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Creativity Productivity & Work

Keep them guessing

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What does it all mean? (Image via James Douglas)

They say write to be understood. But what’s the point in spelling it all out?

It doesn’t hurt to make an obscure reference here and there to keep the reader guessing. Said author Jonathan Franzen in lunch with the Financial Times:

“I think you have to have a few things that you have to kind of chew on to get.”

When you first listen to a new Radiohead song, something about it sounds off. But after a few listens, the sounds in between become just as important as Thom Yorke’s lyrics. Nothing makes sense, but the emotional tug works.

It shouldn’t be the author or musicians goal to demystify everything. The maker is often still figuring it out himself, going against their own interpretation.

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Only the literary elite can afford not to tweet

If there is a problem in literary fiction, it may be that some of our best writers have missed out on one of the most exciting and transformative moments in American letters. Social media is primarily text-based; it propels people to write more than they have in decades – centuries, perhaps – and it is complex, fluid and resistant to simple conclusions. No wonder so many writers love it. Luckily, I now know many of them, and with them I talk, alone in my study.

Social media forces us to get to the point, to write short and succinct sentences.  More importantly, it’s a great way to connect with like-minded people.  

I don’t think established authors like Jonathan Franzen who rip social media remember what it’s like building a fan base from the ground up.  But if you’re looking to build a name for yourself, use self-promotion sparingly and share interesting content that lends credit to others. 

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Jonathan Franzen: what’s wrong with the modern world

Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to barnesandnoble.com, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

Franzen is nostalgic about the pre-Internet world and could care less about design. I never understood why people completely reject technology and only look into its negative aspects. True, technology is a terrible distraction, has outsourced our thinking and obviated face to face conversation but technology has also unleashed a lot of creativity and democractized an unheard world with a public microphone. Understood, a lot of the Internet is just noise but it can be filtered so that you can still keep your eyes on the most important things in the world.

The book store and record store aren’t coming back in their traditional format. People want the conveniency of lower costs and instant delivery to their device. Possibly sad, possibly lazy, but the same was probably said of travel before cars and trains were invented. You can still just get away from it all and walk if you wish.