Archive for January, 2006

Here’s to the Cult of the Amateur (And a Happy Wiki Day To You, Sir)

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

Today, January 15, is Wiki Day, also know as the fifth anniversary of Wikipedia, the peer-to-peer encyclopedia that’s more popular than the NYT and USA Today combined. Wikipedia has spawned controversies, spinoffs, and this great piece by Rachel Aviv in the Village Voice.

Ward Cunningham, the man who invented the wiki 10 years ago, says he designed it in reaction to precisely this kind of assumption: the idea, barely thought out, that ordinary people can’t be trusted. “No one has the right answers,” he says. “Honest to God, what is truth? Can you tell me what truth is? If you want infallibility, go see the pope.”

Aviv goes on to talk about Cunningham’s thoughts on Web 2.0. “If Web 1.0 was a shopping mall, this second phase is more of an ongoing conversation. … Many successful sites are community based, participatory, and free of charge (see MySpace, Craigslist, Flickr, Socialtext, Blogspot, Meetup, Dodgeball).”

Counterprogramming: The Amorality of Web 2.0, by Harvard Business Review exec editor Nick Carr, who calls all of the above, “The Cult of the Amateur.”

Four People Sitting Around Talking About James Frey, None Read the Book

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

It was 12 minutes (though that’s just a guess) into an agreeable pot roast dinner with a few friends in Brooklyn when the inevitable (yet still good) discussion of the unmasking of Million Little Pieces author James Frey began. After yammering on for a while, we realized that none of us had actually read the book (1. Been meaning to; 2. Don’t care for the topic; 3. Heard it was clichéd/poorly written; 4. Read other books on addiction: Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life, Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story). I’m of opinion #3, yet more curious to read it now than ever before … which just goes to show that bad behavior is constantly rewarded.

The Amazon customer reviews tell my favorite version of this story. The first one (April 15, 2003) blasts the book (”This is the type of book Vin Diesel would write if you gave him a dictaphone and a pot of coffee”), and as my friend Mark Schone pointed out, even way back before the Smoking Gun stunner among the thrilled throngs were readers smelling something fishy. “When the book is eclipsed by the story of the author then the book begs closer scrunity [sic],” wrote a anon reviewer on April 29, 2003. Fish for yourself among the 1100 reader comments and counting—it’s a trip.

Once you know that Frey submitted the book to multiple publishers as novel, had no luck, and then sold it as a memoir is there anything left to say? Yes. Been-to-rehab-and-back media critic Seth Mnoonkin does so with care and caffeination in Slate.

Without getting into or anywhere near Frey (these video interviews took place long before this scandal, though post-Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass) on Current TV’s terrific Storytelling Guide Dave Eggers’ take on the process and nature of memoir is honest and real and fresh. I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to the rest of the interviews with Sarah Vowell, Bonz Malone, Xeni Jardin, Ira Glass, Elvis Mitchell and others about how and why and when they tell stories. Those comfy-yet-conducive-to-good-work backgrounds—the pleasant yards and booklined offices!—are inspiring too.

This just in! A reader sues James Frey.

Flotsam: Joke

Friday, January 13th, 2006

For Friday: The Best Blonde Joke Ever Made.

Jewel Smith (Smith)

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

We shored up our Durham, NC base with a kick-of-a piece in the News & Observer.

Since this story ran a few days ago, I’ve not only been mocked repeatedly for the photo of me in the sombrero (in my defense, I was in Mexico, the sun was strong, and I was given the lid by a self-taught Mexican rocket scientist ) as well as had my look compared to Onion publisher emeritus T. Herman Zweibel, but have been receiving a slew of email from all sorts of Smiths in the greater Durham, NC region. “Southern Smith of the Month,” hands down, is the one and only Jewel Smith (Smith) who writes:

My claim to fame around here is that my mother’s maiden name was Jewel Helen Smith; she married a Smith, and named me Jewel Helen Smith, and I, too, married a Smith. Therefore, we were both Jewel Helen Smith Smith. The doctor on my birth certificate who delivered me was Dr. John (?) H. Smith. Which I always tell people lends credence to the stories that Southerners marry within their families. Also, I have a sister-in-law who was Jewell Smith until she married a Fader. I doubt if anyone can top this story. Now, can I have a free copy of Smith Magazine?

You’re first on the list, babe.

We’re not solely or even largely about Smiths (it just seems this way given the reverb of the big Smith media folk blast), but we do want to hear from Smiths far and wide across the country. Click here and tell us your story–or nominate a Smith you know to be in SMITH.

Flotsam: Video etc.

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

curry-n-rice girl music video / storytelling guide (click “On Storytelling” section) / the personal annual report

Spidey Senses Tingling

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

spideysenses_01-12-2006.jpg Spidey Senses Blog

The web works very well for them. Long interviews, personal stories (both long and short), photo collections are accompanied by daily blog-like entries. Each piece allows for comments which are meant to tease the reader into becoming a participant and ideally tease their own story out of them.

The News & Observer, NC

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

newsobserver_01-11-2006.jpg We’re all Smiths

… You just have to have a Smith-like story or an interest in reading about, well, the Smiths, the Johnsons, the Joneses, the Williamses and everyone else out there in America. “Everybody has a story, and everybody should have a place to tell that story,” said magazine founder Larry Smith. …

Kids Are Better Than You

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

I remember having a radio show in high school, a little 10-watt station tucked behind a door in an obscure hall of one of the buildings. I didn’t even know we had a radio station until a friend pointed it out (we ended up sharing the morning timeslot, Tuesdays maybe? I forget.) Even though I had maybe 5 listeners, it was exhilerating to know you were sharing, exposing, torturing the world with your musical tastes.

Today, of course, you can podcast your way to the world. This 15-year-old, Zoe, has better musical taste than me. And I’ve had time to develop, boy have I had time. She’s been honing her skills on her dad’s friend’s LA pirate radio station, and now you can download her shows as mp3s from her site.

Hello, My Name Is…

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Larry Smith and I have been emailing. One of the media Smiths I emailed forwarded it to him (not because he works in media, but because of his last name) and in turn he sent me a note saying hello, wondered how many “Larry Smiths” I thought existed, and: “I visited the web site and read a couple of the articles. I found the guy back from Iraq interesting as I have always been pro-military. A good friend of mine was called up for Iraq at the age of 57. He was a Major in the Army Reserve. He just got back in Sept. He was not impressed. He is also a Viet Vet.”

We decided it was time for SMITH mag’s inaugural Same Name interview. Of course, it’s easy to read anything you want in anything, to see your life in the clairvoyant words of a psychic or astrology blurb in the Allure magazine you skimmed at the dentist’s office. But when Larry Smith, 60, of Sulphur Springs, TX wrote: “A lot of people who don’t know me very well think that I never worry about anything and that I am just a happy-go-lucky guy…” it just sort of chilled me. (more…)

Don’t Catch Cold

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

How did an elementary-school teacher become a heavyweight in cold remedies? According to this New York Times article (reg. required), some of us may feel better trusting our health with school teachers, actors and talk-show hosts over those in the medical profession.

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