Phil Archer, senior patriarch of the BBC’s fifty year old radio soap opera “The Archers”, died this week.  One of the memories aired recalled his habit of talking his problems through with a favourite sow.  The therapeutic value of this cannot be doubted (think only of the Empress of Blandings).  Outside our back door on the farm we had a pen of four baconers.  Tom, Dick, Harry and Tother (The Other – our sustained imaginative capacity in naming names was not impressive – and we named each pen with the same names when their predecessors departed for market).  They existed to eat the table scraps of a large household – and to be my confidants, advisors and custodians of every secret that came my juvenile way.  Their responses (after feeding) were always courteous and sagacious, and graced with a  recognition of the value of what I had to say not always accorded elsewhere to the youngest member of the family.  They formed a network of therapeutic empathy.

These thoughts came to mind this week when reading of Richard Dawkins’ problems with comments on his blog : one fundamentalist creationist called him a ” suppurating rat’s rectum ” and this is as  polite as it gets.  But James Harkin, reflecting on this for The Observer, also notes the way in which opinion follows the crowd on the Web, and the way in which other’s approval sparks our own.  Here we are community sheep, not sapient pigs, and the urge to shout down opposing voices in shorter and terser text (I am always worried by capitalized blog comments) becomes over-whelming.  And social media align us quicker than ever before with received wisdom from our community: watch out then for fascism online.

This week I gave the lecture already referred to here (and which will be appearing in Downloads soon).  One of my questioners asked about the future of reading and writing, and I found myself unable to answer except in terms that he ust have found very depressing.  We do have a new form of reading within the networked community already: “power-browse” is a way of catching at the essence of things, and noting (and sometimes following) the things that link with them.  We also have a new way of writing: into the interstices of our readings we interpose messaging which is intended to convey meaning through association.  This can be highly misleading, and much blogging and messaging seems to me to be about sorting out the inconsistencies. But we are in our infancy: we will learn.

So it is no use complaining that David Shields’ new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, is a hymn in praise of plagiarism.  The entire social network discourse is founded upon plagiarism, as users repeat and re-interpret through epetition.  Similarly, Shield’s reviewers have attacked his assault on the narrative form of the novel. They all assert, without evidence, that we need stories.

I do not see this in the network space at present. Nor indeed is experimentation, like Penguin’s attempt to write a community novel, very encouraging.  Cory Doctorow has made a presence from what is in effect blog-supported serialization; Charles Dickens would recognize this form as being unchanged from the serializations of Blackwoods and others of 150 years ago.

So one thing I shall be doing in coming weeks is looking at the development of multiple media art forms in the web , looking at Liza Holton and Kate Pullinger amongst others as artists and publishers who demonstrate a future for stories in multiple media (or “transmedia”, as some are already calling it) publishing.  Any thoughts on other places to look would be welcome .

Meanwhile , there is a lot more to say on the ” future of reading ” question. And the discussion is a very old one , as illustrated by Tim Martin in reviewing Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books on ”

Part of the delight of Darnton’s book is his adept grasp of how history repeats itself. He has the scholarly nous to show that worries about books and reading habits extend back far further than the information age. His introduction quotes the Italian scholar Niccolò Perotti, writing with asperity to his friend in 1471 about “this new kind of writing which was recently brought to us from Germany”: Gutenberg’s black-letter type. “Even when they write something worthwhile,” Perotti complained, “they twist and corrupt it to the point where it would be much better to do without such books, rather than having a thousand copies spreading falsehoods over the whole world.” Perotti was writing barely two decades after the invention of movable type but the complaint would not sound out of place in the mouths of today’s critics, as they complain of the ephemerality of the blogosphere, decrying “churnalism” and “factoids” and lamenting the Chinese whisper effects of the contemporary internet.”

I am now going out to find a a sympathetic ear ( lop or prick’d will do , but there is something very comforting about the philosophical nature of the Gloucester Old Spot ) and discuss this further . I will let you know what I learn .

I saw a statistic the other day in the February edition of the splendid The Charleston Report (, which started me thinking , and I didn’t stop until I reached a recent note on business directories from  InfoCommerce , and then read Chuck Richard’s note for Outsell on competition in B2B markets( . As a result of all this I took action on my thinking and I am now pondering the results . If I am right , then a huge chunk of the business information market is at risk , so lets pray I am wrong , which would be less unusual and more entertaining for my kind readers .

In the first instance TCR quoted the NY Times to the effect that between ages 8 and 18 , US students spend 7.5 hours in front of a screen every day ( smartphone , TV ,computer etc ) plus 90 minutes texting and 30 minutes talking on their cellphones . What struck me first of all was how quickly voice contact was falling away , and text moving down beside it . If you want someone you increasingly get to them via Facebook , it seems to me .  And then I thought that I am increasingly using LinkedIn as my directory , and finding the person I want to speak to there – and even sometimes look at the company profiles .

So I followed the Infocommerce advice when they published a recent piece on this ( I went to Microsoft and downloaded Contacts for Outlook , and I downloaded the LinkedIn connector that links to this . As a result , when I set out a moment ago to write to my old associate and friend Joachim Bartels on a subject close to our hearts  ( the Business Information Industry Association of Asia Pacific ) , I found the Linked In content linked into Outlook , together with a note of everything I have written to Joachim in recent times , and all the things that he has sent me ( plus a photo of the man himself , all energy  and vinegar , and ready to leap from the screen to chastise me for not responding more quickly ).

This could well be the beginning of a new wave of innovation . If we get used to storing our “personal” directories in one place , and then affiliating to them massive searchable environments  of other names who we could add to that directory , and then adding their companies and their web references , then we are surely building primary directories of the sort we once went to Experian or D&B or Acxiom for , so this trend must surely compel business information data suppliers to move up the value chain and link themselves to these contextual channels . Indeed , for a ZoomInfo type of player that may be the only way to find a route to Market .  And then I saw Chuck reminding us that in fact this whole field is alive with start-ups , and challenges to conventional business directory players , so I then saw that my sense of established players being challenged by the social media interface was even greater than I thought .

But why is it a challenge ? Well , I am just a US college kid at heart , and my screen pattern is not unlike theirs . So save me a few minutes when finding a contact or searching for an email address , or automatically update me when things change , or give me the collateral content when I am framing a request or writing a reply , and I will bless you for the productivity gain. And this gain is taking place inside my personal workflow , and is very well suited to my mobile content requirements .

I will also be able to do more things on one password and I will be happy to allow LinkedIn to become an effective overlay to my screen-based world if it will do these things intelligently . I only need one LinkedIn and cannot manage a multiplicity of social sites , so I have always rejected invitations to join others , business or social . But if it lets me down then I am glad to know there is a choice  .

Footnote : Business directories will never be the same again . Actually , nothing is the same again , yet certain things go on regardless . Spamming is one . The same edition of TCR told me that  ” according to a 2008 study by researchers at the University of California , Berkeley , and UC, San Diego , spammers get a response just once for every 12.5 million emails they send – a response rate of 0.000008% .” Goodness , thats lower than a classified on a Murdoch website – and spammers still make profits , or they would stop .

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