TOC Keynotes: Evan Williams and Douglas Rushkoff

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Notes from Douglas Rushkoff 

Present Shock – a free sample of Rushkoff’s new book is available here.

What is it like to be a human that evolved within time to now live in a world that is outside time, or that is only interested in the present moment? You’re trying to catch up on your twitter feed while your twitter feed is trying to catch up with you.

Presentism:

  • for 1000 years society leaned towards the future
  • now, the Mayans got it right – not the end of Time, but the end of time.

Text created lineality: the oldest text we have is contracts, an agreement to do something later – text creates a story to move forward with, and produced goal-oriented gods in place of chaotic, random ancient gods– be good now, get to heaven later.

Book as form:

The book is the perfect industrial age object – produced, measured, numbered. Digital happens in the now – more durable than book or scroll, but extremely presentist and ephemeral. In a digital age we become aware of the temporal compression in different forms of writing – you shouldn’t sweat 6 months on a tweet – the outcome isn’t balanced with the effort – time is compressed.

  • Writing a book – 5 years of work – paid an advance – hours of reading
  • Now, no advance – live flow – young people don’t read books (MV: oh, really? SG: be wary of anyone who makes claims such as this) – you can read a paragraph and it’s a fractal representation of the whole

Reading is more textual, like a rave, it’s not about the arc and the payoff anymore.

Books as business:

Digital is affecting both writing and books in the same way. Transition from industrial age banking, currency and transaction to digital age banking, currency and transaction industrial currency – store value over time, at interest. Digital currency – more peer-to-peer economy – more about its transactional value than storage value.

Big companies bought publishers as a growth industry, but it’s not, books are a sustainable industry.

Corporate capital, start-ups, Random House buying Penguin – create the illusion of growth by buying other companies – but on the ground, buying and selling books is becoming peer-to-peer, storified – people will supplied to “books” – all choice, all the time.

But the problem is, people end up reading in order to dismiss – not to ‘get’ it, but to dismiss it ‘oh I don’t need that’.

Books can be extended experiences of voluntary non-agency – surrender our authority to an author – our challenge is showing people that choice is entertaining and valuable

Notes from Evan Williams

Medium is Evan’s new project is a collaborative publishing platform. Medium – not ‘message’ but ‘medium length of time’.

It’s still in beta for posting, but you can have a look around.

Posts are organised into collections – topic or themed collections – posts not ordered by latest on top because Medium is moving way from the emphasis on the new so that things disappear really quickly, and instead invest in ideas that stick around because they’re good – ranked based on people’s reactions – posts can live in more than one collection to maximise discoverability – readers can make paragraph level comments.

Matter – long-form journalism through subscription, currently on Kickstarter – if it works, that’s great.

Many people don’t want a commitment to maintaining a blog and building an audience, but want a beautiful and meaningful place to record stories occasionally – maybe an idea or an event – and then other people are writing about that same idea or event, and on it goes – there’ll be a place for professional writers on Medium further down the track.

Professional publishing: what’s possible in digital is not just making distribution costs lower. There’s something possible about making it richer and more dynamic, and getting it into people’s hands sooner after it’s produced, allow more routes to discover and share ideas – don’t trap it in a book – doesn’t mean put it all out the for free – but embrace tools, change formats, increase efficiency and the surface area of the idea.

 

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This is the future of the book, but not the one you were expecting.