What Is The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread Essay

Guest Post by Teddi Deppner

We are really pleased to have Teddi Deppner be our guest today. I first met Teddi at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference while she sat through my Major Morning Track, listening patiently to 8 1/2 hours of lecture over four days. She has recently been asking some penetrating questions about technology and the publishing industry so I invited her to create a post and express those thoughts for your discussion.

Teddi Deppner has published hundreds of websites over the last 15+ years in her work as a professional web designer, marketer and consultant. Recently, she has launched on a quest to map out simple, effective strategies to share with creative people using the Internet and social media for their business. Find her latest projects at www.TeddiDeppner.com.

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Thanks to Steve for the opportunity to share some thoughts with his audience. This post, intended primarily to open a lively discussion, was sparked by an article by Craig Mod about “Post-Artifact Book Publishing”.

Craig’s essay presents the idea that books have traditionally been artifacts: the concrete, physical products of an author. He diagrams the process and participants in the creation, publishing and distribution of this artifact and how things are changing now that books have become more than static artifacts.

The part that fascinates me is his observation that the digital age of publishing isn’t really about taking “the book” (a frozen collection of specific words and images) and simply copying it into some readable digital format. Instead, we now face the opportunity to take our idea and shape it into an unlimited number of formats: printed book, web page or online community, e-books of varying flavors, interactive and/or animated digital presentation, video, and yes – much, much more.

So many choices these days! Are you tempted to ignore them until the dust settles? Don’t think those choices apply to your “book”?

Think again.

What’s a Book, Anyway?

Craig Mod’s article is worth reading in detail, and every time I read it the implications multiply. A provocative and key concept I keep returning to:

To think about the future of the book is to think about the future of all content.

Books weren’t static because that’s the best way for a person to express an idea to the world but because it was the only way we had available to record an idea and spread it beyond our immediate circle of friends.

The printing press transformed the world in very short order. I believe we’re living at the dawn of a similar transformation. The Internet may not be the best thing since sliced bread, but I would argue it’s the best thing since the printing press!

Today we have available a new means of spreading ideas — and it doesn’t require a static, physical form. The Internet is with us everywhere, as Netbooks, iPads, mobile phones and e-readers like the Kindle are in more and more hands. Five years ago did you imagine you’d be checking your email while waiting at the gas pump? Did you have any idea you would take 20 books on vacation with you and use up less room in your bag than for a single paperback novel?

A New Set of Questions

As an author, as a business person, as an artist, I’m asking myself some new questions:

    • What is the heart of my idea?
    • Is it best expressed in a static form, or is it rather at its heart a conversation that should begin somewhere and then dynamically grow and evolve?
    • Who is looking for an idea just like this one and how do I reach them?

I’m exploring new “best ways” to convey a story:

    • What length works best? Does my audience want serial episodes or large chunks of completed story arcs at a time?
    • How many illustrations should I include and what should they look like? Pure text novel or completely graphic novel?
    • Should I attach music or record an audio version?
    • Should I offer multiple versions of this story, rated for content along the same lines as movies?

These things are fun to think about, but the most urgent missing piece for me as a creative person making a living producing this content is the business model.

    • How do I turn what’s in my head into cash in my pocket?
    • What is the payment model? What is the distribution model?
    • Who do I need to partner with to make it happen?
    • How many different successful partnerships can I create with collaborators? (writer + filmmaker, writer + artist, writer + writer, and stick some editors in there all over the place because we need QUALITY, people!)

Making Sandwiches That Sell

Okay, so we’ve got all this sliced bread. Now what do we do with it?

Many authors are offering free content as bait to gather their target audience into position and sell them paid content. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Will this model last? Is it sustainable?

And who decides what content is worth paying for? Where do the curators (see Steve’s post on curation) fit in? I can imagine a day when I pay a publisher not for printing a book but instead for a list of vetted, quality content providers directly matched to my preferences.

Although even the average “Joe Reader” is aware that things are changing, he’s ignorant of the full implications. He just goes along, doing what he’s always done, right? His assumptions and prejudice and habits based on a lifetime of traditional consumption of books and movies and music are still mostly intact.

Or are they?

As big entertainment companies change how other forms of content are delivered and paid for (music, TV episodes and movies), what is already changing in the minds of our target consumer? How have your content buying habits changed in the past five years?

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! At the risk of mixing the metaphor, let’s say this post itself is a slice of freshly baked bread. Help me butter it. Throw on some jam. Go ahead and toast it, if that’s your thing.

Post a comment sharing how you read your books, check your news, get new ideas. Tell me what you’re willing to pay for and what you’d rather enjoy for free. I’d especially like your ideas on the most exciting content you’ve purchased recently and what kinds you wish were available but can’t find anywhere.

 

 

Education, the best thing since sliced bread?

Or is slow-fermented learning more digestible?

Our bread culture in England as well as America has greatly impoverished its consumers. Those ready-sliced, mass-produced, factory made loaves of tasteless product that line the shelves of our supermarkets and corner shops can’t compare to real bread, made with love and by hand.

For the past 7 or 8 years my home has been resident to German students each taking a year out to improve their English and to escape village life back home for the lights of London. Most become part of our extended family which might be useful in the event that my immediate biological family apply for German passports in advance of the EuroWall. I’ve had to explain the English bread situation to each of them as they look in disbelief and once again apologise for WW2. It’s fair to say that “people from foreign” don’t visit England for the bread although it’s probably why the tomato ketchup sandwich was invented here. Creativity always wins.

But we do know the difference when we’ve had delicious bread, real bread, perhaps from our local baker or, if we’re lucky, and have had the opportunity to travel. To me, great bread can make all the difference to simple meals whether it’s a sandwich or an accompaniment to a boiled egg. And yet the industrialisation of our food means that more often than not we settle for a slice of Mothers Pride and then cover it in something. Thus bread in England has become neutral.

A friend of mine, Scott Hayward, whom I used to work with in the 90s and who then went onto to work with Gordon Ramsey before opening an artisan bread bakery in Cumbria, once told me that “there’s nothing better than real bread and butter!”

I agreed with him and have been having adventures with bread every since.

One of my favourites which has become the Chez BM staple is sourdough bread. It’s got a depth of taste and a chewiness that feels like comfort, it complements almost anything from snacks to meals, makes terrific toast, it takes ages to go stale and even then it tastes great. Bought, it’s more expensive than the bland loaves from the shop but works out cheaper because it always gets eaten rather than thrown to the birds.

While studying the history of sourdough bread and how to make it I was struck by what a wonderful metaphor it made for the history of public education.

I found this article in The Guardian which I’ll summarise from but urge you to read:

The rise and rise of sourdough bread
It's just after sunrise in the yeasty warmth of The Earth's Crust bakery, and Tom van Rooyen is pulling 25 sourdough…www.theguardian.com

Essentially the story of how we ended up accepting that bland bread was normal was down to an industrialisation or mass production problem known in business circles as “scaling”.

Until the discovery, some 6,000 years ago, of the process of fermenting, bread was typically flatbreads made by mixing water with crushed grains and baked on a hot stone. The new baking technique was revolutionary and quickly caught on across Europe and the Middle East.

Quoting from the above article:

“So satisfying was the new-style bread that over millennia it gradually took on quasi-religious status, a metaphor for nourishment, for harvest, for money, for life itself. Bread-making became an intrinsic part of village or small-town life, just as a wind- or watermill was a part of the local landscape.”

The industrial movement of the 20th century put an end to the small businesses of thousands of local millers and bakers who were replaced when the processing of wheat was concentrated to big central factories. In 1961, scientists developed new industrial processes that would increase the efficiency of bread production. The long fermentation process cut to the bare minimum meant that a loaf of bread could, from flour to wrapped product, be churned out in 3.5 hours. The result is the kind of standardised soft pappy bread with almost indefinite shelf-life that tastes of Kleenex.

To achieve this industrial marvel:

“a whole arsenal of additives is necessary: among them extra yeast, extra gluten, fat to improve crumb softness, reducing agents to help create stretchier doughs, soya flour to add volume and softness, emulsifiers to produce bigger, softer loaves and retard staling, preservatives — to extend shelf-life, and any of a wide variety of enzymes, legally defined as ‘processing aids’ which do not have to be declared on the label. “

A testimonial from the 1974 Technological Assessment Consumerism Centre report said:

“British bread is now the most chemically treated in western Europe.”

Chorleywood bread process - Wikipedia
The Chorleywood bread process ( CBP) is a process of making dough in bread production. The process was developed in…en.wikipedia.org

To quote the Dupont chemical company, “better living through chemistry” perhaps? However, the health impact on consumers hasn’t been positive. Diabetes, gluten sensitivity, IBS, Crohns coeliac disease and so on have been on a steep increase in the western world. Might there be a connection?

The profound industrialisation of our food means that today the majority of global brands are owned by just 10 corporations.

This Infographic Shows How Only 10 Companies Own All The World's Brands
Just when you think there's no end to the diversity of junk food lining supermarket aisles, an insanely detailed…food.good.is

Post Brexit, the UK is seeing this evidenced by rising prices when currency fluctuates.

Stop 'hard Brexit' or risk price hikes for UK's favourite foods, Nick Clegg warns
Britain could see sharp rises in the price of some of the nation's favourite foods if Theresa May persists with a "hard…www.independent.co.uk

I see parallels in many sectors of the impact of industrial processes that rely on standardisation to deliver efficiencies, a standardised product and shareholder value. It is in the education sector that I see a parallel that I find more concerning.

Standardisation is the opposite of personalisation in my opinion and delivers education as decontextualised knowledge. Approaching education as an industrial science by measuring everything and then using technology to scale it ignores the artisan nature of teaching and the playful nature of learning.

Using my sourdough metaphor by seeking to speed up production, produce a standardised output and so forth aren’t we at risk of producing an education system that tastes like Kleenex?

My thoughts on the limitations of the assessment industry are documented but here my concern is whether the narrowing of curriculums, the ingredients to stretch the metaphor further, will have unpredictable results. Wouldn’t we be prudent to consider more holistic approaches to education that assist our learners to meet challenges that will be unique to their generation?

Here I’m thinking about rapidly changing geo-political conditions, protectionism and wall-building as a response to massive population growth, climate change and the automation of everything.

These seem to me as quite significant challenges to ensure a non-dystopian future. I am wondering if we are equipped?

I think we will need more artisans.

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