January 2nd, 2011

I should be asleep

Instead, I'm sitting here flabbergasted by p. 79 in Freeman's _The Tyranny of E-Mail_.

"would Beard's nervous American man be recognizable today? Yes and no...that nervous man on the run would have a very different sense of now from the now we live under today -- or did one moment ago. It's quite possible this gentleman had a phone in his home, but after shutting his front door and stepping onto the elevated subway, he would effectively have been in a communication blackout until he reached work."

Beard's nervous American is a classic guy watching his watch and very anxious about it all the time.

It's really impossible to imagine that Beard's nervous American was in any meaningful kind of communication blackout. First and foremost, he's not on the road alone and he's not on the elevated alone -- he could well be nodding and talking to people he sees regularly on the train, some of whom he may do business with. Second, this book is in many ways about _written_ communication: a history of postal services, the development of telegraphy, etc. Beard's nervous American may well bring a newspaper on the elevated and read it on the way (assuming he isn't like me and prone to motion sickness).

Not really a blackout. Just away from the phone for a little while. Which Freeman could have said explicitly, only Freeman lacks the capacity to use the English language with either precision or accuracy (if he could, he wouldn't refer to a railroad "grid" in the US). This guy's an editor? Really?

p 133 tyranny of e-mail

Honestly, he _wants_ a tyranny of e-mail. He _has_ an anarchy of e-mail. Guy cannot get his metaphors correct and neither can his editor. Maybe this is why:

"The Greek word for "carry" was metaphora."

No, it wasn't.


It's not like this is difficult research to do. A reader would be excused for thinking, well, you had to _realize_ that metaphora might not be what he said it was. This was an easy suspicion to have. "Carry" is short in _every fucking language ever no exceptions good luck find me one please_. Because if there is one thing we all had to do for hundreds of thousands of years, it was fetch and carry (same word, in this case) FUEL and WATER. Without end. Carry is _always always always_ a short word. Metaphora is on the face of it a compound word, thus, it cannot possibly mean what he thinks it means.

I think this guy has hyperlexia.

the turds of stupidity, they just keep coming

From p 171 of John Freeman's _Tyranny of E-mail_, a quote from Nancy F. Koehn, who really ought to be smarter than this, but then again, maybe when I slam the faculty at Harvard I am not actually exaggerating.

"It's not like you go onto Amazon and think, 'I'm a little depressed. I'll go onto this site and get transported." And yet that is _precisely_ what I do. Frequently. To the tune of a whole lot of money. Week in and week out. At all hours of the day (altho I do sleep quite regularly from midnight to 8ish and do not surf during those hours).

Freeman follows up: "But it is exactly this instinct that pulls us into a beckoning bookstore.

If Koehn "studies consumer habits" and gets this wrong, I feel sorry for any corporate schmuck who listens to her advice. Looks like you can book her in person if you want to hear this foolishness live:



_The Tyranny of E-mail_, John Freeman

Subtitled: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox

This is published by Scribner's, and Freeman is currently editor at Granta. The book is thin (231, including prefatory matter, acknowledgements, etc.). It has on the back of the hardcover dust jacket recommendations (long ones) from Geraldine Brooks, James Shapiro (a professor at Columbia University) and Jim Holt. Shapiro says "closely argued and historically informed". Holt says "cool historical analysis and articulate outrage". I have to wonder if we read the same book.

There are errors of fact on nearly every page of the book; I blogged about two of them. In addition to errors of fact, he is too present-minded in the historical development (p 94: "A typewriter helped you type faster."). Freeman frequently uses metaphors badly (there's one about compasses which suggests the man has never actually used a compass, and he quotes someone else's metaphor about moving a house in order to explain packet networks): they do not add clarity and frequently misrepresent the thing he is analogizing to or from. Social commentary on celebrities creeps in on occasion, and not in a good way. His sourcing is bad and there are errors in the bibliography (possibly not his fault).

While both Holt and Shapiro mention the analysis, and Brooks was convinced about something-or-other, there is no clear rhetorical structure to the book. As near as I can tell, Freeman (by his own statement) made a lot of dumb mistakes as an e-mail user and decided to improve. He did some research, and concluded that the existing writing on the subject lacked historical perspective. So he put this together, in an effort to show that the way he (and, presumably, other e-mail users) _feel_ (and I do mean _feel_, because there is no thinking going on anywhere that I can find) about their e-mail is fundamentally different from how people felt about their correspondence in the past due to differences in available technology and a resulting difference in perception of time, experience of consciousness, sense of aloneness, sense of connectedness -- no, really, he does talk about all this stuff, quite earnestly.

Then he proceeds to say things that amount to: send less e-mail, be concise, switch to other modes where appropriate, format your e-mail for clarity, enforce life-work balance, etc. Unfortunately, he does not say it this clearly, and muddies things further by insisting that you must have a to do list and it must be on paper. Books -- good ones -- have been devoted to time management and planning; it would have been more helpful to supply pointers. Different things work for different kinds of people.

It's bad history. It's mediocre advice. It's so-so as polemic. I found it horrifyingly bad as rhetoric, but those recommendations on the back make me wonder. I suspect that what has happened here is that Freeman likes the sound of his voice, and a lot of people in the publishing industry like the sound of it, too. No one is doing much of anything to make sure that voice makes sense.

Which is a pity.

Don't waste your time.

New Year's Not-a-Resolution

Over the last week, I've been unsubscribing from everything. There wasn't really a plan; I just sort of started doing it out of irritation, and then continued because I noticed that it was really easy to unsub these days, especially compared to a few years ago. Then I read _The Tyranny of E-mail_ and it occurs to me that some part of my brain was probably going, hey, you are spending _way_ too much time not enjoying checking your e-mail.

The problem has been completely addressed. What time I spend checking my e-mail now is entirely enjoyable (and also a lot less of it).