Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A tale of two authors (and one thesis)

Melanie graduated from Peddie last year, now attends Babson College, and has an amazing story of learning connections. Here it is, told in the form of correspondence with two of her Peddie English teachers, Mr. Roach and Mr. Bennett.

Hey Mr. Roach and Mr. Bennett,

Hope you guys had an awesome summer! I just started college; today was actually my first day of classes! Anyway, I'm emailing you guys because remember how I told you that The Circle was my summer reading? Well, Dave Eggers is coming to my college to give a talk about it!!!!!! I'm so excited!!!!!!!!!!! I feel like such a nerd saying that haha! I really hope I get the chance to talk to him personally. I wish I could give him my senior thesis!!

Anyway, hope you guys have a great year at Peddie, and I hope you're not too jealous!!! 

Mel


...

Mel,

This is awesome! I'm sure it will be a great talk; let us know how it goes! If we were closer to Babson, we'd even attend! Thanks for sending that along, though, and hope that school's off to a great start for you!

Best,
Mr. Bennett
...

Amazing! Ditto everything Bennett wrote-- Please let us know how it goes. See if you can go talk to him and tell him about your thesis/ iLife...And enjoy your first month of college! Thanks for being in touch!

-MLR
...

Thanks!! 

I just found out that the audience will get to ask him questions during his talk, so if you guys have any iLife/Circle (or any non-technological related questions) that you want me to try and ask him, let me know!!!! 
...
I just gave Dave Eggers my thesis......and took a selfie with him....and he signed my book......
WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?!?
...

This is ridiculously awesome. How was the talk???

Stay human, indeed. 

Bennett
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It was incredibly interesting!! He talked for the first 30 minutes and then the rest was q&a - he asked the audience questions too! I took some notes (on my iPhone, of course) on some of the interesting points he made. (It's more note form than it is actual sentences, and it's also kind of long but he had A LOT to say, sorry!!):



  • Your "right to know" supersedes my right to privacy. Told us a story about how one of his friends sent him an email saying check out this article and he opened the email but he didn't look at the article bc he was busy. Couple days after he got the email he was with that friend. He asked if he got his email he said he hadn't had the chance to look at it yet so his friend said then why did you open the email? He even mentioned the exact time he opened it! There's this program thru google or something that allows the sender to know whether or not the receiver opened the email!! (kind of like read receipts but way worse)
  • No longer need to trust because we can track. He asked us if any of our parents track us bc we're in college and parents want to make sure we're safe. He said that in the past parents would just have to trust their kids. If they wanted to know where you were they had to physically get in their car and find you. But now you can do it from the comfort of your own home. It's not like people haven't done this before. Now it's cheap and easily accessible. 
  • Did a lot of research for the book. NEVER went to google/fb/twitter offices (he lived right near them in Cali) tho bc he wanted to make sure The Circle was its own and didn't resemble any of these companies. He just imagined what he thought something like The Circle would look like. While writing it he had to make sure that none of the technology he imagined actually existed. He had tech people for this but he actually had to cut a lot of it because the tech was real. He thought he made up PartiRank but when the book came out a friend of his told him how the company he works at has a system that rates them on their participation in social media and etc.
  • He said that technology is like the Wild West. The people at the companies don't have the intentions of creating the tech for the wrong reasons they just 1. don't know what the public will do with it and 2. there's no regulations for what people (like stalkers) do with it.
  • Talked about Apple and how they are taking a huge turn with Apple Pay. He said he never thought apple would do something like this bc they were always machinery/devices. 
  • He teaches a high school class and he told us how one of his students was talking about Instagram about how one pic got a lot more likes than another pic so now she only posts pics like the one that got a lot of likes. He says how there's this dopamine rush of getting a lot of likes and until recently we didn't have these approval measurements. This instantly alters behavior bc ppl SEEK CONSTANT APPROVAL. There are nice advantages bc you get a sense of your audience but it's actually terrible bc people are so focused on the EXACT # of how many people like it (this is basically my intro paragraph in my thesis omg). You're assigned a # which is pretty stark. Years ago it was inconceivable that we would put a percentage on pictures and art - i.e that one's only a 61% Monet. Rotten Tomato. Says we are driven by the idea that we can measure everything. If it can't be measured lets try. But once u measure something it becomes dominant. Punitive system driven by data. Learning is hard to measure and hard to explain. U can't measure the improvement of urself w #s. How do u measure a person? Measurement is driving us (teachers, schools) w fear of being beholden to data. Sat scores - u feel constrained. Pitches to get funding - how do u measure how much $ to give. It's tough.
  • Microprofit. Every time we go on a website there are tracking devices on it. Mentions dictionary.com. Says there are two hundred something trackers on dictionary.com. Everytime we go to look up a word, 11 of them are government ones, but the rest are random people. These people can track anything you do on ur computer. They track college students. What websites do we use. If one day we become really successful they'll say these are the websites they went on to become this successful - scary! 
  • 1984 vs Circle- he wanted The Circle to be an inversion of 1984. He did not reread 1984 while writing The Circle; he didn't want to take/borrow anything from 1984. Says he basically locked 1984 away for the whole time. The only things intentionally taken from 1984 are the three slogans. Also in circle, it's everyone voluntarily vs. 1984 the government is physically torturing them (shoutout to iLife)
  • Kayaking- going from certainty and data to complete chaotic ambiguity. You don't know what's out in the ocean, and you have to accept that you don't know, and you have to have peace with that, and find it spiritually right. You can't control what happens out in nature. You need to have a comfort level with ambiguity.
  • We live in a time where we do have the ability to find out EVERYTHING. We don't have to live with that ambiguity anymore. It's a very strange tectonic shift in our lives. Everything is being reduced to data, to definitive and reductive answers. 
So, that pretty much sums up a lot of what he talked about. After his talk, I got a chance to chat with him for him to sign my book. I don't know why but I was so nervous about giving him my thesis. When I told him how I compared his book to Chuck Klosterman's, he said that he has never heard of someone comparing it to The Visible Man before, and he said how it seemed really fascinating! He knew The Visible Man and he said that Klosterman is a really funny guy. (I told him how I got a chance to hear him speak at my high school). I don't know if he will end up reading my thesis; I added my email to the heading just in case!! If he reads it and emails me back, I think I might actually die...

Anyway, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet him, and thinking about all of this technology again really makes me value my thesis. Who else can say that they got to meet BOTH authors (and gave one a copy) of their senior thesis books!?!?!? Thank you both for recommending The Circle to me, and for teaching the iLife course, which I did tell him about!!!! I really never liked English until senior year, so thank you both for sparking my interest!! I can only hope that my Rhetoric professor is half as awesome as you guys!!

Stay human,
Mel

...

Amazing pictures, notes, and email! Makes my day, thoroughly. 

As you say, it's just an amazing opportunity to have met and conversed with both writers you examined in your thesis. And give yourself plenty of credit; you're an intellectual force to be reckoned with, and your interest, passion, and creativity have led you into these rarefied spaces. 

Brilliant stuff. Keep reading, keep thinking....and stay human. 

-MLR
...

Hey Mel,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Clara and I work with Dave Eggers over here at McSweeney's Publishing. He asked me to reach out to you to pass along how happy he was to get your paper. He really thought it was fantastic and he wanted to congratulate you on how you well you synthesized all the ideas and how deeply you understood the book. Congrats and keep on writing!

All best,

Clara

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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