By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From February 16, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays through the kind (and brave) benevolence of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
Locution, locution, locution.
In its sixth year, the Tools of Change Conference — just closed in New York City — easily held its own as one of publishing’s two great confabs of a stressful year, the other being last month’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo.
And when it comes to locution, ye shall know them by how they say “data.”
January’s DBW (#dbw12) used “following data” to tell us where things lie (not lay, damn it) amid the sinkholes of today’s treacherous, fast-digitizing landscape.
February’s ToC (#TOCcon) vowed to wield “Big Data” as a photon torpedo, LeVar Burton, in the battle for publishing’s cultural viability.
Burton gave a Treky’s keynote on Tuesday in which he revealed that spotting Nichelle Nichols on the original bridge of Gene Roddenberry’s USS Enterprise helped him find his race and place in an entertainment industry that would later cast him in Alex Haley’s pivotal “Roots” and now platforms his RRKidz mission to get digital reading to kidz (not kids, damn it).
Here is his keynote on video. Here he is with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, in Baratunde Thurston Explains “How To Be Black” And here is his book in an enhanced edition, “enhanced” being a term we include less and less frequently in our publishing patois.
More locution: ToC and DBW are perfectly aligned, like squirming twin Cupids, in their use of the term “keynote.” It once referred to an often long, always singular, rabble-rallying speech by a major figure of real heft. You remember Margaret Atwood at last year’s ToC? Well, of course you do. And you can refresh your memory when she does it again at AWP in early March.
Today? Every girl can give a keynote. In fact, every girl and every boy targeted by arrows this Valentine’s Day seemed determined to do just that. A “keynote” now lasts 15 minutes, max. And it arrives in a candy box full of matching presentations, each of them crinkly-wrapped in the visuals that we Contemporary People must behold in order to focus, damn it, focus. The givers of today’s “keynotes” are frequently low-energy folks whose first calling in life clearly is not oration. They want to tell us that their software is better than your software.
They may be right. They may be wrong. They may be sponsors. And one of them at ToC hid envelopes under the audience’s seats. Ten of those envelopes, we were told, would provide the lucky derrieres above them with iPad 2′s. (I made my colleague Jeremy Greenfield check under our seats in the media room. Chewing gum. Not an Inkling of a win.)
Did I mention locution? It’s all in how we say it, you see.
Let’s have one more.
“Scaling” could mean something less friendly to some soon.
A Wednesday session, Scaling Content Development Through Automation, gave us Kristian Hammond of Narrative Science and Robbie Allen of Automated Insights in their talks on those computer-generated sports and real-estate reports you may have heard about, ex machina.
These punchy accounts of youth hockey matches and other pivotal events are generated, Hammond told us, by “a simple set of derivations from the data.” Then “angles” are applied, he said. And he was at pains to tell us, “We’re not writing stories that just express the data…the system understands the trend.”
For the record: This report is written not by a machine but by a human being made productive by caffeine rather than electrical current. Parse me, bubba, I’ve got yer data right here.
But ’tis bootless to exclaim.
By the time the last flotilla of petit-four-sized keynotes eased us all to sleep in our seats on Wednesday afternoon — never let the elegant thinker Theo Gray onto a stage right after lunch to show you his Wolfram Mathematica CDF — Ed Nawotka managed to fire up his Publishing Perspectives account and tweet before passing out: