Of Medium and Message

Stream of nonsense. These ideas may or may not be connected.


Today is my 1444th day on Twitter.


Last night’s Culture Show special ‘The Books We Really Read’ on BBC2 presented by Sue Perkins explored popular fiction down the centuries and how today’s bestsellers sit a gulf across from literary fiction. Perkins, a self-confessed literary fiction fan and past Booker Prize judge, decides to investigate the impact of popular fiction on culture across the genres of crime, romance and thriller. She reads Jackie Collins, meets fans of Dick Francis and interviews Lee Child and Sophie Kinsella.

What’s interesting about this is not Child attempts to shrug off the snooty High Art pretentions of the literary fiction as almost a class thing. What was stirred my stones is how he noted that he could do what they (the LitFiction crowd) do, but that they could not do what he does.


Related somewhat to Child’s I’m currently reading Stephen King’s wonderful ‘On Writing’. This snippet from the foreword really struck a chord:

One night while we were eating Chinese before a gig in Miami Beach, I asked Amy if there was any one question she was never asked during the Q-and-A that follows almost every writer’s talk—that question you never get to answer when you’re standing in front of a group of author-struck fans and pretending you don’t put your pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. Amy paused, thinking it over very carefully, and then said: “No one ever asks about the language.”

I owe an immense debt of gratitude to her for saying that. I had been playing with the idea of writing a little book about writing for a year or more at that time, but had held back because I didn’t trust my own motivations—why did I want to write about writing? What made me think I had anything worth saying?

The easy answer is that someone who has sold as many books of fiction as I have must have something worthwhile to say about writing it, but the easy answer isn’t always the truth. Colonel Sanders sold a hell of a lot of fried chicken, but I’m not sure anyone wants to know how he made it. If I was going to be presumptuous enough to tell people how to write, I felt there had to be a better reason than my popular success. Put another way, I didn’t want to write a book, even a short one like this, that would leave me feeling like either a literary gas- bag or a transcendental asshole. There are enough of those books—and those writers—on the market already, thanks.

But Amy was right: nobody ever asks about the language. They ask the DeLillos and the Updikes and the Styrons, but they don’t ask popular novelists. Yet many of us proles also care about the language, in our humble way, and care passionately about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.


Om wrote a thoughtful post entitled ‘Why the Medium Is Not the Message’. Om’s posts are always thoughtful, but this really stuck out for me me:

When companies can’t really tell the difference between the medium and the message, they get in trouble. Let’s look at the much-hyped photo-sharing service Instagr.am and Flickr, the granddaddy of photo sharing services.

At their core, both these services are about social broadcasting and social validation, not storing photos. But today, Flickr gives an impression of being a staid photo-sharing product. Why? Because mobile has become key component of this sociability.

Instagr.am embraced the medium but focused on what was its core task: social broadcasting and social validation.

At first, it sounds like Om is directly opposed to King – but while in different realms, they both question the hows and whats.


In the last week Twitter has started to roll out its grand plans to monetise. Hello #dickbar. In a strange way, I’m confused to how they came to the decision of executing on this. Heavy consideration of medium as platform and message as add-on?


Christmas 2010 and I’m closing Twitter in my browser in favour of old Usenet groups I used to frequent. Anemic and somewhat web-filled. They too have been scooped out and branded as Google Groups.

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