Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Cringe-inducing

This Amazon review of John Battelle's latest book is awesome:
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful:

"Perhaps sir would prefer a classic novel?", February 8, 2006
Reviewer:Alan A. Donovan (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)
What is it about journalists from Silicon Valley (especially from the Wired Magazine stable) that makes their writing so cringe-inducing?

I got a free copy of this book at work (Google), where they were being handed out. I must confess, I couldn't get past chapter 2 because it had already hit the trifecta of classic blunders of the "geek history book":

(1) egocentrism: in a book ostensibly about search engines and their cultural impact, I would not have expected John Batelle to be a big player, yet there he is, popping up in the first person all over the place, namedropping celebrity nerds and crudely rubbing our noses in his executive Rolodex.

(2) misunderstanding one's readers: gotta love this attempt to explain an unfamiliar concept using an even less-familiar one, from page 22: "The process of grokking the index is referred to as analysis." Perhaps a more useful sentence here would be to explain to a non-technical audience what the hell "grok" means.

(3) poor fact-checking: just one example, from page 26: "the household spending for media and information services in the United States rose at an annual rate of 32% throughout the 1990s, from $365 a year to $640". Right.

Maybe I'm just a Northeastern snob who prefers more scholarly writing, or maybe I'm still smarting from 'Cyberselfish' (ISBN 1891620789), but reading tech books makes me feel like such a Luddite.

All of this creates in my mind the unavoidable impression that Silicon Valley authorship today involves way too much "research" time spent typing things into Google (on a shiny PowerBook, in Starbucks, naturally: the prose style screams "too much coffee"). In all the frenzied talk of how web search is transforming our society, few people have stopped to point out the value of actual research in a good old-fashioned library.