OMG, I just finished a book

Not 100% true. It’s finished in the sense that I hit the required word count, very mechanical, but it still needs a very big polish. The image above is London, which I’m finding far more condusive to writing. Weirdly, less distractions. Or maybe it’s the right kind of distractions. I can go into the fray or withdraw from it. In the country it’s almost too quiet and the famous flying dog* can drive me nuts. I’m seriously thinking of taking a week off and going to Greece on my own to do the final edit.

* Maybe I didn’t mention this? He jumped out of an upstairs window a few weeks back. Maybe that’s another book? The Day the Dog Jumped Out of the Window.

Writing Places

If you want to change how you think, change your view

This sits alongside my last post, perhaps.

I’m looking out of a window at 39,000 feet thinking about what the lack of oxygen outside might be doing to my brain. I’m wondering why my mind is wandering and puzzling how it’s possible that the altitude, or perhaps it’s the expansive horizon, is elevating my thinking. I’m also questioning why I never think like this when I’m frantically searching for a parking space at the Heston Motorway Services (Eastbound), on a modestly miserable Monday.

Astronauts have reported similar feelings of wonderment and even bewilderment looking back at the earth from higher up in space. Indeed, there’s a phrase for this shift in perception – it’s called the overview effect and describes how daily distractions disappear when viewed from such an elevated perspective. One can rise above any inconsequential thoughts and see everything as being connected to everything else, at which point one can glimpse the faint reflection of human continuity. The vastness of space somehow makes people feel simultaneously special and totally irrelevant. This can induce feelings of serenity or absolute panic. Some astronauts have even found God floating 500 kilometres above the earth’s surface.

I spend a lot of time on planes. Given the right combination of seat number, seat incline and flight time, thoughts like these occur with scheduled regularity. My best guess is that it’s because there’s a certain level of disconnection at 39,000 feet. I am often alone too, and while other passengers could use digital devices to make calls or send emails on planes, most generally don’t. Planes are among the last sacred spaces, places where people instinctively feel that any linear silence or mental privacy should be preserved.

There is also the thought that you cannot get off. Once aboard, you have to tightly fasten your seat belt and surrender yourself to this truth. This constraint can result in a certain calmness, which some people cite as being a prerequisite for fresh thinking. There is simply less we can do at 39,000 feet. This means we can think more about where we’ve been or where we are going in a physical and metaphysical sense. “If you want to change where you’re at, you have to change where you’re at” as a friend of mine once said.

The evolution of writing (and perhaps thinking)

Just working on the next issue of What’s Next. Here’s a sneaky peak…

Text messages were originally invented so that operators could test the early mobile phone networks. Now there are about 20 billion text messages circumnavigating the globe each day (plus a staggering 30 billion WhatsApp messages), each with their own special meaning for sender and receiver. What it means for our language is an evolution in how much we can say in so few words.

Typing on screens is a dominant force in the way language is changing. Just as some words are being weakened or cheapened, others have hidden complexity. One author, Tom Chatfield, carefully considers the meanings behind OMG, LOL (or lol), ROFL or ROFLMAO and says they reflect a lot more than they appear.

When people write LOL, for example, it does not mean they are laughing out loud necessarily. LOL acknowledges they are in an emotional conversation with you and making up for the fact you cannot see their face or hear their voice. It also shows they are members of your tribe and that they recognise you or your wit.

The language of text messages has found its way into the culture, just as any language would. A popular dance music band calls itself LMFAO (laughing my f— ass off) and a UK Indie band calls itself ‘Alt J’, the shortcut on an Apple keyboard that finds the symbol for its name.

The expression “for the lulz” is an interesting one, describing the fact someone does it just for the fun of it. But this usage is usually ironic, for example, “I killed him for the lulz”, and the more serious the act, the greater the lulz. The word, ‘lulz’ is known as ‘eye dialect’ because it is aimed at the eye rather than the ear.

In some ways, language has had to become tighter, rather than looser, because it is so easy to misunderstand a few words. As Chatfield says, one letter can “carry an amazing burden of significance”. (We remember one poor chap who went through purgatory because his text said “you’re pretty much the perfect girlfriend”.) He claims some young people outsource the writing of crucial texts or spend ages finding 140 characters that sound perfect but spontaneous.

All our text messages, or Twitter comments, or any other kind of screen communication, blur the boundary between public and private. Perhaps there is no privacy anymore. But people have to be very careful what they make public because there is often a serious gulf between their own private self, and the image they project on to the world’s screens.

While it is possible to project oceans of meaning into one text word, we can still communicate much, much more with just one look.

Naked Writing

Screen shot 2015-07-22 at 10.22.45

I received an email from friend (a company in Australia) the other day saying that a more natural tone/voice was finding its way into corporate communications. It don’t know if that’s true, but judging by the response I’m getting from my introductions to brainmail it could be. Frankly I’m a little bored with organisational spin and individual puff. I don’t know whether it’s a stream of consciousness thing or existential angst, but I’m increasingly letting it all hang out in plain sight.

Dear readers,

Stuck for something to read over the holidays? Why not start with some mind-expanding material in the form of brainmail issue number 95?

My own holiday plans have changed a bit. Arizona is postponed and we’re now off to look at the ruins of the Euro in Greece.

So what’s in issue 95? Loads of suspect statistics, most of which have probably been made up by some bloke in a pub. Also some inventions that may or may not stand the test of time. My personal favourites this month include burial plots for plus-sized people that should have eaten far fewer donuts and the live streaming of funerals (not related as far as I can tell). There’s also a statistic about walking speeds around the world (we’re generally walking faster, apparently, although why everyone is rushing is still very unclear to me).

BTW, it’s hard to believe, but brainmail is now on Facebook. Personally I can’t stand the thing, but the animals kept giving me a certain look. Apparently there’s significant pressure in the feline and canine worlds to emulate Katy Perry, although the fact that they’ve only got two followers has created a rather depressing atmosphere. All they do is mope around the house looking at screens all day wondering why they’re not famous yet (or maybe that’s my kids?).

Aaaaaanyway, your overdue issue links are right here…

Desktop/big screen version

Smart mobile/small screen version

Live long and prosper,

Best wishes