The rain certainly didn't slow down the Boston Book Festival held in Copley Square yesterday, with all sorts of publishers, authors, and producers of various book-related products milling about under tents and in buildings between the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church.
I headed down specifically to catch Book Worms and Net Crawlers, a panel discussion of "the ubiquitous Internet and the explosion of social media" but in my wanderings beforehand I scored a first-edition, 1958, 5th Anniversary issue of The Paris Review, complete with an interview of Ernest Hemingway by George Plimpton, a story by Philip Roth, drawings by Alberto Giacometti, and fantastic old-school ads for Hennessy cognac, Christian Dior parfum, and Pan American airlines. Can't wait to read through it all.
As for the main event, the Book Fest assembled a fantastic group of authors to discuss how the 'net has impacted modern culture:
- Wired contributing editor Jeffrey Howe, credited with having coined the term crowdsourcing and writing the definitive book on the subject.
- Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks - a look at the mainstreaming of online gaming. Ethan's work is reminiscent of Second Skin (which I mentioned to him, and he acknowledged having met the creators of the film), delving into the roles of gaming and fantasy in the modern world. In short, participants love online games because they provide opportunities not available in the physical world (e.g., the socially awkward can be "popular" and the wheelchair-bound can run, jump and dance). This desire to escape physical world confines contributes to the wild popularity of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft (13 million players-strong) and perhaps even social networks like Facebook, which allow people to put their "best face forward" by constructing public profiles that make them look their most fascinating, witty, and attractive.
- Ben Mezrich, author Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, among others; the latter has earned him the nickname "the Jackie Collins of Silicon Valley." I actually just read Billionaires, a fun romp through Harvard University with Mark Zuckerberg and friends (now enemies) as they try desperately to overcome their own social anxieties by creating Facebook. The irony of it all is that Mark Z. has remained famously closed off & tight-lipped, despite having created a world-wide phenomenon that encourages people to share the most banal details of their daily lives with anyone & everyone. It's a great story (fast, too) - run out and read it before the film version (starring Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker) hits theaters. Yes, another big-budget production in Boston! Catch Ben Mezrich in person if you can, too - he's wildly entertaining.
- The insanely high-energy David Pogue - NYTimes tech columnist and author of The World According to Twitter, his own experiment with crowdsourcing leveraging the popular microblogging service to tap into the collective wit and wisdom of his 500+ followers. I actually picked up a copy of this laugh-out-loud little book, which David was kind enough to sign for me. In it, he illustrates how Twitter (like other social apps) can be a great information source: pose a question to a group of trusted peers and you will get near-instantaneous responses to your query. He's a big advocate of Aardvark, the new social search app which identifies "experts" in your social sphere and solicits answers from them on your behalf.
There was also a brief discussion at the end about technology's impact on the book publishing business, including marketing and distribution of new "books" in the age of the Kindle and other e-readers. I'd love to see this topic in a future panel (and I'd love to participate, given my experience with blogger outreach and emarketing). These authors could learn a thing or two from Paolo Coelho.PS: there were no signs of the SCORPIONS at the book fest, which makes me question their commitment to the written word.