Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Scott Nicholson Thought Silo

I read a cool post the other day (sorry, the link is long lost in the social media slipstream) that talked about "thought silos," and how the Internet has made it possible to find the people with whom you agree. The thrust of the post was that this also tended to isolate us from challenging or oppositional views. After all, it's natural that we find the tribes that welcome us and avoid the hostile ones.

Sure, there's a price to pay, because it makes us less likely to challenge or examine our own beliefs. We see it in politics with the Red and Blue states--those rarely shift because the climate reinforces the belief systems. I'm the kind of person who likes a passionate discussion--not an argument, but an exposure to conflicting ideas. This was one of the best experiences of my newspaper career, because I was forced to understand many, many viewpoints in my coverage.

An author once said something that made perfect sense to me: People on threads and message boards don't really want to change their minds. They'd rather be validated in their opinions than examine them. Therefore, they go where they can be validated instead of to the places where they are in the minority.

Not me. I don't go to any link or post or news story unless I think I can learn something (aside from purely brain-killing fluff like my NFL addiction). Now, I usually enter a thread with a caffeine-fueled sense of self-righteous indignation, like I know how things should roll and how anyone who doesn't believe me is an idiot. But it doesn't take me long to realize that I am the idiot. Because I see information and add it to my knowledge, and sometimes that's enough to change my mind.

An author emailed me this morning saying she agreed with one of my thread posts (in which I lambasted Polly Courtney for publicly ditching her publisher on the day of the book's launch in a melodramatic snit that may well have been a publicity stunt, but was incredibly crass and petty all the same). This author commented in the thread about her agreement, but later took it down because the other posters had "jumped on her." I replied, "I never go back and engage the enemy, I just drop the bomb and fly on." You can't win. And, ultimately, you're not likely to persuade anyone anyway, because they are shouting to be right. It's like talk radio that mutes any caller that doesn't agree.

Sure, I could have posted my opinion of the Courtney snit here, and probably had half a dozen people show up and agree with me because they like me. But there might have been one person who read that other thread without responding and thought, "Yeah, you kiss and smile at the altar and save your bitching for after the divorce." It's a simple matter of grace and good manners to me, as well as a commitment to professionalism.

I can understand those who are using the incident as a chance to defend the "authorial purity" of self-publishing--largely, self-publishers will hold this position even though almost all of them would turn gleeful backflips at an offer from a big publisher. Again, it's simply self-validation (which, indeed, is largely what self-publishing is all about, from one who has committed it himself). But I also wonder if this is a pervasive indie attitude that has now become inflated to "proof" that publishers don't understand books and authors.

Look at Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath. They talk about legitimate mistakes they believe their publishers made, and how that has affected their subsequent decisions. But while the publishers were partnering with them, they went out and hustled the books. That's professionalism. I regret some of the choices I made in traditional publishing, but I understand why the publisher made certain choices. While they were publishing me, I loved them. Now I love them like an old high school flame who never put out.  

In my thought silo, I say what I believe is right, without debating the political gain or the Klout capital. I owe it to myself to do that. I owe it to the world. True, I can strive for more benevolent language, and a more accommodating platform, but too many people demean their beliefs by adding "in my humble opinion." I know some authors who are like politicians, checking the crowd's mood before issuing even the blandest pronouncement. I am a huge fan of humility, but too much of it turns the world to oatmeal.

In the Scott Nicholson thought silo, you may be right, and you may be wrong. In the Scott Nicholson thought silo, someone like Polly Courtney shouldn't whine unless she is willing to give the money back (and this holds true for every author who complains about the movie version of their book, as well). In my silo, I'll entertain your notion that Courtney had a right to be unhappy with the book cover (which she surely saw months in advance). You do get heard. Sometimes you make me a smarter person. I already know what I think I know. It's the other stuff I'm most interested in.

And my comment section is never moderated...



S.G.Royle said...

I think you're absolutely 100% right about everything :)

All jokes, aside, I reckon that was a carefully planned pub stunt. As you pointed out the cover would have been shown months ago. And she waits until the launch to dump them...

Tonya Kappes said...

I didn't see your thread. But I agree. When I was with my publisher before I self published, I filled out a cover sheet for the cover artists, and granted it only asked about my story, characters etc...but I saw the cover MONTHS before the novel actually came out. I'm not sure they would've changed it if I didn't like it, but I know they wouldn't have cared! The publisher owned the book when I signed the contract. I no longer owned that book. At that point I worked for them, not the other way around. AND that is what made me ultimately go to self publishing and get the rights back to three of my five novels.

Jon Olson said...

I would think a "thought silo" is a bad thing. Sounds like the thinking of the George W. Bush administration. What we need are thought tunnels, thought open fields, where we're not just talking to ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I never go back to discussions where I've posted an opposing argument. I know I'm likely to get mad and ruin things. You are right blogs are looking for validation not opposing viewpoints (no matter what question they pose at the end).

I always feel a bit bad when I comment basically saying "you're wrong, I'm right", which is also why I don't go back.