Sunday, October 25, 2009

Destination Maps

In the fall of 2007 I took a class called Envisioning the 20th- and 21st -Century American City. The first assignment consisted of designing a map of "my New York City." I was still growing accustomed to navigating this metropolis--if my knowledge of the precise order of cross streets is not perfect now, it was barely functional then--and drew up a destination-based map of my New York, ignoring directional conventions in favor of organizing locations around which subway line I took to get there. It was a fun project, reminiscent, P. Geyh mentioned in my subsequent analysis of this personal map, of medieval destination-based maps.

So it was pretty cool to find this three-year-old's view of the NYC subway. This is very similar to my project except way better designed (I remember that it took a surprisingly long time to print, cut out [with scissors], arrange, and tape [with masking tape] all the parts of my non-graphically designed map) and meant for a toddler.

But this type of destination-based map might be growing in importance. My dad always used to try to get me to pay attention to the route we were traveling in the car. I think he gave up once I got a GPS. And now, with just about everyone carrying an iPhone or a Blackberry, etc., step-by-step directions are always available. While awesome and convenient, this type of resource encourages our reliance on easily accessibly information, to the detriment of retaining knowledge. I know people who can provide driving directions from just about any point on the east coast to just about any other point on the east coast. All of these people are 50 or older. I, for one, welcome our new destination-based map overlords.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Universal Authorship

You know that line about everyone being a critic? It may be more true than you think. Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow, two cool seeming professors at NYU and the Rochester Institute of Technology, respectively, claim in a new article in something called Seed Magazine that we are quickly becoming a society of writers:
To quantify our changing reading and writing habits, we plotted the number of published authors per year, since 1400, for books and more recent social media (blogs, Facebook, and Twitter). This is the first published graph of the history of authorship. We found that the number of published authors per year increased nearly tenfold every century for six centuries. By 2000, there were 1 million book authors per year. One million authors is a lot, but they are only a tiny fraction, 0.01 percent, of the nearly 7 billion people on Earth. Since 1400, book authorship has grown nearly tenfold in each century. Currently, authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year. That’s 100 times faster. Authors, once a select minority, will soon be a majority.
I'm not sure if the particular conclusion that "every person will publish by 2013" is accurate, but I think the details here aren't terribly important. Even the people I know who refuse to give blogging or Twitter a try are basically already authors, whether their chosen medium is a Google Chat status message or whatever Facebook is calling its status updates these days. This is a cool thing.

The most basic underlying mechanics are remarkably similar for each of these media (and are themselves remarkably similar to what we think of as traditional authorial pursuits): unlike a simple email or letter, in all these cases the author composes a thought for an audience that is largely undefined. It takes a certain measure of creativity, imagination, and empathy to be able to write effectively for an undefined audience. The author needs to be able to recognize the differing levels of background knowledge, reading ability, and cultural literacy for an amorphous reader. That's not an easy task. I'm not saying that these new forms of authors will achieve a high level of this empathy--or that even the best authors aren't capable of being hideous people--but this shift to near-universal authorship in our society might prove to have an impact in areas far beyond what internet start-up is popular this week.

I'm curious also about how this changing pattern in authorship will affect reading and our languages. Will people become more serious, thoughtful readers if they better understand the writing process? Will our use of languages change more rapidly? How in the heck will dictionaries decide what constitutes credible sources for usage? I obviously don't know, but it'll be cool to find out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Old Jews Telling Jokes

I'm not sure how I hadn't heard of Old Jews Telling Jokes until today. It just seems like the type of thing I would have heard about. Here's an example:

And the cool part is that the silly concept turns out to be something more than just a way to laugh at my grandparents. So says Sam Hoffman, the director, producer, and editor of this project:
I wrote before that these jokes shed a light on a culture, but they also reveal much about their tellers. Like playing the piano, telling a joke requires craft, artistry and style. Does the teller have the patience for the set-up? Can he or she remember the details that make the characters familiar? Will he or she commit to the voices and the accents and keep them consistent? Is there that innate sense of timing.
I agree.

And this is one more reason why you really should follow Roger Ebert on twitter.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Writerly Pacing

Part of a super-long interview promoting his new book, Joe Posnanski takes a moment to describe pacing:
There is something about pacing in writing that has always fascinated me. You wish you could be there with every reader and say, "OK, this part you're supposed to read really fast. And this part, no, slow down, take your time on this part. And that part, yeah, just skim over that part." I suppose the writers who can get the readers to do that—to speed up and slow down instinctively—are the special ones. I don't have that talent, obviously, but it's something I do think about.
Is it possible that standard-length books of, let's say, 200-400 pages just aren't capable of holding a reader's full attention all the way through? I think it is possible, and probably even likely. 200 pages is a big time commitment. It's a little weird, though, to think that each reader would be interested in the same topics. And it's fascinating that even the author realizes that some parts of a book just aren't as interesting. But, again, I might be enthralled by a part of the book that the author himself just wasn't in love with. Morte D'Author, indeed.