“In its highest form, a search has no well-defined object.” The blog post with this statement by writer Nicholas Carr (among his credits: former Harvard Business Review executive editor, IT and economy articles and books) is probably too esoteric for your average Google user, but it’s an useful reminder of how a word that has been around a long time has taken on a new lease on life through a new meaning. To search once meant to seek.
Does it still?
Google now makes us look inward, based as it is on our previously shown preferences, rather than outward to the world we’re trying to explore, Carr argues.
There aren’t any big surprises here: “Google’s goal is no longer to read the web. It’s to read us.” And yet, it’s easy to forget this wasn’t how it started, but this is the way it has evolved. Take a moment to reflect on where it’s leading us.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Verbosity is verbal, so what is word diarrhea called in its various other forms? We don’t get an answer to that, but we do learn from the Economist, based on a May 2012 McKinsey report on social networks and other media (MGI, The Social Economy), that Americans are talking to each other, more and more, and using various media to do so. The comments are fun to read.
I have to confess that while watching the start of an interview with Sarah Palin (remember her?) on the follies of Todd Akin, I began to wish some Americans would talk less.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Joshua Green at Boston.com, thank you for coining a wonderfully useful new phrase, the Romney “fog machine”. My first thought was that this is the perfect description for a lot of corporate-speak, not to mention some of the unintelligible blather that comes out of the UN and a few other over-sized organizations.
Here’s Green’s take on Romney: “Taken together, I’ve come to think of these speeches, statements, and dodgy rebuttals as the Romney Fog Machine: a great outpouring of words intended to obscure, rather than clarify, the issue at hand.” Green goes on to point out that this was also Romney’s approach in business. Aha! My corporate-speak idea was right on track.
I don’t know if Green actually minted the term, but googling it comes up only with the physical fog machines; Wikipedia points out that exposure to them should be limited. I suspect Green would agree, for the more ethereal political variety.
(Thanks go to The Browser for pointing out Green’s article)
I can’t decide if Aljazeera really intended to leave out a few words here: “Doctors used a defibrillator twice on Hosni Mubarak when they could not find a pulse, security officials said, in the latest crisis for the ousted Egyptian president since he was sentenced to life and moved to a prison hospital nine days ago.”
I believe he was sentenced to life in prison, or given a life sentence, but sentenced to life? In any case, it appears that this is not a sentence he’s willing to accept, and if the court wanted life, they won’t get it from him.
Little words help us avoid ambiguity and add a little sense to the world, when used well. When we intentionally leave them out, for example to write headlines, we sometimes end up with confusion. I misread this headline, fresh out of the Reuters news factory, because I was distracted and thinking about the dishes from tonight’s dinner, still waiting to be done. “Facebook shares sink as reality overtakes hype.
My first thought was that this must be about the work space at FB offices, something about their kitchens. Took a minute to sink in.
Update Tuesday, the article has been replaced! So link above went dead and here is the new story, via Yahoo, which adds a word to fix the problem. The editorial desk at Reuters is hard at work.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Singapore has worked it out: if you want people to love good English, you have to make it fun. The Speak Good English Movement on Facebook does it really well. A must-read: “A teacher presented each child in her class with the first half of a well-known proverb and asked them to complete it. The results are below…”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The best and brightest of American writing were named by Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prize board Monday 16 April and among them were journalists and poets, but no fiction writers. What an extraordinary statement this makes about the current state of the art in the US, which at last count, in 2009, was the world’s largest producer of books, with 288,000 published that year according to Unesco.
The last time there was no Pulitzer fiction award was in 1977. The Pulitzer Prize board has not provided any explanation and, curiously, given that the award is one of the biggest for fiction in the US, American media are focusing more on the journalism award going to a 23-year-old than to the fact that no one wrote a novel considered big enough for the fiction prize.
Three books were nominated as finalists for the $10,000 award (from the Pulitzer site):
“Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm; “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell (Alfred A. Knopf), an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years, and “The Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown and Company), a posthumously completed novel, animated by grand ambition, that explores boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace.
The three jurors were Susan Larson, former book editor, The Times-Picayune, and host of “The Reading Life” at WWNO-FM radio (chair),
Maureen Corrigan, critic in residence, Georgetown University, and book critic on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Cunningham, novelist, New York City.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – There are few politicians I’m as pleased to listen to as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and it has nothing to do with the value of what he’s saying. He has one of the most delightful accents in the English-speaking world, the one that tops my list (certain soft Irish accents run a close second) as the most melodic: a Ghanaian English accent. He is also, of course, worth listening to because he is an extraordinary statesman and diplomat.
I’ve just read with huge pleasure that not everyone in Ghana thinks they should be speaking what they call BBC English, as the Guardian reports. Fortunately, enough people jig the language somewhere between the BBC and local languages, turning what they speak into music that makes you want to ask them to keep talking. If the Guardian is right, Ghanaian English is becoming more widespread and more accepted.
Check it out for yourself in this 2010 BBC video debate filmed in Geneva, “Will the real Africa please stand up?”, featuring two once-Genevans, Annan and Patina Gappah, Zimbabwe writer who was previously a lawyer in Geneva, who won the Guardian First Book Award in December 2009.
I haven’t heard Gappah speak, but I’ve read her writing and it is another laudable contribution to English as the world lives it.
Long live Africa’s contribution to the richness of English!
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – Young people in Switzerland are online, no doubt about it with Switzerland having among Europe’s highest figures for Internet use, but they are still reading newspapers and magazines, in almost the same numbers as in 2003. The figures are part of media statistics published by Wemf, a group owned by major Swiss media, which provides certified numbers for the advertising industry.
Some 24,000 young people from 14-29 years old were questioned about 115 magazines and 190 newspapers, between October 2010 and September 2011. An average business day shows 49.1 percent of them reading at least one of these publications and 86.1 percent say they regularly read them. The free newspapers are hugely popular for commuters and many Swiss students take the train and/or bus to school or work, a factor that has probably helped keep the figures constant for the past 8 years.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Geneva Writers’ Group will turn 20 next year and as its 2012 conference drew to a close last weekend, it was clear that the group has matured into a body that today offers an established, “adult” level conference for writers who are looking to become, or already are, serious professionals.
The first conference was held in 1998.
Regular monthly workshops for members cover a variety of topics. The conference, held every two years, takes this a step further, offering “high-level instruction, support and feedback through workshops, discussions, and readings”.
The 2012 conference was sold out, as was the previous one. Some 210 people attended from 30 countries if local expats’ nationalities are considered, “with writers flying in for the weekend from Australia, Iran, Qatar, Kenya, Italy, Austria, United Kingdom and the USA,” according to the group’s founder, Susan Tiberghien.
The list of instructors was impressive and included, for fiction, writers Patricia Duncker, Sheila Kohler and Bret Lott; for non-fiction Nick Barlay, Dinty W Moore and Geneva-based Susan Tiberghien (who founded the conference). Poetry and playwriting instructors led sessions, as did sevral editors and agents (complete programme).
The value of quality conferences like this cannot be understated in an era where digital publishing makes it too easy to put your words into book form. A steady stream of unsolicited self-published books, almost all of them short on professionalism, comes my way for review, and while I admire the determination it takes to write a book from start to finish, I am not happy about the lack of respect for professional skills. Sometimes it is simply naivete. But writers need to keep in mind that readers deserve and demand books whose authors have mastered technical skills, understand the value of good layouts, have taken on board time to proofread and the cost of editorial help.
Professional writers work hard, mostly without much glory or money. Meetings like the Geneva Writers Conference are a wonderful source of inspiration and help to those willing to take the trouble to ask for it; these are the writers who have earned their audiences.