All the time and often

I ran a workshop last week where I asked participants to choose words that they felt summed up their attitude towards technology. The words they chose were overwhelmingly negative. I was a bit surprised.

In the follow-up activity, I asked the same people to say how often they used technology. They had a scale with five options on it. All but one person chose the option at the very end of the scale, which was all the time. The other person chose the next one down, often.

It was really a interesting outcome in the context of the workshop. But it’s had me thinking more widely since, in no small part because I could entirely understand where the participants were coming from.

How come those of us who are most tech-savvy seem to be so frustrated by and critical of technology? Why do we use technology all the time if we feel so negatively about what it is and does to us?

There are obvious answers. Obligation. Compulsion. Addiction. And of course, it brings benefits along with its problems.

I’ve been thinking about how I use social media. There is a disconnect between how I’d like to use social media and how I actually use it.

I’d like to connect with writers, readers and publishing folk. I’d like to find interesting news, articles and videos about the things I’m into. I’d like to share those things and show my work.

It’s true that I do those things a little. I used to do them a lot more.

Instead I get lost in and angry about petty politics. I go down rabbit holes that seem interesting and important, but lead absolutely nowhere. And I spend time – far too much time – scrolling and searching for golden nuggets in an endless stream of crap and cruft.

Of course, I can choose what I read and who I follow on Twitter. I could make changes so that the people and content that fills my feed is far more tailored and narrow. Lists, mute filters and hashtags.

But Twitter is Twitter. There is no agreed subject matter. We’re free to say what we want about whatever we want. I could narrow my feed, but unless everyone else does the same, little would change.

So I can’t help wondering if niche networks might be the future.

For example, what if there was a social network just for writers, where people could talk shop, share stuff and learn from one another? I’d find that far more useful and meaningful than any platform I currently know about.

In fact, if I knew that 100 people felt the same way, I’d probably have a go at setting one up myself. I mean, how hard could it be?

CreativeMornings Sheffield

CreativeMornings is a monthly event that tales place in cities all over the world. Creative folk get up early and gather at a lovely venue to drink coffee, eat too much pastry and hear a talk by someone marvellous.

CreativeMornings comes to Sheffield

Sheffield, my home city, now has its own CreativeMornings. Set up by the ace Penny Lee, it’s only been going for a few months and already folks snaffle tickets up sharpish.

You can look out for a CreativeMornings Sheffield podcast that I’m working on and plan to launch later this month. For now, check out the video above, which I hastily put together following a last-minute decision to take some footage on my phone at the last event.

It’s rough around the edges, but was good fun to do. Lesson for next time: take more footage!

Printed By Us

To give you a little more information about the talk, the speaker was Mark Musgrave, who with the help of my old pals at Yoomee, has created a great project called Printed By Us.

Here’s what it’s all about:

We run screen printing workshops for people in Sheffield who may have experienced homelessness and other complex issues. We collaborate with local artists to create unique artwork, then: We hand screen print artwork. We sell the prints. We run more workshops.

It’s a smashing idea and so far, it seems to be working.

It was amazing to hear from James, who has previously been homeless and said that his life had improved significantly because of Printed By Us. James even did a live screen print on the day – everyone got to take home a ‘Just Take The Next Step’ print, designed by Rich Wells.

Take a look at the Printed By Us website and consider buying a print, if you can afford it.

Fact or fiction: autobiographical novels with Édouard Louis

This episode of the Guardian Books podcast featuring Édouard Louis had me absolutely hooked.

I hadn’t heard anything about Édouard Louis before, but two things struck me about his interview. First, the eloquence and clarity with which he talks about his childhood and the impact it had. Second, the way he was able to separate his own story from the writing. Such a difficult thing to do.

Here’s more information about Louis and the context of the interview:

Édouard Louis received huge acclaim in France at the age of 21 for his debut book, The End of Eddy, an autobiographical novel about a gay child who grows up surrounded by poverty and homophobia in a post-industrial French town. Despite France’s long history of autofiction, Louis’s book sparked a hunt for the truth, with French media descending on his home town in Picardy to talk with locals and try to determine what was real.

I highly recommend you give the episode a listen. It’s not often I hear an author talk about their work and feel compelled to go and buy it. This morning, I bought The End of Eddy and can’t wait to get stuck in.

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders

George Saunders is one of those authors I’ve heard other people rave about for years but never read myself. After rewatching his brilliant advice on storytelling, I decided to give him a go.

Drawn in by the amazing cover and title, I chose a single short story aimed at both young readers and adults: The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.

I loved this book. It’s a kind of fable or morality story about a three-house village besieged by gappers – ball-like creatures that have a serious thing for goats.

This is the opening. It’s a brilliant opening.

Ever had a burr in your sock? A gapper’s like that, only bigger, about the size of a baseball, bright orange, with multiple eyes like the eyes on a potato. and gappers love goats. When a gapper gets near a goat it gives off a continual high-pitched happy shriek of pleasure that makes it impossible for the goat to sleep, and the goats get skinny and stop giving milk. And in towns that survive by selling goat milk, if there’s no goat milk, there’s no money, and if there’s no money, there’s no food or housing or clothing, and so, in gapper-infested towns, since nobody likes the idea of starving naked outdoors, it is necessary at all costs to keep the gappers off the goats. Such a town was Frip.

What a set up, right?

The story revolves around the three families of Frip who need to get rid of the gappers. That job falls to their respective children, who must brush the goats each night then throw the gappers into the sea. The gappers just come back though, which makes the children’s lives a misery.

It’s weird and haunting and also sort of beautiful.

When the gappers decide it’s more efficient to visit just one of the houses, the other two families rejoice and refuse to help. What results is a tale of kindness and community, but also a look at how humans treat each other in times of need. Which is, quite often, rather badly.

I should say that The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is brilliantly illustrated by Lane Smith, who also worked with Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss. The illustrations really work well and bring the story to life.

I read it through in about half an hour and can’t recommend it enough. I’m looking forward to a little more George Saunders later in the year.

Art is theft

This is a gorgeous short film by Daniel Cordero. It outlines the idea that creativity comes from the artists and art that inspire us – that we ‘steal’ it to make something new.

Creation is not inspired by one man, woman or one thing. We are influenced by our daily fair, diverse artists etc. I have admired various influential artists in my life, such as Picasso, Dali and Warhol. With this film, I attempted to convey an approach to the creative process and express how all artists, at any level, “steal” the art and the very soul of other artists, while forming their “original” pieces.

Of course, this is the key theme in Austin Kleon’s ace book, Steal Like an Artist, which I generally reread every few months and dip into more often than that.