Keeping an Opinmind

It turns out I was one of the first Typepad users of Opinmind Quotables, a neat service that generates quotes from one’s own blog, at random. I tried it out starting last week, as an experiment. The results, thus far, have been decidedly mixed; they have also been inadvertently funny.

I like the idea itself, and the way the widget looks on the page. I also like the fact that it scours even the sideblogs for random quotes, which is I think the reason why quite a number of them are from the entries in my Reading Room, which I designed as a sort of bibliographical "About Me." Unfortunately, some of the lines generated from these reviews-on-the-run ("a great read," "beautiful prose") seem like blurbs about the blog. They most emphatically are not.

It gets worse: Even the comments are searched for quotes; this has resulted in the service choosing lines that may be misconstrued as deliberate come-ons, that is, as quotes I chose precisely to draw readers in. "Someone’s getting insecure…" That sort of thing.

But the unintentional comedy is sharpest in quotes like the following greeting, the last line of a letter from a great friend: "I miss you all!" So much for political analysis.

PS. Typepad features on its website some of the blogs that use its software. Turns out two of the gurus of counter-intuitive cultural thought use Typepad to blog: Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point fame, and Steven Johnson of Everything Bad is Good for You. I’ve read the first, but still have to get around to the second. I have read Johnson’s blog before, though (before I started blogging).

He made an intriguing point, then, about the difference or even the conflict between blogging and book-writing. Should bloggers take offense?

So for me at least, the trick of writing a book is somehow shedding all the layered, time-shifted contortions of writing, and somehow recreating what it would feel like to sit down as a newcomer to the book and start reading. Anyone who has ever written a book will probably recognize the challenge here: you write a new section at the end of a chapter, and as you’re writing it, it seems like you’re producing some great material. And then you sit down and read through the whole chapter a few weeks later, and the new section reads like it’s been pasted in from someone else’s book. Or you think you’ve constructed a perfect opening argument for the introduction, and then you sit down to read it and realize that you’ve neglected to mention the most important — though also, to you, the most obvious — point of all.

Most of the time, you can only catch these things if you’ve tricked your brain into approaching the book as though you yourself were a new reader, entering into that private, linear, slow exchange that is book reading. And private, linear, slow is exactly the opposite of the experience of blogging. What’s great here is the remixing, the group mind, the hypertextuality, the fact-checks, the trial balloons. It’s an amazing environment, but to me it’s directly antagonistic to the mental state you need to make a book work as a reading experience, and not just a collection of facts and ideas. It’s like trying to compose a new melody in your head while standing in the middle of a full-throated choral group. And so when I’m immersed in writing a book, I try to keep these worlds separate, even if it feels like I’m betraying the blog somewhat with my silence.

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3 Comments

Filed under Readings in Media

3 responses to “Keeping an Opinmind

  1. exie

    “And private, linear, slow is exactly the opposite of the experience of blogging.”

    Private, linear, slow — the words I would use to describe my own experience of the writing process, which is probably why I haven’t taken to blogging. It seems too fast, the product too disposable. Though blogs like yours, John, are proving the exception to the rule.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking posts (which they manage to be, even when you only seem to be discussing your choice of software).

  2. I think different kinds of writing require us to enter different modes of thinking. Writing a book (or say, for ex., a dissertation) needs a certain amount of stamina, focused on a single project, for an extended period of time. The blog can shift from one topic to another, or from one series of topics to another series. It can also be written in spurts. 🙂 Also Johnson’s description of wanting to scrap chapters after rereading them is pretty accurate. 🙂

  3. P.S. Here’s another take. Dan Green links to an interesting article on how blogging is a mechanism for scholarship:

    noggs.typepad.com/the_reading_experience/2006/03/mechanisms_for_.html

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