When I commute into the city centre, I often take a book of poems. I read them eagerly on the way in to work. But after a long day wrestling with technical, logistical, and managerial issues, on the return journey I will invariably whip out my phone and tap away mindlessly at video games.
Certainly, energy is one factor in this pattern. Poetry demands attention (and good poetry rewards it in equal or greater measure); video games demand little but give back instantly in pleasurable (but short-lived) bursts. So, perhaps when I have less to give, I settle for the lightweight option. But this doesn’t explain the pattern entirely, because I often read and enjoy poems in the comfort of my own home when I am equally or even more tired — and I rarely play video games except to “kill time.”
The other factor is how incredibly uncomfortable I find being crammed into a tube carriage with strangers. Many people seem to take it in stride; for me every second counts. More than once, while playing video games, I have missed my interchange or only just looked up in time to get off at my stop. The stimulation and quick reward cycles of video games speed time up, which is exactly what I want at the end of a long day — to fast-forward through the unpleasant commute home.
I spent some time at the weekend upgrading the look and feel of my website.
My aim was twofold: First, a kind of spring cleaning, aimed at de-cluttering the site and focusing the experience primarily on the articles, rather than myriad sidebar links. I have come to realise it is not so much reading on screen, as reading on a screen full of other options, that I find distracting and therefore distressing. Hopefully, in this sense, the new site mimics the experience of a print publication just that much more.
Second, I wanted to make my site more mobile-friendly. I extended the forthcoming and much-anticipated WordPress TwentyTwelve theme (still in alpha) with touch-friendly features such as a button-like top navigation menu and larger search box. The site also adapts based on screen size to avoid having to zoom and swipe around when reading on a small screen.
Although I typically have only upgraded my site every couple of years, it felt important and appropriate to serve a growing mobile readership with a better experience, and everyone else with what I hope to be a more elegant and visually-appealing presenation of my writing.
In 2006, after moving to Ojai, California from Los Angeles, I helped redesign the Ojai Poetry Festival website. Drawing inspiration from print designs by the late Hope Frasier, I outfitted the site with a newsletter, RSS news feed, and online ticket sales system, as well as information about headliner poets and photos from past events. The site served the group well for several seasons, until the festival recently went into hibernation for financial reasons.
Having recently moved to North London and joined the Highgate Poets, I seized the opportunity to help them put up their new website soon after being accepted into the group. What took weeks of custom programming to create the content management system for the Ojai Poetry Festival only took a matter of hours this time, owing to advances in the WordPress blog software.
“Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, so the weary travelers may find repose.”
I have been previewing Facebook’s upcoming Timeline feature. It turns one’s profile into a scrapbook-style autobiography, arranging multimedia posts in a chronology from birth to present. It is part of a larger strategy to promote information sharing that has been intelligently criticized in general terms. But it was a specific moment in my exploration of Timeline that pulled me up short. Clicking on the small heart icon for “Relationships”, up popped a menu item for marking one’s timeline with “Lost a Loved One.”
Though we have memorialised our son in many ways, the thought of posting his photo on Facebook beneath the small flower icon to make it part of this music-video-all-about-me of a web application struck me as painfully absurd. He is deeply and irrevocably part of my life. But a biography is not a life, much less an online profile. We have become a society obsessed with crafting our image — so much so that we almost believe, and sometimes attempt to inhabit, these spun self-tales.
The antidote to the future we now inhabit, wherein everyone has their own Wikipedia page for fifteen minutes, is art. Mark Twain called biographies “the clothes and buttons of a man,” deciding, “the biography of the man himself cannot be written.” But something approaching what it feels like to be a man can come across in the literary arts, and especially poetry. Poetry is the anti-wiki, striving for truths that need no citation, encompassing contradictions rather than devolving into fact-slinging “flame wars.”
And so, when it is released next month, I will use Timeline. But for matters that transcend time, and excavate the inmost reality, I’m sticking with poems.
“O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”
-Miranda, from “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare
This past weekend, I accepted the role of Chief Technology Officer for BraveNewTalent, a social recruitment startup based in London. At the David Allen Company, I have been using technology to help bring the GTD® methodology to millions of people worldwide, freeing them up from organizing tasks in their head so that they can focus on doing their best work in any context. BraveNewTalent seeks to help the workforce of the twenty-first century find, not only ideal new workplace contexts, but the relationships and aptitudes that will unleash the best work of an entire upcoming generation.
Led by visionary young entrepreneur Lucian Tarnowski, the company has already assembled a fine team and is rapidly accumulating blue-chip clients and media attention. It is an exciting time to be bridging the gap between baby boomers in corporate leadership and an inherently digital generation, who hold the promise of a new way to work. Doubly exciting is the opportunity to join not only a well-positioned startup in a high-potential emerging marketplace, but to do so in London — which is itself emerging from the ashes of the financial meltdown as a technology innovation powerhouse.
I am looking forward to doing interesting and meaningful work, with talented people, in one of the greatest cities in the world.