The role of a critic

Are you critical?

I hope so. Being a critic means you have an opinion. And having an opinion means you know what you like and don’t like. Which is pretty important in this day and age of myriad choice.

If you have strong — accurate — opinions, like Siskel & Ebert, you can actually build a reputation on your likes and dislikes. Siskel & Ebert never made a movie, they weren’t formally trained in film or screenwriting, they really had no more credentials in judging film than you or I. But, they had a venue and a voice and they were, well, critical. Not negative, mind you, by this I mean they could critique a film and summarize the good and bad of them in a way that made sense to you and I.

I take this to infer that one doesn’t need a graduate degree in some entertainment medium to provide a critique. It helps if you can explain why you do or don’t like something in a film, show, or novel. But, you don’t need formal training to have an opinion, an accurate valid opinion. Siskel & Ebert proved this.

I point this out so that the next time someone asks you what you think about X, Y or Z movie, TV show or NYTimes bestseller, you can feel confident in giving your honest forthright opinion on said media.

Additionally, and more to the point, the next time a friend or family member asks you to critique some work of theirs don’t placate them. Encourage them, of course; if they create something — whatever it might be — support their creativity. But don’t negate your opinion by burying your true thoughts on their effort. That would be worse that lying. They’re looking to you for your Siskel & Ebert opinion. So, give it to them.

Too often, friends and family members, who beta read or beta watch a creative piece produced by an author or videographer, lie, thinking they are being “nice” by protecting the creator’s emotional state: “She tried SO hard, I couldn’t tell her what I really thought.” Don’t do them this disservice. They really, really want your honest opinion. Only an honest opinion will help them progress.

Let ’em have it. Thumbs up or thumbs down.

(Substantiated of course, but be brutal, really.)




Informed, piqued, challenged

But not entertained.

Not fully. Not in the robust sense of being entertained, of enjoying entertainment.

To what am I referring? To everything you will read on the web during the day; during your arduous slog through your social, business and informational treading of life’s daily data toil.

Like this post for instance. I don’t overtly wish to entertain you. I do intend to swipe at your subconscious; bat around your interests; toy with your beliefs, assumptions and predilections. But I’m not setting out here to entertain you. I’d rather stick a wet finger in your ear.

And that’s what all the web, during the day, during my reading of news and articles and tidbits, should do. Inform me. Fill me with awe and admiration of the data you’ve compiled and arranged and elucidated — upon the behalf of your argument.

But don’t spend hundreds of words poetically couching your argument in narrative. I don’t want to be intentionally entertained by you while you write to me about the genome, or Mars, or why bluefin tuna are dying out, or how hard it is to build a Javascript library that lasts the tests of time.

No. Just give me the facts, ma’am! Don’t try to be a story teller. Just get to the bloody point.

I will get my expanded narrative entertainment reading what are presented and acknowledged to be actual entertainment focused articles, stories and novels. When I want to be entertained through the written word I’ll pick up a novel.

Therefore, if information transmission is the primary intent of your writing (and most daily web writing is these days) — don’t fluff it up. Don’t beautify it.

Like I tell the doctor with bad news, “Just give it to me straight.”

Comment Obscura

I have a confession to make. I delete all my real-name comments and likes from many of my social accounts.

I create posts. I like things. I comment on other’s posts. But within 24 hours — I delete them.

There’s something about gifting my personal IP, my thoughts and opinions and such to the likes of google or facebook or twitter.

And here’s why I mention this: People hate that I do this.

People, apparently, feel entitled to some sort of persistence model regarding everything I might say or approve of. They think me deleting my comments from their posts violates their sense of continuity regarding their social personas. BAH! I say.

If we have a conversation on the phone, or face to face, or yelling across the canyon will either of us have recorded for posterity that conversation? Of course not. We talked, we exchanged views, and now those words are lost to the ether. Should we mourn those words? Those unpersisted trackings of our repartee? Of course not. And that’s the way I view my communications on my real-name social presence.

And of course they get even more pissed off when I post something and they comment on it and then a day later the entire conversation and post are vanished into the never-never.

“Why did you delete that article?” they ask. Hey, I’m modeling the entropy of the universe. Get used to it.

My netdonym social presence? Like here? Ah, who cares, it’s fun to gather a following of anonymous people’s likes and dislikes. I don’t know if you use your real name or not. I wouldn’t. I mean, I do, but only for VERY SPECIFIC content that I want associated with me personally.

The nonsense I post here? Me, my radicalized self and all the left-leaning libertarian loony-toons fodder I spew out? Well, it’s just a gathering ground for poisonous mushrooms. Hmm, anyone for some toadstool stew?

My Google – search me?

I’d like a personal Google.

I’d like my own big bucket where I could throw everything (digital everything) and MyGoogle would allow me to find it through search.

Yeah I can search my gmail accounts. But what about all the wordpress posts and comments? Aeon, Medium, Ello, fadebook, twitter, instagramOfCoke, etc.?

I have oodles of software code I’ve collected/written over the last 20+ years.

I have hundreds of tech-specs, whitepaper’esque documents.

I have thousands of pictures and home-movies.

MyGoogle would let me either dump all of this into a big-ol’-bucket — someplace — and let me search it all. I could add very specific “” to that bucket for content that MyGoogle wouldn’t have access to except through the front door.

I’d even PAY to have a MyGoogle. It would be nice if I could keep much of my data private and locally stored. Like my own GoogleDrive cached right here on a simple 10terrabyte server, like maybe a MyGoogleDataSafe.

Hey Google! Make it so.

A robot could do that

Automation engineer son having a Saturday afternoon beer in the back yard of his parents home. His mother is on her knees digging in the well manicured flower and vegetable garden.

Son: “Mom, you know there are robots that can do that for you.”

Mom: “Mm, hmm.”

Son: “I mean we could have one delivered that would tend your garden, do your shopping, do your washing.”

Mom: “Why?”

Son: “To save you time. So you could do the things you want to do.”

Mom: “Like what?”

Son: “Oh, I don’t know…”

Mom: “You mean like tend the laundry, shopping in town and cultivating my garden?”

Son: “Uh…”


Sing it with me: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a robot factory…”


We could just stop

Let’s face it.

We could just stop producing more media — right now — and live on what we have produced, to date, for a decade or more.

The exabytes of information humanity produces every day is beyond comprehension. Millions of information workers, millions of journalists and writers and videographers and artists and producers of digital entertainment all grind out SO MUCH STUFF that we, none of us, nobody on the earth, can possibly keep up.

We could all STOP right here and just read hundreds of thousands of blogs, articles, op-eds, novels, stories, etc,  for years before we started to go dry.

We could all go back and watch all the movies and television we’ve missed. All the studies and exposes and all the art we’ve skipped.


A box canyon

Writing a long story, a novel say, is like taking a world spanning journey but ending up in a box canyon. Or maybe it’s like walking an unknown trail but every so often you fling out a spool of thread letting it drag along behind you.

The point is, when you start writing a book you have the wide universe open to you. But as you go along you create these tendrils of story dependency that you must remain loyal to. Every new thread ties you to a logical canon you must not betray (or forget about or violate, etc.)

Say you want to write a story about a young man who meets and influences a famous person in history. So this person starts off as a child slave in Rome circa the year 500 CE. He’s got a limp from when he was very young, a wagon crushed his foot. But his eyes are lovely and his smile, a shimmer on a clear pond. His mother was a slave to a kind senator whose wife was ugly and hated the boy’s mother for her dark-haired beauty.

You see how easy it is to create a world where before nothing existed.

But let’s say that 50,000 words later this boy, now man, needs to make a journey on foot. Well, remember that he’s crippled, so whatever road he takes he must be crippled the whole way, it must influence his entire trip. He meets a woman who reminds him of his own mother, dead now for four years. Oh yeah, what did his mother look like? And who was that senator he slaved for as he can now mention his name as leverage? And what did that senator’s wife say to him when he was twelve, caught stealing honey, and viciously giving him that scar beneath his right arm?

A wide universe eventually turns into a box canyon at the end of the story. All those early decisions become a log of canons that cannot be violated. You must remember every one. Sure some will become natural characteristics of the story but others will be these threads that tie you to the core path of your plot. And tighter and tighter they bind you until at the end, you’re like a worm trapped in a cocoon and the only place left to write is that hole at the end of your tale.