Now Reading: George Saunders, monetizing social media, Roxana Robinson

‘Now Reading’ is a collection and sharing of online stories and is meant for minimal consumption by the few readers of this blog. Topics will include books, food, matters of culture, photography, media and technology … there are no rules. Have a story to add? Share it in the comments.

George Saunders and awareness of death

Joel Lovell, a deputy editor of New York Times Magazine, wrote a great profile of author George Saunders that touches on how  Saunders views his fiction, how he views the relationship between himself and his audience and other introspective gems. But the most fascinating things about the piece, I think, are Saunders’ thoughts about death and how nearly experiencing it changed him. You can read George’s thoughts in the piece. I want to use them as a vehicle for asking the question: Can you be a great writer without being keenly aware of time and mortality? Without this awareness, are you totally capable of measuring significance – of an event, of a relationship, of a moment? Death delivers a cold, crystallized perspective – what do you give up, as somebody who is supposed to (at least try to) understand and document lives, if you lack that resource? It’s a vague question, obviously, with an endless number of answers, none more right than the others. But that’s what I thought of reading about Saunders.

Can social media sell soap?

I enjoyed this essay by Stephen Baker in the Sunday Times about social media and how companies have struggled to find ways to monetize social networks and sell products through them. The first problem, it seems to me, is that we haven’t even nailed down the habits of social media users yet – meaning, why and for what purpose do people use these networks? Social media is still relatively new and is evolving. It’s difficult to construct business models on a foundation that is vague and continually shifting. The exciting thing: It will happen. The networks are too powerful and engaging for it not to.

Anyway, the essay cites the success search engines have had with online advertising because there is a linear method for which to judge actions and decisions. A user searches for cars on the Internet, the search includes target ads for deals on used cars, the user clicks on one of those ads, the advertisers pays the search engine for the click. Simple. Well, that doesn’t really exist in the social space. But could it? One thought I had when reading Baker’s essay: Why don’t we have a “Siri” for Twitter? Let’s say I want to buy a TV. I tweet: “@Siri best current deals for TVs?” And then shortly thereafter, the @Siri account tweets back to me with a mobile link for good deals on TVs. It’s the same principle of target ads in conjunction with search engines – it basically turns Twitter into “Google” for mobile shoppers (and if we’re thinking of how to monetize social media, we probably should begin with mobile devices). Would this work? Where would this idea fall short?

Roxana Robinson’s pregame routine

Although this isn’t meant to be humorous, I got a kick out of reading about Roxana Robinson’s morning routine to writing, in her own beautiful words. It made me think how different I am, how I like to write to music and, if not my choice, can tolerate loud places and movement. It’s in these instances in which I become hypersensitive to the words and the story, because they are the only escape. Everything else is commotion (or as Nick Saban would put it, “external distractions.”) Roxana writes that she doesn’t have so much as a conversation in the morning so that she isn’t interrupted from the haze of her writing. I check Twitter on my phone before climbing out of bed.

Email: Twitter: @TMitrosilis

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