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On the road again October 29, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, intent, marketing, philosophy, work/life.
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Cover of
Cover of On The Road

I have had Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road given to me a gift to keep at least three times. I imagine some combination of traits my friends spotted in me (wannabe-philosopher mixed with restless-and-easily-distracted) focused their attention on this book. When people visit, they remark on the copies that line my shelf:

“You liked it enough to buy it twice?”

“No. I ignored it long enough to be given another.”

This is not about that book though. This is about perception (and a little intent).

Your friend and mine Mark Earls referenced a piece from Lynne Truss in the UK’s Sunday Times in which she states:

…I like to see what other people are reading on the bus or the train; how far they’ve got; whether they’re enjoying it. It seems to me that such information needs to be public for the good of us all and I’m sad to think of reading in public places ultimately becoming so private…

Lynne was lamenting the arrival of E-Readers and the disappearance of actual book and magazine covers from the parks and cafes and public transport systems of the world, along with the loss of a shared look or a fleeting conversation about the work at hand.

Lynne Truss’ worry stems from the removal of social identifiers in public spaces; it seems we don’t just judge a book by its cover, but the reader as well. I smile whenever I see another grown-up reading Harry Potter in public, because I remember being consumed by those books and also embarrassed to have them out in public without an 8 year old in sight. We use these things (and clothes, iPods, cars and holidays) to signal via the perceptions we assume others will have. My intent given my office wardrobe today of boho-cardigan and falling apart at the seams (but limited edition John Varvatos-collaboration) Converse sneakers, is to signal something true about myself; unfortunately that truth is little more than the clothing equivalent of the never opened copies of Kerouac’s masterpiece, or as I wrote in Everyone 2.0, you’re unique.

Just like everyone else.

I have friends (they shall remain nameless because I love them dearly) who have taken great pleasure in displaying tomes they have conquered in the name of enlightenment. These friends drew more pleasure from others seeing they had read (or at least bought) the appropriate books than perhaps they did from the work itself. On The Road is a book a selection of my friends feel I am supposed to have read, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, something someone says I am supposed to do instantly defaults to the thing I am least likely to do. Their intent is to help me appear a culturally astute and well-rounded individual; my intent is the equally pretentious attempt to thumb my nose at convention simply for the sake of it.

Now, my favourite magazine is British GQ as its collection of columnists is a veritable who’s who of the UK’s newspapers. They are regularly funny and insightful and it pains me when the publisher stoops to putting a scantily clad woman on the front cover, partly because the writing is better than that suggests but also because I then feel the need to explain to others, much as the joke about Playboy goes, “I read it for the articles.” Perception reveals, or so we would assume, intent. Perception is also said to be reality, and so given the option of tangling with the looks I imagine women might give me on the subway in the mornings, I opt for Wired and instead leave Heidi Klum in her various states of undress on my coffee table for next Sunday (sorry dear, you know how it is).

Back to the Kindle, on one hand I like where we’re heading as I could potentially just read A.A. Gill‘s column without wondering if someone’s nipple is slipping out on the other side for the rest of the train to see.

On the other hand I’m envisioning a birthday not too long from now, where a gift arrives as a download along with a note “Didn’t see it in your “Read Items” list on Amazon and thought to myself David is supposed to have read books like this!!

The identifiers are perhaps moving out of the physical world in some ways, I doubt however this will have much impact on the intentions we have for everyone else’s lives.

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Comments»

1. Mat Granfield - October 31, 2009

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

2. Matt Granfield - November 4, 2009

You’re not going to reply to that are you. You can’t. I know what I’m getting you for Christmas though…

3. David Gillespie - November 4, 2009

What is a man to say to that sort of comment?

The funny thing is, one of the copies I have is already one you gave me.

If it’s any consolation, you were my first :)


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