Episode 9 - Get a Clue about David Weinberger: Author, Blogger, Speaker, Fellow, Twitterer, Commentator, Columnist and Willing ‘Word Association’ Player
Get a Clue about David Weinberger: Author, Blogger, Speaker, Fellow, Twitterer, Commentator, Columnist and Willing 'Word Association' Player
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Susan Bratton: Hi, this is Susan Bratton. I’m your host for Dishy Mix. Hey, thank you so much for tuning in today. I have a really good guest for you today, and I’m glad you’re listening. We have David Weinberger. David is an author, a blogger, a speaker, a fellow, a twitterer, a commentator, a columnist and an incredibly interesting man who’s looking at the Internet at a very high level. You’re going to learn a lot from our interview with David today. We’re going to talk about everything from cultural anarchy to Woody Allen… they might be the same thing, Concerned Philosophers for Peace, the cult of the amateur, new words like folksonomy and intertwingling. We’re going to talk about Twitter, something I love and I hope you do too and we might get to something that David’s talking about right now, which is ‘net neutrality’.
David Weinberger: There’s always new stuff. This is one of the richest fields of innovation for the past ten years. Well since the web began, exactly has been, “How are we going to find the stuff that we want to know about?” How are we going to connect with one another…
Susan Bratton: Twitter, in 140 characters…”like chat, all your friends, micro-blogs, connections constantly.”
David Weinberger: That’s very haiku-like… you might have hit it…
Susan Bratton: Gardeners are big sendu writers in Japan, and I thought that was fascinating, a whole new category of poetry, somewhat undiscovered here, and short form, which really feels like Twitter, but it fits into our world today. What do you think?
David Weinberger: Well but there’s also ‘fondue’ is which ‘cheesy haiku’.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] Well a fondue is cheese, and that’s fattening. That’s why it’s so good…
David Weinberger: ‘Flocking’ refers to the… I think to the… I don’t know; I have no idea. Why am I supposed to know? Am I supposed to know everything? I don’t know! Go look it up. Google it! Come on.
Susan Bratton: [laughing]
David Weinberger: Sorry, this passive-aggression reaction to not knowing something in public; it’s not a pretty sight…
Susan Bratton: You need a fashion intervention.
David Weinberger: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: Not going to happen, is it?
David Weinberger: No.
Susan Bratton: No. So…
David Weinberger: Oh well, maybe I’ll move to the clown outfit.
Susan Bratton: Yeah! [laughs]…
Susan Bratton: So please welcome Mr. David Weinberger. Good morning, David.
David Weinberger: Hello.
Susan Bratton: Hey, thank you so much for joining us. Now I think you’re on a month’s sabbatical in the Berkshires, just taking some time off to write in a different place. Is that right?
David Weinberger: Yeah, that’s what, to me… My wife and I decided that we’re actually happier on vacation if we’re working, so we’ve started doing a work vacation which since I’m a writer means I’m writing, but I’m I a nicer place.
Susan Bratton: Tell me about your family cottage in the Berkshires. What’s it like?
David Weinberger: Oh, it’s a… My siblings and I inherited it. It’s crummy. It’s an old falling-down uninsulated place that we don’t do a lot of upkeep on.
Susan Bratton: Nice, so you can just totally relax.
David Weinberger: Insofar as I’ve ever gotten close to totally relaxing. Or if that were a possibility, then yes.
Susan Bratton: You can’t totally relax? Your mind’s always going?
David Weinberger: I somehow have relaxation and boredom tied together, so I have difficulty.
Susan Bratton: I thought maybe it was the PhD in Philosophy that you have where you had to, every time there was any downtime you were supposed to pontificate about big important things.
David Weinberger: Yes, I only think about the meaning of the universe.
Susan Bratton: Aha. Well and good, and you’re writing books about it, right?
David Weinberger: I hope not, but…
Susan Bratton: Well you’re writing books about the meaning of the web, and ever listener to Dishy Mix love the Internet, so you have a fantastic audience today, who wants to hear what you have to say. You’re best known for your book, your first book, you co-authored, the Cluetrain Manifesto. That was a career maker for you. You followed that up with Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and your most recent book, that’s just out, is the book called Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the new Digital Disorder. Well you’re talking to a large group of people who probably have a lot of digital disorder in their lives. So let’s get right into your latest book. It’s really about the fact that humans love to organize things, but the way that we’ve organized things for the last x-thousands of years isn’t working when it’s applied to the Internet, and how that’s changing our behavior. I’d love for you to just tell us a little bit about maybe the way people organize and what’s happening with organization on the web today.
David Weinberger: Well we’ve had… I think of it as us having three different orders of order. And the first two are the traditional ones, which we’ve gotten, obviously, very, very good at, very sophisticated ways of organizing. In the first order, organizing the physical objects themselves, the stuff in your store, or books, or photos in your album. Everything has to go in one place and only one place, which means that one person, or no, a committee, gets to decide what makes it into the album or into the store or into the library, and how this stuff is going to be organized, which is a decision about what the stuff means, what its relationships are and what the important relationships are. You can see that right away, by the way, on a newspaper’s front page where editors have decided, “This is what’s important, and this is what’s more important than that.” So that’s first order. In the second order, we’ve learned to separate, physically separate, the information about the stuff that we’ve organized, and organize that. So think of the library cards, catalog cards are the easiest example, the old paper 3 x 5 cards, where you get to have maybe three or four different ways of organizing the material. The books are organized in one and only one way. The library cards, catalog cards, can be organized by subject, author, title, and maybe a couple more, so you get additional ways of organizing it but you pay a price because you have to reduce the amount of information from a book to a 3 x 5 card. And you can’t have too many; you can have three or four ways of organizing these cards. You’re not going to have many more than that because it gets cumbersome. In the third order, the new order, everything is digital. The content is digital and the information about the content is digital and that means that the old rules that we’ve internalized, and we thought the universe worked the way that we’ve been sorting and organizing… those old rules don’t make sense. You can’t do it the old way, on the web, if only because there’s way too much stuff, so you can’ have librarians. The Library of Congress has catalogers who go through the 7000 books that come in every day and do a sophisticated job of assigning them to categories. Well, that’s a big operation. That’s the Library of Congress, but it would not scale at all to manage the web. You could never use that same process on the web, so we have to come up with new ways of doing it, new principles for how we order things, and the last part of this is that when you do that, you are immediately overturning some of the authorities. We have a whole bunch of institutions in our culture, including business, but also government, media, and education, and science, where the institution is made up of people who are experts at deciding what’s valid and what isn’t, and what the relationships and organizations and classifications should be. So if we get new principles and new ways of doing exactly that, then those institutions and their authority are overturned. And that’s a big deal.
Susan Bratton: So what you’re really talking about is putting the ability to organize the digital content on the web in the hands of all the individuals who are on the web, leveraging the wisdom of the crowds.
David Weinberger: Yes, because we have to do this together. No individual can organize enough. So we are figuring out how to do this in social groups together, for each other. It’s the only way it scales. And it’s not… by the way, it’s not simply… it would be enough if this were only about how we’re going to organize and find our stuff. I mean that by itself, obviously, is a huge issue. But it’s actually, I think, a bigger and more important issue than that. There are bound up into this our ideas about authority and control, control over our attention, but also over the sense of how pieces fit together. And in fact whether there is a single way that the world is ordered. And that’s a very… the notion that there is a single way, the ‘real way’ that the world is ordered, that’s an old idea that we’ve carried around with us for thousands of years. And with the new principles and what we’re doing on the web, very hard to maintain that old idea anymore.
Susan Bratton: So the listeners of Dishy Mix are people who Twitter; they use digg; they use del.icio.us; they tag their photos on flickr. You said that we’re pulling ourselves together, now that we’ve blown ourselves to bits. Are these the ways that were dong that, or are there some new things that are coming to the fore, that perhaps my listeners, who are pretty much digerati, might just not even be aware of?
David Weinberger: Oh yeah, of course there are, but I don’t know what they are. There’s always new stuff. This is one of the richest fields of innovation for the past ten years, well since the web began, exactly has been, “How are we ever going to find the stuff that we want to know about? How are we going to connect with one another? How are we going to recommend the posts and the articles and the tweets and everything else that we want other people to find? How are we going to form social groups that do that and that are built around these finding and recommending of resources. So this is one of the richest fields for innovation, and just look at what’s happening around Twitter. The number of new variations on twittering that are arriving it seems like every week, and it’s probably more often than that, but every week there’s some new, I want to say version, of Twitter that offers some new possibilities.
Susan Bratton: So for my listeners who aren’t on Twitter yet, it’s www.twitter.com, and I’ll describe it, David, and you add to it too. Twitter is just a small…
David Weinberger: Could you describe it in 140 characters and no more?
Susan Bratton: Well I know. You asked Evan to do that, didn’t you at a conference? It was SuperNova. Let’s see, all right, all right, I’ll do it! Damn! Count ‘em up. You ready? Like chat – I feel like I’m writing haiku.
David Weinberger: Well it’s not an accident that one of the competitors of Twitter that arose is…
Susan Bratton: Jaiku
David Weinberger: Jaiku.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s right; that’s funny, oh yeah that’s great! So okay, Twitter in 140 characters… “like chat, all your friends, micro-blogs, connections constantly.”
David Weinberger: That’s very haiku-like… you might have hit it…
Susan Bratton: [laughing] Ah yeah.
David Weinberger: So it’s you get to blog with no posting more than 140 characters, hence my challenge to you. And it works on your phone, or the web, or IM.
David Weinberger: Yes, and one of the interesting things, well many interesting things about it, is that you get to say who your friends are, so there’s a social network at work there, some sort of social network, so that you see a stream of what your friends are twittering, and generally what they’re twittering is what they’re doing at the moment, although there’s lots of other stuff that people will post there. So the skeptical reaction to Twitter from many who don’t use it, especially, is “it’s trivial”. You know this happened to… it’s almost always it seems to me the reaction to what happens on the web is it’s trivial. It’s either ‘trivial or it’s a ‘degradation’ of the old way of doing it, that email and IM’ing are degradations of real world face-to-face stuff, so twittering is trivial. It’s people posting… do you really want to read that your friend went to the dentist? Well, I sort of do want to read that. It’s not changing my life, but there’s a set of people who… there’s intimacy in details, and so there’s a set of people, I don’t know what they’re doing all day now, I sort of do, and yeah I do like that.
Susan Bratton: I do too. I enjoy it a lot. And I like your “intimacy in details”. That’s a good phrase. So I was listening to NPR yesterday… I love haiku. We’ve got on haiku and I’m going back to that. Apparently there’s another form of Japanese poetry and I hope I have it right. If I don’t you ca email me, [email protected]. It’s called ‘sendu’ and it’s probably spelled s-e-n-d-u, and it’s like haiku in that it holds to, or like Twitter, that it holds to a certain character quant… syllabic quantity per line, and I don’t know if it’s the same as haiku… what is it, 7, 5, 7, or whatever it is? But sendu, where haiku is supposed to be sort poetry about nature, sendu is supposed to be short poetry about human interaction, and the human condition, and I think that’s fascinating. And apparently somehow it got intertwingled with gardening, and there’s a gardening magazine in Japan… so gardeners are big sendu writer in Japan, and I thought that was fascinating, a whole new category of poetry, somewhat undiscovered here and a short form, which really feels like Twitter, that it fits into our world today. What do you think?
David Weinberger: Well but there’s also ‘fondue’ which is ‘cheesy haiku’.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] Well a fondue is cheese, and that’s fattening. That’s why it’s so good! So I like all the words that you come up with. Did you inv… I know you didn’t invent the word ‘intertwingling’. Did you invent the word ‘folksonomy’?
David Weinberger: No.
Susan Bratton: Who invented that?
David Weinberger: Thomas Vanderwahl.
Susan Bratton: Who’s he?
David Weinberger: He’s a folksonomist.
Susan Bratton: What’s that?
David Weinberger: He’s an information architect
Susan Bratton: Okay.
David Weinberger: So ‘intertwingle’ is, just to give credit where credit is due, Tim Nelson’s.
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
David Weinberger: So there are people who call themselves ‘information architects’, who help companies in particular figure out how information fits together and how humans are going to interact with that information. And that’s, that’s roughly, and Thomas Vanderwahl is one of those and he came up with the word ‘folksonomy’ as a way of talking about what you get when you have a whole bunch of people who are tagging in public, you know their tags are publicly accessible. You don’t just end up with this litter box of tags; instead you end up with tags that have relationships, that express people’s preferences for r how they’re thinking about the stuff that they’re tagging, and you can use that information, this aggregated information to help people navigate through very complex domains of information, using not just the taxonomy – taxonomy is an ordered set of categories, like the Dewey Decimal System, or whatever – instead of it being a taxonomy, it’s a ‘folk-‘, f-o-l-k, you know like folk music, folksonomy that emerges from how individuals are tagging different resources different photos or pages or whatever it is you’re tagging.
Susan Bratton: I love it. It’s a fabulous term.
David Weinberger: Yes.
Susan Bratton: What about ‘flocking’? Did you come up with that? Or did you steal that one too?
David Weinberger: I just never came up with a term in my life.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] But you use other people’s extremely well and tie them all together.
David Weinberger: Well…
Susan Bratton: What’s ‘flocking’?
David Weinberger: Flocking refers to the, I think to the…I don’t know; I have no idea. Why am I supposed to know? Am I supposed to know everything? I don’t’ know. Go look it up! Google it! Come on.
Susan Bratton: [laughing]
David Weinberger: I’m sorry; this passive-aggressive reaction to not knowing something in public… it’s not a pretty thing.
Susan Bratton: Oh I think you used the word somewhere, because I got it off of some interview you did with somebody somewhere, in my research.
David Weinberger: Oh, I know what it is… Okay. So there is this browser called ‘Flockster’? No, that’s not right. I really should know that and I don’t.
Susan Bratton: Oh, okay. So here’s what I think it is. I think it’s the ‘digg’ concept, where people flock together and they coalesce around a piece of content and that surfaces that for more people. Does that seem reasonable? The flock, I mean.
David Weinberger: yes, I mean it… Okay, so there is a… People who study emergent behaviors talk about flocking. I don’t know that I have… and I’ll get it wrong of course, but flocking behavior as in birds, where a simple action… you want to know why birds follow one another and how one of them get to be the lead. Frequently, it’s not a single bird who’s just always the leader. It happens to be… it’s a different bird different times, so you want to know how this emergent behavior of flocking occurs and so emergence folks study that. I don’t know.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] Okay, we’re going to… we’re done with ‘flocking’. Flocking is gone. No more flocking. It’s flocked-up. We flocked-up on that.
David Weinberger: Yeah, absolutely flocked it up.
Susan Bratton: We flocked up. You and I both flocked that up. So here’s what we’re going to do… we’re going to recover with a short break to thank our sponsors. I love my sponsors. They pay money to participate in Dishy Mix. Thank you so much. We’re going to give them a moment to tell you who they are. And when we come back we’re going to talk to David Weinberger. He’s going to give us some advice for marketers. We’re going to talk about pain-in-the-butt people. We’re going to talk about all kinds of interesting things, so stay tuned.
Susan Bratton: We’re back. And I’m Susan Bratton. I have David Weinberger, who you probably know as the author, co-author, of The Cluetrain Manifesto. He is also a fellow at the prestigious Harvard Burkman Center for Internet and Society, so he spends a lot of time thinking about the Internet and how it impacts society, and it’s the progenitor for a lot of his work, and his blogging on Joho the Blog. So David, where did the word ‘Joho’ come from? Is that like SoHo and No Ho?
David Weinberger: No ho, totally different. Back in the days of newsletters, before blogging, so this is after the Internet, but before blogging. During that interval, some of us wrote newsletters. And I had a free newsletter; I still do, actually, although I don’t’ do it nearly as often, called The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization. I had this idea that ‘hyperlinked organization’ would be a good way of explaining what’s going on with business organizations. In fact, the old org chart is becoming hyperlinked and thus the hierarchical relationships are not providing as much value as they used to. So I had a newsletter called The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization; that spells ‘Joho’. I started calling it Joho and only afterwards found out because somebody told me, that in fact ‘joho’ in Japanese means something lie ‘information’, which was really, really lucky.
Susan Bratton: You got sooo lucky, man!
David Weinberger: yeah, it could have been something way worse.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, exactly. No kidding. And you I know it’s funny, I think about Joho as a clown and so when I’m thinking about it you and I’m thinking about Joho, you know that Motley Fool kind of dude with the little hat on?
David Weinberger: I’m wearing that same hat; it’s so weird you should say that.
Susan Bratton: So you know how Motley Fool has the Joker dude?
David Weinberger: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: So I’m thinking about you, and I’m thinking about you in a little bit of a clown getup, and I’m calling you Joho. That’s what’s happening for me.
David Weinberger: Yeah, you know you’re entirely wrong. Like many men my age, I dress basically… which is 56, I dress basically like I’m going to summer camp. Really embarrassing.
Susan Bratton: What, like [Teevis] with socks, or what? How bad?
David Weinberger: Oh, bad. Shorts, tee shirt, sometimes a baseball cap, sandals with socks. It’s just ridiculous. Will you sort of grow up already?
Susan Bratton: You need a fashion intervention.
David Weinberger: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: Not going to happen, is it?
David Weinberger: No.
Susan Bratton: No. So…
David Weinberger: Oh, maybe I’ll move to the clown outfit.
Susan Bratton: Yeah! [laughs] I think you need to get like a little illustration, a little ‘you’, kind of a ‘Joho you’ thing for your blog. It’d be very cute. So let’s talk about somebody who you’ve been debating recently. There’s this dude who wrote a book. His name’s Andrew Keane. He wrote a book called The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture. And I was listening to some interviews with him and he thinks that it’s a really bad idea to build business around amateur content, and he says we’re creating a media of spies and liars and unsubstantiated rumors, created by slippery dishonest PR people, many of whom are my listeners. [laughs] And that it’s ‘cultural anarchy’, and this cult of anonymity is a problem. When there’s consumer-generated content, anyone can be anything and create all this awful stuff. Your books are really about the empowerment of the web and the ability for us as individuals to bring disorder to… to bring positiveness to this delirious disorder of the Internet. So you’ve done maybe like a debate or two with this guy? Tell us the story about what’s going on with that. Well Andrew is marketing his book by debating people.
Susan Bratton: Right.
David Weinberger: And so I debated him once at SuperNova, which was a conference a couple weeks ago, and we have… in theory we have a back-and-forth coming out in the Wall Street Journal Online, although we’re still waiting to hear from the editor, so I think that’s still happening. We did it; we wrote it, sop I think it’ll emerge one way or another. So Andrew raises an important question, which is “can we think seriously for a moment about what we lose, as we make this transition?” This, what I think is an inevitable transition. I think, well I won’t speak for Andrew; he may think it’s inevitable also. So I’m generally quite optimistic, but I think it’s good to ask, “What are we losing?” Andrew, it seems to me, points to a phenomenon as if it’s new and people haven’t noticed it before, which is “Oh my God, people can write any damn thing they want and post it on the web.” Well yeah, sure, but we’ve known that right from the beginning, and the history of the web, especially of innovation on the web and social changes is the history of us dealing with this fact. We don’t just take this huge collection of stuff and treat everything as if it were of equal weight. We don’t’ take… if that were the case, there’d be no way of differentiating among the lies and the truth to one degree or another, what’s boring from what’s interesting, then yeah, he’d be right. But we’ve known from the very beginning. That’s the whole point; the web has been scaling, growing at phenomenal rates, way faster than anybody even predicted. There’s too much stuff though, we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to decide what’s interesting and what to believe. And so we’ve done it over and over and over and over and over again. Andrew skips all that, and instead says, “Did you notice there’s a gazillion things on the web and many of them are lies?” Yeah, we did notice that! Yeah, we did, and we’ve been working on it.
Susan Bratton: He has kind of a sophomoric sensationalism, I think. Don’t you?
David Weinberger: I think it’s important to try to… it is a sensational book, and I think that it’s important to try to treat it at the level of the question that it raises.
Susan Bratton: That’s good, yeah. Almost having you respond to it is kind of overkill. And I think he gets away with murder because of his British accent.
David Weinberger: You know you can’t go wrong with a British accent.
Susan Bratton: It sounds so damn good. When he says stuff, like, [British accent] “Those putrescent PR people,” you know, and you’re like, “Oh, there’s no merit in what he says, but dang, it sounds really important.”
David Weinberger: You can’t go wrong with a British accent.
Susan Bratton: I know. Hey, you want to play a game?
David Weinberger: Well let’s… I’m not going to commit myself blindly.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] Other people do.
David Weinberger: Well I don’t. That’s the difference between them and me.
Susan Bratton: Okay, do you want to know something about it and then you decide?
David Weinberger: Yeah, I do.
Susan Bratton: Okay. It’s my way of managing you because you – and you’re doing a fabulous job so far – s when I was listening to all your interviews before, you go off and you talk a long time about stuff, and I was thinking to myself, “And it’s all really good and really smart and I love hearing it but on Dishy Mix…
David Weinberger: Yeah, yeah. Everybody knows that’s not what you’re really saying, but go ahead.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] On Dishy Mix we like a little bit of a sound byte going on, and you’ve been doing an awesome job with your sound bytes so far on this interview, so thank you for that. But what I was thinking before, as I was preparing for our interview was that word association is a really fun game to play.
David Weinberger: I am way too uptight for word association.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] Well maybe we can come up with a modification of it, because I have a list of about ten or twelve words or phrases and I wanted to say them to you and then just have you give me, have you give us, and let us hear what your thought is on that particular subject, issue, point, word, phrase.
David Weinberger: I’ll try your little game. We’ll just see.
Susan Bratton: All right. I’m going to play our little game. Okay let’s do it. So, word association with David Weinberger. My first word is, my first phrase is ‘evolving discourse’. You’re not going to want to play with me after this. I should have gone for something a little easier, like ‘Popsicles’.
David Weinberger: ‘Evolving discourse’… I’m in favor of evolving discourse.
Susan Bratton: What the hell does it mean?
David Weinberger: I’m sorry, are you… You’re looking actually for a phrase in response?
Susan Bratton: No, you can say anything you want about it. You can say, “Uhm, I don’t even know what the hell it is,” or, “I think I wrote that on my blog about such-and-such,” or…
David Weinberger: Are you using phrases I wrote?
Susan Bratton: Oh, yeah!
David Weinberger: Because 90% of them are meaningless.
Susan Bratton: Weinberger, I did my research. Now you got to cough up. ‘Evolving discourse’, what’s it mean?
David Weinberger: Do you want to go with an easy one? Do you want ‘Popsicles’ instead?
David Weinberger: I actually have no idea what I could possibly have meant by that phrase.
Susan Bratton: Okay.
David Weinberger: I’m sure it made total sense in context. Unfortunately it probably wasn’t in context.
Susan Bratton: Alright, I better throw you a bone here. Or you’re not going to want to play anymore. How about ‘word clouds’?
David Weinberger: Oh, that’s not my phrase, so that’s easy. A ‘word cloud’ is a representation of the tags that one uses, where the size of the font of the word indicates how often you use that phrase. So it’s the thing that’s interesting about them is you can, if you look at a word cloud as opposed… somebody’s word cloud, say you’re at del.icio.us or some tagging site and there it is, there’s the word cloud, you can look at that or you could look at the profile which somebody filled out. When you fill out a profile, as we all do, al the time, on these social networking sites and the rest of it, you know, “What are your interests?” You’re being asked to make things explicit about yourself, and as soon as you do that, you are engaged in the social process. You’re thinking about how you’re going to look; you’re anticipating how people are going to think about what you put down, so you have some list of interests that actually does not reflect very well who you are or what you’re interested in, whereas if you then lo at somebody’s word cloud, the tags which he’s been using for the pages that he finds or the photos that she’s looking at, the person is not tagging things in order to give you a sense of who they are, but precisely because of that, because it’s an implicit representation of them, you often get a far better, more truthful more nuanced view of who the person is. So there’s the longest response to a word association in history.
Susan Bratton: I know. I kind of figured it would be. But it’s okay. Alright. So the next one is “Woody Allen’.
David Weinberger: You know what? I list in my resume, such as it is, among a list of credits, that I… at my worst I say I wrote gags for Woody Allen. I usually, if I have a little more space, will explain that I wrote gags for his comic strip, at which point he will say, “Woody Allen had a comic strip?”
Susan Bratton: Right.
David Weinberger: And he did. Nobody remembers it. It ran for seven years in 600 newspapers. And I wrote about 40% of those gags, which he edited. And I was a grad student in the beginning, teacher at the time. So every week I’d send I like 50 gags and they’d pick a handful, and the good thing about it was that Woody Allen, who at the time – this was like 1976 when I started – he was huge. This was before he turned evil.
Susan Bratton: Huge, yeah huge.
David Weinberger: He was just... he was huge, Academy Award winner. He would edit. So I’d get jokes back from him, improved, better punchlines.
Susan Bratton: Nice.
David Weinberger: That was very cool, but otherwise, I made 25 bucks a gag, and met him twice and that’s the extent of it.
Susan Bratton: So at 25 bucks a gag, are you making more or less money writing your books now? [laughs]
David Weinberger: A different question.
Susan Bratton: That was not nice. I know you’re making a lot more money. Okay, my next question is ‘Beijing’.
David Weinberger: Amazing city. I’ve been to China just a couple of times, once with my son, who was 11 at the time, and it’s… You said ‘Beijing’, right?
Susan Bratton: Yep.
David Weinberger: Okay. Sorry. For a minute I thought you said something entirely different, because I’m not sure why you’re asking this at all, but now, it’s always inter…I think it… I wonder if this is generally true, is that to say that everybody’s interested in cultures, things in transition, things that are changing, but I think that’s not actually true. But many of us are, and it’s frequently interesting to watch a clash of cultures, a culture that’s in transition and boy do you see that in Beijing
Susan Bratton: From the Forbidden City to the huge structures being built for the 2008 Olympics. It’s a mind-boggling… Go look at the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and then go look at the massive steel structures of the Olympics.
David Weinberger: Yeah. Or go to one of the winter palaces, one of those palaces which are now a park, and for all of the difficulties to put it way too timely, with the Chinese government, which is a tyrannical government, nevertheless you go to one of these old palaces, which are now populated with people from every economic class such as there are in China; these are now people’s parks, and it’s, I find, really moving.
Susan Bratton: What is it that moves you?
David Weinberger: Land that was kept by an aristocracy, while the people were huddled in poverty… now people are sitting on the edge of the lake with their kids fishing.
Susan Bratton: yeah, yeah, amazing structures, surrounded by poverty. And the fact that they were preserved from… Well how old are some of these gardens?
David Weinberger: Oh this was centuries and centuries.
Susan Bratton: 1400’s or older than that.
David Weinberger: I am not a fact-based person.
Susan Bratton: Oh, good. Me neither.
David Weinberger: So having moved to the Jeopardy portion of the interview, I’m just going to… you know, fail miserably.
Susan Bratton: So you took your son, who’s now in Israel for the summer, and took him to Beijing. How old was he when you took him?
David Weinberger: He was eleven.
Susan Bratton: And was that a good age?
David Weinberger: Yeah. It’s a great age and he’s a fantastic traveler. It’s not an easy trip because of the time difference
Susan Bratton: Yeah, long way.
David Weinberger: He got sick, but nothing serious, but he got a bad cold and was out of commission for a couple days. He’s just a great traveler.
Susan Bratton: One of the things that I, the reason I asked about taking children to China is that I actually think that’s one of the next places that I’m going to take my daughter. She’s ten and so I wanted to get a sense of when you went there with your son and if it was a good age. I think it really is, I mean seeing things like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and eating Peking Duck, you know it’s really… There’s nothing that old here. And so it’s a really nice perspective. I think that was the thing that really moved you too, right?
David Weinberger: Yes, and simply, I think for me it’s less the age of stuff than the difference, how deeply different we are and of course in some ways the same, but when you travel you… I’m often… you’re struck by how different the world is, and why that’s a good thing. So at the age of eleven or twelve, or ten, they will forget lots of specifics about it because that’s what happens with our young brains.
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
David Weinberger: But I think and I hope that what kids who get to travel, which is such a privilege, what they remember, even if they can’t remember which was the Summer Palace and how old the Winter Palace was, because I can’t either, is a… what gets changed is their sense of how the world works, that the world is more diverse than we could possibly comprehend. And it seems to me that’s a requirement for peace.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely. Well, there’s going to be a lot of kids traveling this summer, and I hope that everyone listening has an opportunity to be, to go do something wonderful with their families, and I wish you, David, the next month as much relaxation as you can allow yourself, and some great creativity to enter your mind so that you can write us another book, because we want to read it.
David Weinberger: Well that’s very nice of you. I will do my best; I do have relaxation and boredom inextricably confused in my mind, but I’m trying to work on that issue.
Susan Bratton: Well maybe you just need to embrace boredom.
David Weinberger: Embrace my inner boredom. I will work on that.
Susan Bratton: [laughs] Thanks for giving us some time today. I really enjoyed talking to you. You were a great sport playing my game! I know that wasn’t easy for you. [laughs]
David Weinberger: I’m so sorry; you ran smack into my neuroses. I really appreciate your patience and having me on today. It’s great to be able to talk with you.
Susan Bratton: Thank you. You’re a good man. And have a great summer, and to all of our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in. We’ll see you next week. Take care.
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