Sam Harrelson

Doing It Better




Neil Stephenson’s new work Anathem
is coming out next week and I can’t wait.

Here’s the brief description:

Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world.

Not only does it look like an incredible piece of fiction, but Stephenson appears to be on the verge of putting our increasingly trivialized notions of “contributions,” “knowledge,” and “conversations” to the test as he reflects back on a wired and contemporary 21st century America.

Having been involved in the online marketing/web2.0 scene for the last few years, I’ve gotten to the point in my own personal life where I’ve recently realized that glancing blows in blog posts or Tweets about subjects and companies I know little to nothing about is not the sort of contribution I want to make.

Merlin Mann wrote the post that crystallizes my own feelings, and this is the post I wish I would have written.

kung fu grippe – Better: “What worries me are the consequences of a diet comprised mostly of fake-connectedness, makebelieve insight, and unedited first drafts of everything. I think it’s making us small. I know that whenever I become aware of it, I realize how small it can make me. So, I’ve come to despise it.

With this diet metaphor in mind, I want to, if you like, start eating better. But, I also want to start growing a tastier tomato — regardless of how easy it is to pick, package, ship, or vend. The tomato is the story, my friend.”

So, I’ve been cutting back on all the cacophonous noise and focusing on what I really have passion for and long term ideas, theories, notions or principles for which I want to make a contribution (like doing my PhD work on Dura Europos).

That doesn’t mean I’m going to trade in my Identi.ca and Twitter accounts or stop reading RSS feeds from TechCrunch. What it does mean is that I’m putting the things I really care about first. If I have time for the latest and greatest new iPod Touch app, I’ll download it. But first, I want to finish a few pages of this dissertation and let everyone know how important Dura Europos is to the past, present and future of the world.

So, if I start caring a little less about the latest and greatest in web2.0, please bear with me.



Posted: 09.03.2008

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