the idea and I would give them ‘homework’ tasks to write 100 words around a certain theme. I wanted to read their drabbles, and they wanted to read other people’s drabbles too. Drabbles have been around for a while, the term originating from Monty Python, and are quite popular on online blogging platforms such as Livejournal. At the end of 2011, my husband, Lachlan Blackhall, and I were having a conversation about how to make this 100-word story-sharing website a reality. It was then that drabbl.es really started to take form, including many features and improvements that we can’t wait to implement on the website in future versions.

How long have you yourself been writing drabbles?

I have been writing drabbles since I was 14 and sharing them with friends via email and online blogging.

What’s your day job? 

My day job is split into three segments really: I’m a writer working on my first manuscript. I also started a company with my sister this year called BnE Media (www.bnemedia.com) where we create animated storybook apps for children. And of course, I work on drabbl.es.

And your dream job?

This is pretty much the dream. I am able to travel while working, I am able to write full-time, and I am able to work on interesting projects.

How many of you are involved in the project and what are the key roles?

As mentioned earlier, my husband is a key member of this project. He works with many start-up companies and is the ideal partner to have for this website. Plus, it’s great fun to be working on something with Lachlan. David Elliot and his team at Agile Digital are amazing–they worked tirelessly to make sure we had demos for workshops and a working version to begin this first trial in October.

How long has it taken to get the site up and running?

The idea was developed into a working website early in the year, and we were able to secure our developers (Agile Digital) in April. In six months, we have been able to start our first trial.

Now that drabbl.es is live, how much work is involved in running and promoting the site?

It’s actually a lot more work than I thought. Running a website, especially one in the early stages, means that I read 95% of all the drabbles. Drabbles are then randomly picked to be ‘promoted’ on social media, as well as advertising our challenges on social media so users know there are new ones. Running a trial, in particular, means I sort through feedback results and am constantly updating the development strategy for the next version. It definitely keeps me busy – but I love it all the same. It’s a new experience that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.

When do you anticipate leaving alpha stage and launching proper?

We plan to have the alpha trial running until the end of January (although we may continue into February). The site will still be live after that, but behind the scenes we’ll start working on the beta version. We’ll then release the next version and collect feedback. I love the idea of an evolving website that is exactly what its users want. After the beta trial and redevelopment, I think we’ll launch the proper version.

Will there be iOS and Android apps for drabbl.es?

I certainly hope so! To me, drabbling is definitely something that can be done on the run. You can be at a concert and write about the song you just heard; you can be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks and describe the atmosphere; you can take a picture and explain what it means to you right then and there while still being in the moment.

Why should people post to drabbl.es rather than Facebook or Twitter or their own Tumblr/blog?

Drabbl.es allows people to tell stories. That is our aim. We want to read about a moment in someone’s life and feel as if we experienced it with them. Drabbl.es is about connections. Facebook and Twitter statuses have developed to the point where they are often used to talk about a very specific moment, but once the moment is over, the update or tweet is often no longer relevant. We want drabbles to have longevity and to mean something a week, a month, a year, a decade after it’s published. Tumblrs and blogs allow users to write as much as they want–we want to encourage creativity by having the word restriction.

Might we see drabbl.es anthologies in ebook form in the future?

It is definitely something that we’ve thought about. Possibly as a way to deliver drabbles daily, weekly or monthly to users interested in particular genres or users. Almost like a newsletter, but hopefully delivered straight to your eReader. That being said, we’ve also thought about users able to export their drabbles straight to ePub/mobi and upload to the various stores themselves. It’s something we’ve thought about, but still a little while off from implementing.

How will you deal with copyright issues ie does the writer retain copyright and what if you were to publish a book, would you have to ask for permission?

Writers always retain copyright. As a writer myself, this is something I feel very strongly about. When they post on the website, the work is always theirs. If we were to publish a book, we would ask the users for permission.

What about moderating the drabbles to ensure nothing defamatory or racist etc is posted, is that a big job? 

Currently, our users are wonderful and don’t make it a very big job. I imagine it may turn into one, though. Our website is only as good as the users on it, so I hope that our users will alert us to anything they think we should check out, in addition to our own moderation.

What’s the end goal and how will you make money/pay for the site?

Ideally, and it’s a big dream, I’d love drabbl.es to be on the Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook stage–something people do for fun, but is totally addictive. Regarding making money, we believe the site can make money in two ways. Firstly, sponsored challenges are a logical step. The challenges are already part of drabbl.es functionality and with our view that drabbl.es can be written about events and experiences, then having drabbl.es host challenges for other companies seems reasonable and something the drabbl.es community would do because they are already using the challenges section of the website. The second way is by creating levels of paid users. There will always be a user type that is free and without advertising, but if they want more functionality, such as linking drabbles together or adding more than one picture to a drabble for example, they would need to pay for their account.

How did you come up with the extensive list of drabbl.es subjects? Can contributors suggest more?

I searched for writing genres on Google and came up with a multitude of sites that declared they had the best list of writing genres. I ended up just picking the one I like the best and started with that. The list is a work in progress and I would love for users to suggest more.

What other online forums exist for posting drabbles ie what’s your competition?

A wave of citizen journalism sites have cropped up in the last year and I feel that this is probably our major competition. They all allow their users to add pictures, follow other users, get email updates, comment and socialise on the websites. What’s more, they all promote that their site is about storytelling. Despite this, I know that our concept and website is strong because our 100 word restriction on the stories is a challenge (and an addictive one at that) which only enhances and promotes creativity.

Why booklovers need newspapers

The SMH replica app allows a tablet user to see the newspaper as it appears in print.
After 14 years in newspapers of which 11 were with Fairfax titles, and seven were online, I have some pretty strong views about recent events in that great newspaper company.

As an avid reader and book lover so should you. Newspapers have long encouraged and supported their journalists as they add the writing of books to their creative output. Without their newspaper jobs, these journalists simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to devote their time to the writing of books.

There are too many current or past Fairfax journalists and columnists who have become authors to mention here, but some names that spring to mind are Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman, Peter Fitzsimons, David Marr, Chris Womersley, Annabel Crabb, Roy Masters and Kirsty Needham.

I’m most concerned for those friends and former colleagues who have already lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months.

I’m also worried about how those who keep their jobs will cope with all the uncertainty and change.

I’m devastated about the impact cuts have already had and will continue to have on the quality of the content coming from the SMH, Age and Canberra Times.

I’ve also always been a passionate reader of Fairfax content, whether it’s in newspaper form (rarely these days), on the web on my computer, on my iPad via an app or on the iPhone as a mobile optimized version of the websites, and whether it’s content I’ve found by flipping or scrolling through Fairfax’s own pages or via a recommendation from a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn contact.

However we find or read the content, it’s a huge enrichment for our lives.

As a journalist who was lucky to be poached from Fairfax by a small start-up publisher a year ago, before the outsourcing of sub-editors started the current doom and gloom, I have mostly happy memories of my time there. Fairfax is a great company. Its people are exceptional as writers, editors and mentors to those building media careers.

A little part of me is angry about some management decisions made over the years, particularly the ones that involved head-in-the-sand statements like, “No, you can’t publish that online, it’s a print exclusive” and “No, we can’t publish a replica app because it might impact on print sales”.

The latter particularly frustrated me because replica versions (like those found on Zinio or PressReader) seemed like such a simple and cheap way to get Fairfax content onto tablets for readers interstate and overseas, or for those who had an allergy to newsprint, and who thus couldn’t access the print edition.

I replaced my print delivery of the SMH with a replica app subscription in 2010 and haven’t looked back. I’d do the same for The Canberra Times today if they offered one.

I’ve always believed that if your readers want to receive your goods in a particular way, and you can provide the goods to them in that way relatively cheaply and easily, then you should do so.

Print has been over for a long time, and the direction CEO Greg Hywood has finally shifted the business in is the right one.

A digital first policy and the appointment of social media editors for each title are necessary steps forward. A little late, maybe, but better late than never.

As for Gina Rinehart, well, wouldn’t it be great if everyone who felt strongly about keeping her off the board invested in a few Fairfax shares themselves. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think the future holds for newspapers?

Do you, like me, believe Fairfax should pull back further on printed editions to save on printing and distribution costs and provide print subscribers with tablets and app subscriptions?

I reckon that will happen in time.

I also think they should look to charge for longer form journalism, focusing on depth and expertise rather than trying to compete on breaking news, though this will only work if they expand still further on their social media plans to ensure their content is discovered.

As for how you can help to support Fairfax’s great journalists, the most important way is to pay for their content. Subscribe to an app or paid website. Buy a print edition (if only to show your grandchildren so they know what a newspaper used to look like). Buy some shares. Or join the Get up! Campaign to promote its editorial independence.

A viable model for journalism + the Longform app

I can’t pretend to be unbiased when it comes to longform journalism ebooks (see previous post on Fairfax Media’s move into ebook publishing).

I’m a journalist who always writes more than she needs to (and feels frustrated at the waste when precious sentences, and even entire interviews forming part of a feature, are cut to fit arbitrary spaces).

I’m an avid reader who loves to consume long features in magazines and newspapers (or better yet, online via my iPhone or iPad).

I’m a publisher with a passion for books, tablets and ereaders who intends to publish longform journalism ebooks (written by others as well as myself) and short fiction – good reads in short bites.

I’m also a part-time student working on a Masters research project entitled “Social reading, longform journalism and the connected ebook”. Over the next four years, I’ll be investigating the processes behind and consumer reaction to publications just like Fairfax Media’s Framed. I’ll be experimenting myself with similar processes, but incorporating subscription updates to journalistic ebooks; links, multimedia and reader feedback within the works themselves; the trail that such works create in social media channels; and the question of which of these connected pieces of content can be considered part of the works themselves.

So, I reckon Stephen Hutcheon is onto something, and I’m putting lots of time and effort – and even some cash – into finding out for sure.

Given the opportunity, journalists will want to delve more deeply into certain stories, and publish longer works that reflect those efforts, rather than the needs of the daily and weekly news cycles.

I feel sure that readers, when confronted with a story of national importance that grabs their attention, as McDonald’s does, or piques their personal interest due to its very localised or specialised subject matter, will enthusiastically spend the odd dollar or two here and there to buy a longform ebook.

That being the case, the ebook also offers (at last) that holy grail for newspapers – a way to make their customers pay for digital content. Just as we’re used to paying for apps, we’re happy to pay for ebooks. Its a business model that works, which is more than can be said for those of most newspaper websites.

Internationally, there are plenty of examples of longform journalism taking off. The Longform app for iPad (from Longform.org) is another recent launch, and worth a look if you’re into in-depth news and analysis. It offers a curated selection of the world’s best feature writing, from sources like the New York Review of Books, Slate and Mother Jones.

I dipped in this week and discovered some quirky pieces I’ll read over the weekend – one on depictions of the librarian in erotic fiction (evidently boys do make passes at girls in glasses), another comparing JRR Tolkien with Christopher Paolini (did you know the former was a terrible uni lecturer?) and a couple looking at the power of Google and Facebook.

The app allows you to read either in the original online format, or in the Longform format either on or offline, with a choice of fonts, adjustible font size and column width. You can read what’s already on offer in the app, adding and removing feeder publications as you go, and saving stories to read later via your onboard Readability account. You can also send articles you find elsewhere in your travels to Longform via Readability, Instapaper and Read It Later, and share any story via email or social media.

Read up. With the rise of the long form, the future of journalism has finally arrived.

Emerging writers get digital in BrizVegas

I’m rubbing my eyes today after waking at 3am to get ready for an early flight home from Brisbane, where a crowd of emerging writers spent a festive weekend discussing all things digital.

Check out #ewfbris on Twitter and the Emerging Writers Festival’s website for a full run down of the action – I’ll be posting some more on it here soon.

Festival organisers Karen Pickering and Lisa Dempster in Brisbane.

As requested by a couple of attendees, here’s my presentation from Saturday’s Working online event (“Our panellists hash out how they make new technologies work in their writing careers, from finding markets, marketing to making money!”).
Hopefully some of the social media tips will be of use.

Self-marketing via social media to build profile and network with your tribe wherever they are (or you are) in the world

18 months ago I had an argument about Facebook and Twitter with a writer friend who worked for a federal minister.

She couldn’t see any business or government application for Social media, believing it would only ever be a tool for communicating with friends and family.

Try telling that to the makers of hazelnut chocolate spread Nutella now. They have 11 million international Facebook fans.

Or in Australia, to Chux. With posts like “who wears the washing up gloves in your house?” they’ve attracted 14,000 fans – all happy to read about dish cloths alongside updates from friends in their Facebook feed.

Facebook has more than 10 million unique Australian visitors per month. YouTube is not far behind with 9.9 million. Blogspot and WordPress combined receive 6.6 million unique visitors, linked in 1.8 million and Twitter 1.6 million.

Social media marketing expert Tom Voirol, of digital agency Reading Room, told me this month that not being present in social media is like cancelling phone lines or email accounts. He also provided a great analogy: if advertising is like archery, social media is like ping pong”.

So it’s not about broadcasting to your followers or fans, but engaging with them, by starting and joining conversations, by sharing compelling, useful, original and relevant content, and by being an authentic online voice.

So, how does an emerging writer get started with social media?

I’d recommend you do some online research. Check out Wikipedia definitions of platforms, and blogs about social media like Mashable, ProBlogger, Digital Buzz and Social Media News Australia.

Looking at how others are using digital communications tools is a vital and ongoing part of the process.

Where are the conversations you’d be interested in taking place? Who are the influencers? What are they talking about? When?

The members of today’s panels would be a great place to start. I’d also recommend you follow Bookseller & Publisher, this very festival and ifBook along with your state writers centre.

Once you’ve sussed it all out, you can join in, either as an individual, or by creating a brand as I did.

Either way, choose a niche you’re passionate about and in which you have some expertise, and build your persona around that. It might be corgis or chick lit or cottage gardens. For me it was vegetarian Italian food and, separately, ebooks, digital publishing and related technology.

Lock that brand in for yourself across the major social media platforms and Register domain names.

I recommend WordPress for blogging, Crazy Domains for registering a domain name and JustHost for web hosting.

Set up a LinkedIn profile for professional networking, Facebook page (not a straight profile – for business purposes you need a page so that you can attract everyone rather than just those who actually know you to like your work), Twitter account (to follow anyone in the world who might be talking about an area of interest), Google + profile (it’s the newest of the major platforms, and allows you to divide your networks into categories called circles) and a YouTube channel for video or slideshow content sharing.

Take lots of photos and videos to share. The iPhone 4 and the DropBox app changed my life on this front.

Get some business cards printed. Include details of your social media accounts (make sure you get vanity URLs first).

Start commenting on your blog on everything that happens in your chosen field.

Attend every relevant launch, conference or jam jar opening and post on it.

Pitch opinion pieces, reviews and features to relevant newspapers, magazines or websites.

Comment on similar blogs and related stories on mainstream media sites.

Retweet links to blog posts or articles by fellow bloggers and writers.

Set up a list of your most useful Twitter contacts and check it religiously.

Make sure you monitor all your channels regularly and respond quickly to direct messages and often to mentions. You’ll need to set aside time to do this just as you would for any other tasks that are essential to a business, like paying bills or responding to emails or phone calls.

Share information and knowledge freely and generously … But advisedly. You want to be recognized as a trusted source.

Be a good digital citizen. Respect the copyright of others. Credit and link back when possible. Don’t vilify or defame anyone (and that includes Andrew Bolt).

Post as often as you can, without setting precedents or creating expectations you can’t live up to.

People will ignore you if you just log on once a month to tweet out a link to a blog post, or tell them where to buy your new ebook.

Consider establishing yourself as an influencer on specialist platforms like social reading site Goodreads.com.

Once you’re established, you can think about campaigns to build follower numbers or promote particular events or publications. Tom Voirol suggests building a campaign around a core idea that is easy to grasp for the public, aligned with your overall goals, measurements and success criteria, and, most importantly, has social interaction at its core.

Speaking of measurement, it is important to track your success. Facebook offers great analytics to users of its pages. There are plenty of standalone free and paid tools you can use to assess the reach of your blog posts. Stats like these can help you decide when to post, and which topics have the most traction.

Will any of this work? Like anything, it’ll depend how much you put into it.

For me, the vegetarian blog, vegeterranean.com.au, fulfilled my desire to write restaurant reviews and cookbook reviews, and led to my recipe creator mother having a meeting at Penguin about a possible cookbook.

I’ve devoted more time and energy to ebookish.com.au, which solved my problem of being a former literary editor and tech writer who would love to be more involved in the book industry but is stuck in Canberra. It’s helped me to make friends and build a network of contacts in the publishing hubs of Sydney and Melbourne and further afield.

It led to a paid blogging gig for online bookseller Booku.com [Yay Booku!] which I love, board membership of the ACT Writers Centre, a series of teaching and training gigs in social media, and an invitation to look at doing a PhD on a related topic.

The biggest surprise for me has been discovering that there are plenty of completely like-minded ebook and social media geek friends in Canberra after all. I just needed to get onto global forums to find them.

iPad 2 Sells Out in the US: Should You Buy One?

 

As some of you may already know, the iPad 2 was announced on 2 March, and released on Friday in the US to much fanfare. News has officially surfaced about the tablet sales over the weekend and it seems overwhelmingly good (for Apple, at least): the iPad 2 has completely sold out, and sold more than half as many again as the original iPad. What does this mean for Australians – and more importantly, what does it mean for you?

The answer? Not much. Going by the early reviews of the second iteration, your decision to get an iPad should not be much different from when the first one was launched last year. If you were waiting for Apple to iron out the bugs for the second version, then wait no more – the iPad is ready. If you were dubious about the iPad the first time around, then it’s likely you’ll feel exactly the same way now.

Almost a year on from getting my iPad, I realise that although it’s a desirable product, it is something I found a use for rather than found useful in and of itself. It is a gadget, and as a gadget lover it is a beautiful thing. As an editor, I’ve found the iPad far more useful than I thought it would be. It’s versatile enough to read any manuscript you can throw at it, and as a device for editing it is as good or better than a laptop. As an avid reader of websites, blogs and other social media, it is a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s also fantastic for travelling – ten hours of battery life takes you a good long way into a long haul plane trip. It is not ideal for writing – the on-screen keyboard is great for short bursts of text but for the most part it is inferior to a laptop.

For most casual users of a computer who are not yet in the habit of checking social media sites or email every hour or so, it is less useful than a laptop, and not as specialised as an e-reader in either battery life, screen quality or heft. And that means it falls between use cases. I am not an average user, and the iPad is not an average gadget.

For the most part, people still don’t really know why they want an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Apple seems to be adjusting their own expectations as well. The original iPad was launched with a keyboard dock and a suite of Office-like apps. The iPad 2 has dropped the keyboard dock and is now concentrating almost entirely on casual media creation – it sports new video editing and music mixing apps, as well as a photo booth app for taking and editing photos.

Having said all that, if you’re still entranced by the shiny new iPad 2, and you have the money, then you should get it. This is a purpose-defining gadget – something you will use once you own, because it is a pleasure to use. If you’re a reader of ebooks, despite all my reservations about the direction Apple is going in, it is still more open and more versatile than a Kindle (or any other straight e-reader).

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner for my last post’s giveaway. Congratulations to Melinda! I’ll be in touch with Melinda by email this evening to arrange the $100 worth of Booku Bucks.

The Gap

I came to a realisation yesterday while attending the Interrogating Twitter session at yesterday’s Sydney Writers’ Festival: there is a significant gap between those who get Twitter and those who don’t. And that gap may never be bridged. How can it? Those who despair of social media genuinely believe that it will destroy our language and do irreparable damage to our consciousnesses. But those who use social media can barely understand why everyone is complaining about it.

I don’t necessarily think this gap is generational. The panellists ran the gamut from the venerable Ruth Wajnryb through to the younger, hipper end of the spectrum with John Freeman and David Levithan. Nonetheless, all of the panellists seemed to be in agreement that there was nothing wrong with Twitter (or other forms of social media) and that we shouldn’t worry that it will cause the next generation of children to be illiterate. In fact, if anything, the panellists seemed mildly perplexed that this should even be at question. The only dissenting voices came from the audience, who managed to sound exactly like the fusty SWF grumpy-old-person stereotype.

So where does this gap come from? And why? Freeman’s new book, Shrinking the World, posits that each forward leap in communications technology has been greeted with scepticism, fear and contempt. The Gutenberg press was called the ‘devil’s machine’ by monks and the telephone was going to tear families apart. Nonetheless, Freeman cautions that Twitter, just like any other communications technology, is not necessarily benign. How could it not change the way we think, he says, when we can barely go a moment without checking our phones?

This is a conversation I’ve been having with a lot of people of late. And it perplexes me – maybe because I’m absolutely on the ‘understanding Twitter’ side of the gap. Why is there a persistent myth that those who participate in the brave new world of texting, Twitter and Facebook suddenly become automatons who cannot make the choice to switch off their devices and will have some kind of panic attack if they’re ever alone? Nothing I’ve learned by participating in social media has led me to believe this to be true.

This kind of Luddite moaning about the value of being ‘alone with one’s thoughts’ is ubiquitous on the other side of the gap. I had a conversation with another (very young) author at the SWF about travelling on the train. Nowadays, he says, it’s impossible to have a moment of quiet introspection while on the train, such is the cacophony of noise produced by communications devices. Since when, I ask you, has public transport been the most Zen part of anyone’s day? Human beings have spent thousands of years going to remote locations in order to be truly alone. How has that changed?

You always have the choice. Whether it’s to switch off, go somewhere quiet or to not participate in social media at all. As David Levithan said – if you’re not interested, don’t worry about it.