I used to be a voracious reader, consuming a book a week. Usually, a non-fiction book about history, culture, or language – those were my favorites. Once in a while, I’d let a fiction book slip by – but it had to be a classic.
Lately, I noted that I’d let this hobby slip by in favor of scrolling a digital screen. I found that my memory wasn’t as sharp, I’d get distracted easily, and honestly – scrolling isn’t rewarding.
I’ve gone back to the ultimate long-form content – books. Reading books cultivates many desirable behaviors and benefits. Increased concentration, learning, dealing with words, and time for reflection, as you consider that you’ve read for the past hour or more.
I’ve even let my Kindle get dusty. Sure, I’ll dig it out and use it for travel and vacations when I want something to read, but not pack a few volumes! But even the digital format of a kindle hasn’t been the replacement that everyone thought it was. Sales have evened out – demand has plunged, and people are still buying physical, tangible, bound books!
After seeing my weekly screentime report, I switched to books. I used to spend hours reading – and now it is a challenge to train my brain to stay focused enough for a few chapters. But neuroscience has shown us that the pathways we once created aren’t gone – they’ve simply grown over – like a path through the wilderness. If the path isn’t used, it gets reclaimed by nature. However, you can still find the path. Using it again – frequently, will clear the brush and enable you to regain those habits.
I’m exploring this today, because as I look over my digital career, there were many books that shaped my thinking and approach – just as much, if not more than people. I found that about 10 years after graduating university is when I started reading for fun. I used to read for fun, when I was younger – primary school and middle school, but in high school and university, reading becomes a necessity – a job really, and I unfortunately, I think many of us forget that reading was once fun…
There are so many books that have shaped me in so many different ways. For this podcast, I’m going to focus on the digital marketing – of the digital world. If you’ve ever attended one of my online sessions, interviews or webinars, then you’ve probably seen the bookshelves in my office behind me. These two shelves are only 1/3 of what is in my office – and half of what my family has at home. I read a lot, and I keep the books that have some meaning – either through ideas they have shared, impact they have made, or as a resource for ongoing content.
I can’t read without having a highlighter in hand. Yes, I fold corners, but I also want to highlight that line or passage so that I can find it again later. And many times, it has come in very useful. Plus, I think the additional time it takes to read, reread – read again slowly as I highlight helps the memory to retain important ideas.
One of the first books – and I’m going way back for this. Long time listeners won’t be surprised. Aristotle’s Rhetoric. In university, ont of my favorite classes was Rhetoric and Persuasion, and Artiotle provided our central text. I was amazed at how simple persuasion could be, and how Artistotle systematized. Providing the central persuasive theory that people will ultimately do what makes them happy. You can’t argue with that, even more than 2000 years later! He outlines the three central tenants of persuasion – logic, emotion & credibility.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you dear listener – My company name, SiteLogic is based on my love of Aristotle and reading the classic philosophy texts. The SiteLogic logo represents logic emotion and credibility through a stylized head, heart and hands. Head – logic, heart – emotion, hands – credibility.
Yeah, you can say that Rhetoric made an impression on me.
Another class I took, Media Studies, introduced me to Neil Postman. Probably his most popular book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” was an eye-opening analysis of how media shapes us, and how technology shapes media and public discourse. Believe it or not, if you read his book in the 90’s and early 200’s the political and social divides that we have today are not surprising. Even in the age before the internet, Postman could see how technology and media were devolving, not improving the depth of communication needed for large, complex, and sensitive issues.
His other books; Technopoly, Disappearance of Childhood, The End of Education, and Building a Bridge to the 18th Century continue his themes of how technology is actually making us less human, rather than ore human, as we trade something for every new technology that we adopt. We just don’t always know what it is.
One of his quotes is that we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us. The image is of a farmer working the land. He shapes, fashioned and creates tools for his work. Then, when using those tools they shape him. They build muscles than become sore, they affect the back, build callouses –
Ultimately, the tools we create have a physical and physiological impact on us as well.
I can’t go without mentioning Web Pages that Suck. Despite the salacious title, this book, and the subsequent series tought me so much about website design in the age of rotating GIFs, flashing banners, website underconstruction jpegs – yes, the late 90’s was an amazing time to not only be alive but in the midst of learning a new skill – a skill that no one could forsee the future. Building websites was a new thing, there were no designs, instructions or limits. You could use every color, multiple fonts a black background and still – people would ask you to build them a website.
In 1998, Vincent Flanders put out Webpages that Suck, and you can still find his website where he calls out websites for the mystery meat navigation, contrast, ugly graphics, and just plain bad practices. This is where I learned the best practices and quickly overcame the trends at the time. This book helped me learn a bit of programming, a bit of design, and a lot of great practices that are still relevant today.
Not long after, around 2000, the book – The Cluetrain Manifesto – came out and showed us all how social media was going to upend business as usual.
Now, here’s a bit of info. Social media did not start with Facebook in 2012. This book started out as essays – originally 95 theses for you trivia types. And that was the intent – to come up with a manifesto of statements that would be nailed to traditional marketing’s door. Believe it or not, there was a lot of what is now called “social media” prior to the year 2000.
Authors Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger provided example after example of how consumers were having online conversations and sharing information about companies – and the companies were not there!
One particular essay explained how an automotive technician from a local dealership found his way into an online forum where people were discussing the prices of dealer services. Apparently the prices were all over and people were starting to get steamed that they were paying different prices for the same services. Anyhow, this technician introduced himself and explained that the local dealers set the prices – the brand doesn’t have anything to do with it – and he completely diffused the situation. Real people talking to real people.
If you want to know what early social media was all about – I’d highly recommend reading it. I’ll warn you, though – it’ll make veterans pine for the old days. Because these were literally the glory days of social media. The brands hadn’t caught on yet, and so it was actual, authentic conversations – and I mean conversations. paragraphs of explanations, help, advice, all threaded together as a response to someone’s question. You would be amazed at the depth and intelligence of most discussions – compared to what we call (quote) engagement and comments (unquote) it’s not even the same game.
The technologies were email, newsgroups, UseNet, chatgroups, online forums – where people met, talked and created a virtual marketplace. And yes, in those days it was exciting, authentic, raw, unrefined, and subversive. Today’s version of social media is so sanitized, and brand driven by comparison. What Facebook did was corporatize social media, not invent it.
One of the books that completely transformed my view of marketing and corporate responsibility was Naomi Klein’s No Logo. For someone who was brought up in the 80’s and 90’s brand culture it was a shocking revelation of how brands dominate modern culture and economics. Her expose of brand behaviors, such as offshoring labor that is outside of scrutiny and using low-wage workers to create high-value brand products. It not only showed the ugly side of marketing, brands, and corporatism, but it challenged me to make responsible decisions in how I would run my business.
Couple that read with Douglass Rushkoff’s, Life, Inc. subtitled “How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back” certainly led to a more radical approach to modern business. I would describe this as my radicalization period, as while I was marketing other companies, I was becoming disenfranchised with the larger marketplace and corporatization of our culture.
What gave me hope was a Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversations. Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor who was once all-in on technology but has since reversed and now values human contact rather than digital technology. Her exploration of what real face to face conversations do to our psychology, mentality, and culture. She strips many of the assumptions about the use of technology in learning and shows that tech doesn’t create better or more informed students – rather it creates more detached students. Learning works best when students can ask questions and physically see an instructor formulate and deliver an answer.
I highly recommend this think volume, as it is not only a challenging read, but it was so enlightening to explore why human interaction and conversations are so important to us. It is who we are. The pandemic showed why these connections are so important.
The surgeon general of the US just announced that loneliness and isolation is the next American epidemic! – At a time when social media and digital technology are promising more quote-connection-unquote. How does this happen? The pandemic held a mirror to all these digitally-based connections and showed them to be lacking – a false promise – a poor replacement for real human contact.
This is why I support a hybrid approach to work. I value my time working from home, but I value te time in the office with co-workers just as much. Those relationships are so valuable. The interactions, the meetings, the feedback is so valuable because its more than just words that we are receiving – it is the non-verbals that help guide us in those interactions and reactions. It simply can’t reduce it to text-based communication.
OK – on a much lighter note. I always recommend the book, Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Published after the 2016 election, it was initially an exploration of why the pollsters and surveys were so wrong but grew into an analysis of why people lie – about everything. Except in one place – Google. Seth remarks that people are more honest with Google than their spouses, families, or friends.
I recommend this book to show the importance of researching keyword data about audiences – how they explain problems, the words they use, the concepts they create – this honesty when people search for what they want – or try to solve needs and problems – is amazing and provides incredible insights into search engine optimization or your marketing overall!
There are hundreds of books that I would love to recommend. I’ll put a list in the show notes.
What books have influenced your work or impacted the direction of your business or career? I’d love to know. Leave your list in the comments on the show page on sitelogicmarketing.com.