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    on mixbooks

    The last few posts on this blog have been about the intake of information, particularly with regard to how that information gets processed, synthesized, and then outputted as something new. As a creative person, I'm naturally interested in creative repurposings, instances where someone takes in information and then uses it to produce something that has what Clay Shirky calls "valuable novelty." Nearly all creative work feeds on some set of influences, and part of the fun of enjoying films, novels, comics, or music is playing "spot the influence." But I'm also interested in forms like the archive or the curated collection, forms in which the information that arrives as "input" does not get transformed into an "influence" but instead remains, more or less intact, in the new output: compiled, aggregated, or recombined, but not disassembled for parts. Think of the difference between a novel and a Tumblr and the distinction should be clear.

    Are these forms also "creative?" As someone who runs a fiction-curation project, I like to think that it provides some degree of "valuable novelty"—that seeing my selections in the context of my blog is fundamentally different, in a hopefully valuable way, than locating these stories independently in their original contexts. On the other hand, I also spent the last two years writing a novel, and I recognize that that process requires creativity of a very different order. It is here, I guess, that I have qualms with Maria "Brainpicker" Popova's claim that "content curation is a new form of authorship."

    Regardless, I am always on the lookout for interesting projects that recirculate information in new ways. Sometimes just moving information from one medium to another can create quite compelling effects. A few years back I was taken by the "Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet," a beautiful limited-edition newspaper reprinting a bunch of Web content.

    More recently, I've been taken with the concept of the "mixbook," which web developer Christopher Butler has been doing for the past three years (one, two, three). As the name implies, a "mixbook" is a compilation of pieces of writing, found on the Web and turned into a physical book using a print-on-demand service like Lulu.

    Butler produces small batches of these books and gives them away to friends. As soon as I read about it, I knew I had to try it (hopefully I'll have one ready in December). And planning for it has had one interesting effect, which is that it's forced me into a useful process of reviewing material that I've already read.

    Normally if I read something on the Web that I like, I bookmark it in Pinboard. But the vast majority of stuff that I bookmark there never gets looked at a second time (raising some of those fears of pointless hoarding that I've talked about before). But with a goal of end-of-year reuse in mind, I've been going back and revisiting some of this material, and now I've fallen into a nice routine where, at the end of the month, I go back and look at the bookmarks for the month and consider which of the pieces I've aggregated there warrant re-reading as a possible candidate for inclusion in an annual volume. It's nice to see the sometimes bewildering variety of stuff I've sucked up, but even nicer to be able to reflect on the material at something of a temporal remove. I recommend it for all you fellow infovores out there.

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    Monday, August 27, 2012
    10:50 PM


    I would *love* a mixbook!
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