How to Lie with Facebook

“Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, so the weary travelers may find repose.”

-Czeslaw Milosz

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 Brave New World

“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.

London Calling

Valerie and I are planning to move to London, to be close to her family and to start a new chapter in our life together. My application for a settlement visa is at the British Consulate. After it arrives I will find a job. If you know of any dynamic, world-bettering companies that need a Chief Technology Officer with a mind for scalable web architecture and the soul of a poet, please let me know.

Although the timeline is not yet clear for our move, we decided that it was important to reach out now to our community of friends for support. Also, this gives us the opportunity to start to say “goodbye” to so many wonderful people on this continent.

We are especially fond of Ojai, the small town in California we have called home for the past several years. The word “ojai” means “nest” in the language of the Chumash Indians who first inhabited this area. Indeed, it has been a nest for us in which to be nurtured and grow strong. Now we fledge.
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Kindling Controversy

E-books are harder to burn...

I asked for an Amazon Kindle for my birthday. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” I have been haunted ever since. In my dreams, I visit the destitute families of the former owners of small, independent book stores. The youngest, a cripple, gives thanks before a paltry meal, declaring, “God bless us, every one — even that mean old Mr. Peake, the last person on Earth we thought would betray the printed book!” I wake in a sweat.

And yet, it is precisely because I love literature that I decided to try buying it digitally. None of the typical reasons for e-books really tipped me over the edge. Nor did the counter-arguments counteract the most compelling reason I have to take the plunge. Our small cottage is lined with book shelves. We moved five times in five years during the U.S. housing boom, when landlord after landlord decided to sell at the end of our one-year lease. That meant schlepping dozens of bankers boxes full of books — heavy books! — from one home to the next.

As a teenager, I watched “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” repeatedly. This 1970s Zeffirelli bio pic of St. Francis, complete with a soundtrack by Donovan, features the overacting of Graham Faulkner as the crusader-turned-saint. The scene that stayed with me is the moment of Francis’ enlightenment, when he strips naked and begins flinging his worldly possessions — and those of his rich father — out the window, into the arms of a receptive crowd of peasants below. That’s pretty much how I left college (though I kept my clothes.) And, while I miss my record collection (and my parents could have used the futon), the idea of simplifying my possessions — if not to enlighten myself, at least to lighten my stance — remains compelling.
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3 Poems from Iota Online

Thanks to the Southbank Centre Poetry Library’s ongoing digitization project, funded by the Arts Council England, three of my poems published in Iota less than eight months ago are now available as part of this excellent website.

The first poem, “The Language of Birds” is a kind of love poem to my wife; the second, “To Friends Not Knowing What to Say“, is dedicated to the memory of our son; and the third poem, “Yellow“, explores the subterranean, and can also be heard read aloud on this website.

Besides my delight that these poems can now reach a wider audience through the web, this project to round up the disparate poetry journals of the past two centuries and archive their contents for posterity seems, beyond noble, absolutely necessary. Twenty-first century publishing is a fragmentary mess. Who needs barbarian hordes to burn your libraries to the ground? These days, a single mis-click of the mouse can obliterate whole swathes of our literary heritage.

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Poem Flow for iPhone

I found myself in a meeting today with my boss and several other tech-savvy colleagues, discussing the educational and productivity-enhancing implications of various new technologies. When we got around to the iPad, I mentioned its potential to bring some sizzle to literature — possibly in ways the Kindle cannot. I whipped out my iPod Touch, fired up the new Poem Flow for iPhone application that just got released today, and we all sat around for a few minutes watching “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats elegantly fade, in measured lines, across my tiny screen. The implications for the larger iPad seemed obvious.

The implications of this technology for poetry, however, remain to be seen. I was contacted at the start of this month by Laura Often, Public Relations for Text Flows, the company that partnered with The Academy of American Poets to bring Poem Flow to life. She was interested in having me blog about their project. I’m not sure if she found me as a former technology blogger or a current poetry blogger, but nonetheless I took a look. Unfortunately, at that time, I could only see a brief Flash-based demonstration on their web site.

Holding my iPod Touch in my hands while it runs this application is a different experience. The font is lovely. The transitions between lines (and parts of lines) are thoughtful and well-executed. In fact, the deliberate slow-down of the reading experience seems to be one of the few actual enhancements I’ve seen technology make to literature — perhaps the only enhancement in this regard, since mostly when it comes to reading, technology encourages us to speed up. Continue reading…

Website Redesigned

I spent the day redesigning my website. What may appear to be just a simple visual touch-up was actually a major overhaul. I ported my site from Serendipity — which I began using when I first transitioned to a blog format in 2006 — to the more popular WordPress platform. The template is my own custom design built on sandbox.

I have had a personal web presence for over ten years now, and interestingly enough, when I look back on previous sites, it seems I have upgraded the site look-and-feel about every two years.

For your amusement, here are some screen shots from the past (click the thumbnail or year to see a larger image):

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