Collect and connect ideas from the web and books with Findings.com
Paul Carr is a British author of several books as well as a columnist for such acclaimed publications as The Guardian and TechCrunch. Thanks to his satire and hilariously cynical style, he has been called a latter-day Jonathan Swift. While he likely does not wear powdered wigs, he’s certainly one of the wittiest and thoughtful writers today, covering such topics as Silicon Valley and technology, publishing, travel, partying, sobriety, and being a terrible boyfriend. Paul has lived an intriguing life: he has worked as a magician (really), an entrepreneur, has a degree in law, and has been “homeless” for several years living permanently in hotels…an adventure for which his (fantastic) book The Upgrade was written. He recently launched NSFW Corporation, which will publish magazine-style content for tablets and e-readers. Paul has written much about publishing and the future of books and reading, so we were excited to chat with him. Our biggest surprise? He’s been known to burn books.
How do you do most of your reading today? Do you read physical books or publications?
Of course I do. Who answers no to that question? Print is still by far the best way to consume both books and magazines. You can write on it, you can read it on long flights, even during takeoff and landing, you can give it to your friends without dicking around and most importantly you can throw it across the room when it makes you angry. Also, it’ll still be here in 200 years. The downside, of course, is that it’s also a pain in the ass to access if you don’t happen to already have the book or magazine you want to read. And searching is a non-starter.
So, yes, I read a lot in print. Until a few months ago I used to live exclusively in hotels so I’d buy books and then abandon them on the road. Now I have a real office so I have started building a library again. Whenever I pass a bookshop, I go in and buy a handful. Same with magazines/newspapers — I subscribe to the NY Times (in print!), mainly for the crossword. I also buy the Economist and the New Yorker and all that shit you’re supposed to say you buy, but I actually do. Right now I’m reading the history of Spy (“The Funny Years”), Michael Wolff’s book about Rupert Murdoch and a few Agatha Christie novels I’d never got around to.
THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, the bulk of my reading is digital. I get all my news online, obviously, but I also buy a ton for my Kindle and iPad. Right now I’m reading Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black’s “America You Sexy Bitch” on Kindle, and an advance copy of Adam Penenberg’s new novel on my iPad. I also tend to subscribe to every new iPad magazine, mostly out of professional curiosity/jealousy. The latest is Arianna Huffington’s “Huffington” which reads like it was written for three of her friends, in both a good and bad way. I subscribe to the New Yorker, Esquire and about half a dozen other things on the Apple Newstand but I never read any of them. That thing is a total shitshow. Christ, I think I subscribe to the Daily too.
How has reading become more social for you?
It hasn’t, I don’t think. Reading isn’t supposed to be social. Maybe you’re thinking of eating, or playing Twister? Seriously, though, I tend to tweet about stuff I’m reading and I think I’ve written a total of one Amazon review. I’m always a sucker for a personal recommendation on Twitter and the like, but honestly I don’t think my reading is any more social than it was ten years ago when I did all those same things offline.
Where do you discuss what you read?
In real life a lot, and then sometimes on Twitter. I know you’re looking for a real NEW MEDIA answer here, but I don’t have one. The idea of a book club drives me nuts, even. It has too many echoes of school, having to wait for the slow kids to catch up before I can move on to the next book. Also, I rarely have anything profound to say about books I read. Maybe I don’t read profound enough books. I much more frequently discuss stuff that I’ve read in magazines or newspapers — mainly because it’s my job to do so. But, again, there’s not a huge amount of difference between how I used to riff on stuff when I wrote a column for an old-school newspaper than how I do it now online.
How do you decide what to read?
I guess it’s coming from social tools slightly more. But I really think that’s just because more of my friends who would previously tell me about stuff in person are now doing so online. The truth is, I hear about most new stuff I read through very old media channels — I walk around book stores (even if I buy online), I read reviews (sometimes online but also in print) and I get a lot of face to face suggestions. I’m so old. Online it’s usually because I know the subject I’m interested in and then search on Amazon for something appropriate.
Do you highlight or annotate what you read?
Sometimes. I tend to get animated — and annotated — when something upsets me. I once set fire to a copy of Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s wikileaks book out of pure rage…does that count as highlighting?
I’m a hypocrite, though, of course — I LOVE it when people electronically highlight stuff from my own books and have spent many happy minutes poring over the snippets that they’ve shared on Amazon etc. It always fascinates me what catches someone’s brain. In fact, I slightly resent all of those who haven’t highlighted anything. REALLY? NOTHING INTERESTED YOU? NOTHING AT ALL? DICK.
How do you see reading evolving in the years to come?
It saddens me to say that it’ll probably polarize between the word snobs (like me) who turn our noses up at the slightest hint of an illustration — “I’m perfectly capable of imagining Sherlock Holmes for myself, thank you very much!” — and the rest of the world who will increasingly demand fucking video games in the form of ebooks. Why read when you can play a game or watch a cartoon? Attention spans are being sapped, so the books that really catch fire (so to speak) will be those which reward dipping in and out. James Joyce is fucked, but then he always was. And Stephenie Meyer’s next book will be published in Claymation.
Non-fiction could be interesting though — as newspapers and magazine publish less and less long form and people become more and more comfortable with paying for ebooks, we could very well find that ebooks become the new home of investigative reporting. It remains to be seen if that’s in the form of words or pretty video pictures though.
Where do you see print going?
Prestige. Talking points. Gifts. A good way to store a single copy of a book for posterity. Definitely not mass-market within 20 years.
Are there any tools or platforms that make you a better writer?
There are no digital tools that would make me a better writer. Not that I couldn’t use the help — truth be told, I’m a pretty shitty writer most of the time. And lazy. But beyond the shift from analogue (typewriter) to digital (word processor, with spell-check), I’m not sure any technological development has really helped with the actual slog of writing. In fact, you could make a compelling argument (and smarter people than I have done so) that even the word processor was a retrograde step as it allowed people to yack on and on without any reason to stop typing.
That said, there are definitely tools which make the job easier. Spell check, sure, but also access to everything ever published anywhere anyhow makes it simpler to check if your great idea is original (or, of course, to steal great ideas from others).
How about tools that help you be a better or more satisfied reader?
As a reader, the swell of digital reading has made things infinitely easier. It bugs the living shit out of me when a book I want to read isn’t available electronically — I’ve come to expect — demand — that everything is just a click away. I’m not smart enough to predict what’s coming on the horizon, but I assume whatever it is will make it even easier for me to fill my mental inbox with new stuff to read. I guess that’s a good thing.
Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve spoken of as the “connected consumer” and the importance of deep linking into and out of texts?
I think what I meant is that, whether publishers like it or not, people expect content on screen to be clickable and interactive. Also, they have become accustomed to being able to consume it in short bursts rather than, say, consuming an entire issue of Wired in one sitting. Now, note I’m not saying that’s a good thing (as many do). In fact, as I said above, the video game-ization of reading is something i detest. I just think there needs to be a middle ground.
At NSFW that means publishing in HTML5 so we’re browser agnostic and there’s no big download. We’re also publishing new stuff daily as opposed to dolloping everything out in one big weekly slop. And there are links. Our policy — and I think it’s a good one for magazines and books is that we use links to provide supporting evidence for facts or analysis but never *as* facts and analysis. Which is to say, you should be able to read anything we publish without clicking a single link and still understand exactly what we’re talking about. I hate it when journalists don’t give background at the top of their story but instead assume you’ll follow the links they give to bring you up to speed. It’s annoying, and often lazy.
As for books, people are more accepting of the idea of books as downloads. As books become more connected, I hope we don’t end up with authors linking to more content than they actually write. That’s one big problem with everything being so accessible — at some point we’re all just copying and pasting and linking to the same stuff rather than writing anything new.
As an author, do you like seeing highlights from your works by readers?
It’s wonderful. Given my point above about being obsessed with the parts of my books that people highlight, Findings is like an RSS feed of crack. It occurs to me that this kind of data could be dangerous as it encourages authors to write in soundbites. But fuck that — look at all those highlights! Woo!