In Praise of Private Correspondence

Increasingly I get the sense that public, social media conversations are simply unmoderated panel discussions. These large-scale, thoroughly transparent, forum-like discussions surely have their place, but of late I have been finding great value in emails/DM/private dialogues and exchanges, which seem far more akin to actual conversations; less concerned about posturing a public persona or establishing a stance that will land “on the record”. I think, fundamentally, what we are searching for in communication is correspondence itself: a sense that the wavelengths of our meanings are, in fact, intersecting.

In this age that champions transparency, this confession may at first be scandalous: if you ask me a question on a public forum and then again during a private coffee date, you may very well receive two different answers from me. Not necessarily contradictory answers, but different answers just the same. Simply put, we comport ourselves differently in our living rooms than we do in the sphere of the town square. The public eye bears consequence: it changes what we say and do. It must. Our closest loved ones know this better than anyone. Assuming ourselves to behave identically in every social context is not to suppose some great sense moral character or integrity — it is self-delusional.

Thus I imagine the stream and medium of private correspondence as characteristically different than a public forum. Sharing ideas in the closure of a limited, trusted space fosters a transmission of thought patently different than the exchanges at the city gates. Not ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in quality and importance, but simply different, and yet equal in necessity.

Of course, immense worth lies in the matter of our public discourses — and we ought to heighten the breadth (and depth) of forums that are open to every voice and participant… But not at the expense of curtailing direct interactions with audiences of one. For here I seem more obliged to ruminate, and perhaps less compelled to perform.

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Building an Audience, Building a Message

Having a message to spread but lacking a means to share it is infuriating. Having a means to spread information but lacking a meaningful message is vexatious.

Do not build your audience in preparation of one day discovering something meaningful to say. Rather, build your insight and perspective in preparation for a future audience.

Your respect for the time and attention of those who will one day loan you their precious attention begins now.

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Blogging and Trusting

We often underestimate the trust that is associated with blogging. When I subscribe to a blog I am virtually inviting someone else (perhaps a rather talkative person) to make an apartment adjacent to the living room of my mind. Every time I check a blog or browse through RSS channels I am performing a wager of trust, banking on the author’s resolve to share things worth sharing.

Every post, every update, every act of “publishing” online is an act of trust-building or trust-breaking.

As with any form of human expression, there are times when the interests and intents of the consumer simply do not align with those of the creator. In this case, it may not be an issue of “trust broken” as much as it a flirtatious literary partnership that was just never meant to get serious. And this is fine. In fact, we’d be better off if we were more promiscuous readers from time to time. (There’s nothing wrong with a one-post stand; a fiery one-off that is so intense you can’t remember the author’s name in the morning.)

Regardless of the metaphor we choose for our readers, it falls upon the authors, I believe, to make the first moves to towards a committed relationship. There are some topics that are simply not good for discussion on a first date — especially things like running commentaries on minutiae void of consequence. Readers, like eligible suitors, tend to be put off by desperate, insecure ramblings that amount to little more than pleas for attention.

In summation: blog for others as you would have others blog for you.

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Blank Paper

Here is my premise: all the technology in the world cannot create a more neutral working environment than a blank sheet of paper. Nothing comes with fewer agendas or predeterminants. Simply, blank paper does not presuppose anything about the nature of the creation. Literally, it’s boundaries are nothing but it’s edges, which themselves can be amended, appended and manipulated in countless ways. There is nothing else in the world burgeoning with more flexibility.

Upon blank paper is born the embryo of the unrealized. It is all at once the most adaptable, customizable and versatile product available. Furthermore, it’s interface transcends the old unhelpful dichotomy of text and images for a seamless, integrated innovation space. (Paper definitely takes WYSIWYG to a whole new level!)

Later on, a sheet of paper can exist independently as an entity unto itself, or it be canonized, archived, collected or even bound to others.

Due to it’s incredible accessibility, blank paper provides this space of unlimited innovation to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. In fact, of all creation-enabling technologies in existence, paper requires the least amount of capital investment. Blank paper is socially unpretentious while simultaneously a tool utilized by the most brilliant thinkers of history.

Since its invention in China in the first century, later spread into the Middle East and Africa, and finally its full-scale adoption in the Western world, paper has proven itself to be one of the most transcultural inventions of all time. When traced back to the roots of its predecessor – the Egyptian papyrus — the evolution of paper has taken well over 5,000 years to hone. A simple piece of paper bears as much history and culture as it does potential and opportunity.

As far as productivity is concerned, blank paper provides the most distraction-free working environment yet known to humanity. The cumbersome requirements of saving documents and dealing with formatting issues (annoyances that sadly still plague computer users) are all removed from the innovator’s scope of concerns, allowing her to be fully immersed in the tasks of composing, constructing and designing.

Indeed, there is a time and a place for word processors and software applications. And yes, feel free to enjoy the modern notebook designs by Mead and Dayrunner. You can scribble in a Moleskine or draw in an About Blank notebook. Do whatever you will… but after you have exhausted every product in the “office supply” aisle; after you have tried every text editor app for your iPhone; after you have upgraded your executive portfolio notepad for the umpteenth time; after you have maxed your credit card for that “next great thing” to enhance your creativity and organization, you may just realize the ultimate destination in the pursuit of innovative workspace is plain old paper: a simple invention that is still changing the world.

So, when you really want to let your creativity fly without barriers, borders or constructs, you may just need to rediscover the miracle of the plain, blank piece of paper. Everything else is simply a commercial abstraction — yes, helpful inventions at times — but potentially costly beyond their overpriced complexity and often distracting beyond their claims of productivity.

Blank paper is quite possibly the optimum resource for human ingenuity.

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