Tag Archives: books

If you’re not paying for the product (You’re our product)

Noticing how one idea for a post begins and watching it become something completely different after a new idea or perspective gets introduced is an interesting process.

This post was going to be along the lines of what the author-publisher dynamic meant to me. Being an Editor in a small publishing house means these relationships are absolutely crucial for the success of our business; this may also have been the start of a presentation I was due to deliver in Corfu at an international information law conference at the end of this month. But that’s all changed now.

Instead, I’m taking a different tack; I’m betting it’s something that is familiar to us all: the way social media has been woven into our lives. I use social tools everyday (at home, work and on my phone) and I wouldn’t be coining a new phrase by saying “how did [I/we] ever live without [insert preferred social tool here],” or that we really are “living in interesting times,” what with all the sharing and accessibility these tools promote.

But how exactly did we ever live without electricity and running water? And isn’t every time interesting for those people conscious enough to know that they are the ones living through it? I would hope so.

What I think is most important about these “interesting times” are the new levels of accessibility and openness we have, and just how easily most of us (not all) have this burning desire to divulge our most intimate details onto the social web. Again, nothing new, but occasionally it’s good to be reminded of this concept because it lands a little bit differently for me depending on whose in the hot seat.
This time it was “Silicon Valley Controversial-ist” Andrew Keen in the hot seat with his anti-social manifesto on the BBC’s Digital Planet. I’m becoming more interested in his ideas and I think he is someone who stands on the other side of the fence when it comes to online sharing. I don’t think it has to do with the over connectedness, but the actions we take with our personal information, posting it freely and finding out how unprotected our privacy really is – what these companies do with our data. Nothing is ever done freely online.

Keen said that the age we now live in is perhaps the biggest socio-economic shift our society has ever experienced – similar to the shift from the agrarian society to the industrial age. This is the core of his argument warning. What appears free, isn’t really free at all. Keen calls for new business models tailored to social networks.

Think about it: if you could pay a small monthly fee to access Facebook, would you? I hear you scream “NO!”…. but knowing that by paying for the service you use, provided by this newly minted public company, you each make an agreement in the understanding of how your data is stored, shared, and used (by whom)? If you’re tired of the ever-changing move-counter move/automatic opt-in terms of use, where you’re constantly having to adjust your privacy settings each time. Then a small payment might be the way forward.

Which is why I plan to read his new book, Digital Vertigo and figure out what side of the divide I fall on and the impact the commercial success of these companies is having on our experience.

So what, if anything, do we gain from living life online and in such a public fashion?

It’s a balancing act, but we really have no way of controlling how our data is used, or where it goes (unless you make the conscious choice of not having any kind of online profile anywhere). I could try to maintain my anonymity through this blog, or my Twitter feed, but would have a harder time of it on Facebook. So I’ve learned to embrace my online life, I’m taming my online self as it were, but it doesn’t work like that, because every bit (literally) shared is data. And data is the new oil.

I’m learning that I can’t treat my online life the same way I wish my physical life would go, as my ‘thirtysomething’ year old self’s experience of the world begins to influence the adolescent side of me online. I’m beginning to become more selective of what I post, or think before I share something (and where I share it), but at the same time I want you to know that I’m accessible, open and able to have my ideas challenged, which is why I don’t hide behind some randomly created avatar, and typically use the same handle across a lot of my online profiles.

And while I don’t always want to confess my darkest secrets in an online forum, I’ll keep using my social tools in the way that allows me to speak and share what I really want to share.

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To thine own self be true (The Free Trait Theory)

I’ve been adding to my collection of meaningful quotations as of late — you know the kind, the ones that stir something within you, make you smile, or simply make you nod your head in silent appreciation and share them online. The first one has been at the bottom of my e-mail for the last few months, and the other has recently come from, yep, you guessed it…Susan Cain’s Quiet. I’d like to share them now:

Quote 1: “…all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Quote 2: “To thine own self be true.” ~ William Shakespeare

Now how do I imagine these two offerings of advice relate to me? Well, after having reading the section about Free Trait Theory (covered in chapter 10), I feel these two quotes describe what it is I am trying to be (quote 1), in life, work, love and all other relationships, and quote 2 is what I am actually being. Being unreasonable is the process helps me stay true to myself and my beliefs; I’m constantly learning the difference between “being unreasonable” and cowtow-ing to popular opinion. I even went through a phase of pushing against so much of what my friends and family thought I should be that my actions didn’t have the greatest return of happiness – in fact I felt a lot of pain through that opposition, but at the same time it showed me the opportunity for growth. It still means something for me to stand up for what I believe in; it’s that extra ounce of courage that’s required to say “yes” or “no” and trusting myself that things will be okay after whatever passes. I’m being even more unreasonable through my requests of what I need from those around me. The support I seek, the understanding I wish to have, and through that, an increased feeling of depth, love and trust.

So what is Free Trait Theory? According to Cain, it is a new field of psychology, developed by psychology Professor Brian Little. An introvert himself, Little is also known (via the book) as an engaging and dynamic speaker, not only in his lectures at Harvard University, but also during his public speaking engagements, which he gives to large businesses (and in the book the US military). I love wondering how this is even possible, and Cain clearly does too. Even though Little describes himself as strongly introverted, he’s able to make these “performances” stick by taking the necessary time away from these engagements either before-or-after they have taken place. Think of it as recharging the batteries. How many of us have slipped away quietly, sensing a low ebb during a social engagement, or found a quiet conversation more restorative then buzzing around “networking” with people you may only ever meet once in your life? Or alternatively, if you’re an extrovert, finding a surge in spirit by surrounding yourself with more people? I know I prefer the first two options nowadays and so does Professor Little!

At the same time we can perform in opposition to our true natures just long enough before we need to excuse ourselves, and this is down to the fixed traits and free traits that co-exist within us. This is the principle of Little’s theory, insomuch as I understand it: we all are “born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits … but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects’.” (Cain, 2012) At last! An explanation as to why I feel charged up in certain situations and not others, and feel the opposite way, at a similar event (that may normally drain me) after I’ve had ample time to recharge! It makes total sense. If I have enough “down time” I can be ready and willing during the “up times” – those events I selectively chose to attend.

Take my current career path: Publishing – it’s all about the “networking”. Particularly when you’re looking for information. And it usually comes down to who you know, not what (or a combination of both). The publishing community in Oxford  offers up a lot opportunities to find out what everyone is up to through these seminars like these, the annual trade fairs and book launches. I can’t say I attend many book launches, but I do go to most seminars and recently attended one on book discoverability. Before the talk started however, there was the “wine and nibbles” phase of the event. And during that 30-40 minutes of “small chat” I increasingly noticed how much more of my energy it takes to stand there and chat with people I hardly even know, but when the talk starts I’m usually keen and interested to learn again. When it’s all over, however, I need to get straight home and re-charge, and sometimes that’s not always up to me as I’m dependent on other people for that important lift home (even making small talk in the car feels tiring!) So I have to choose carefully and have my exit strategy planned ahead of time.

Finally,  my social media presence seems to be in a state of oppositional flux when compared to the “networking” I do in person. If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you might think I’m a pretty active tweeter. I post, re-tweet and reply to as many conversations I can on all matters related to publishing (making my focus on digital topics like e-books, e-readers, XML, etc.). I’ll even live tweet from those seminars I attend too! So I suppose I could appear more extroverted online than I am in person. Does anyone else feel like this?

I imagine that’s a pretty natural conclusion, but it is down to the fact that my activity on social media is my personal project and I enjoy the online engagement and choose how active I want to be. Choosing those personal projects is a discovery process in of itself…I hope you enjoy finding yours!

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Doing it electronically (reading that is)

I’m going to jump in feet first here and start talking about what I see as a potential career path for me. Currently I work in publishing, academic books to be precise, as a Commissioning Editor here in the UK (or Acquisitions Editor for my US friends). I tend to like the former and I also like my job, the freedom I have with it and the relationships I get to co-create with my authors everyday. Realistically it’s all e-mail based, of which there are hundreds of conversations on-the-go, but there are those moments when picking up the phone, scheduling a Skype call, or meeting up for a (very rare) coffee is in order. I get to listen to people’s ideas, help see how they might fit my company’s list, champion them at Editorial Review Meetings, and hopefully, contract their book. At the end of the day that is what gives me that all mighty tick in the “job satisfaction” box.

But I want more…

Even saying that sounds risky, because I have to admit that doing what I do now, while interesting as it is,  isn’t how I see my career developing. And that got nailed home for me in a conversation I had with a more senior figure in my workplace recently, he said (and I paraphrase only slightly):

Once you get on the commissioning track, you’re on it. Publishers build companies around good Commissioning Editors.

Do you have any idea how much that scares me? It’s making me take a good hard look at where I see my career in publishing going, and the more I look, the more I see the future (and even the present) is in the digital. Kind of what this blog is aiming to be about, and slowly that is coming together.

I used not to be an avid reader, still don’t really consider myself one today, however when I got my first e-reader, the Kobo, I was hooked. It flicked a switch inside me. This ability to access any book you could think of (and provided it was available in your territory – more on that later, I’m sure) you could download it direct to your device and off you went. E-books re-ignited my love for reading and learning – I kid you not. So that is why I want to work not only in publishing, but digital publishing to be precise. To see how publishing is becoming more digital, or vice-versa, I recommend this piece, published on the Chronicle of Higher Education – a profile of Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg.

If I can have that kind of re-awakening towards reading, I want to help other people have that too!

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