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Controlling your story

Microsoft has done away with the quirky ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, prompting suspicion that the nigh-nonsensical ad campaign was a flop. But Microsoft spokespeople told the Associated Press that it was always the plan to pull the ads at this time and replace them with ads that actually have something to do with Windows.

Brian Heater at PC Magazine, wrote that the original ad run, which was touted as a $300 million response to Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ads, left a lot of tech writers baffled and angry:

When it finally aired, the spot, which found Bill Gates and the former TV star shopping for shoes at the mall, wasn’t exactly a hit with the technorati. They were baffled. Baffled and angry. They wondered what the thing had to do with Vista…and Apple…and, for that matter, Microsoft. They wondered why it wasn’t, you know, funny.

The new ad campaign, set to debut next week, will be themed “Windows. Life Without Walls” and will feature ads with an assortment of Microsoft employees and celebrities proudly declaring, “I am a PC.”

The New York Times reported on the marketing side of the new ad campaign, quoting a Microsoft marketing manager, David Webster, who told the newspaper, “They’ve made a caricature out of the PC,” which was unacceptable because “you always want to own your own story.”

Ah ha! There’s the nugget I’ve been waiting for. Of course, this is marketing terminology: “owning” your “story.” What it really means is having control of how people think about you, and with Apple constantly telling people what a PC is in its commercials, Microsoft had lost control of what it thinks is its brand — which for them means any computer that’s not a Mac. (Incidentally, I wonder if the world’s Linux users are happy with having Microsoft claim the PC brand. After all, a PC doesn’t have to be running Windows.)

Anyway, about the nugget: This reminds me of things I read about during all that time spent studying literature and literary theory in college. We often talked about minority cultures and minority literatures — feminist and post-colonial theory, as examples. The idea was that, because these peoples or social groups could/did not communicate in the same channels or languages as the majority group, they lost control of their stories. Either that, or their stories never got told in the first place.

Without a “story,” people don’t exist, not in any meaningful way, at least. Our stories define who we are. Think about meeting someone new or going out on a date. You want to learn about the other person. You want to learn their story.

We all have stories. We all have narratives that we tell to other people that we think will give them certain impressions of us. We are all advertising reps doing our best to represent ourselves to our own advantages — putting just the right spin on bad events and emphasizing the things we’re proud of. Doubt me? Think about how you spun that McDonald’s job on your resume and get back to me.

And what happens when you lose control of your story? Think about that rumor that once spread around high school about you. Tell me if you had control of that particular story and how you felt like it defined you.

Stories are important, and the New York Times reminded me of that again today. It reminded me that at heart, we are all just trying to tell the best story we can about ourselves on any given day; objective truth is a myth and always has been.

New research on Internet addiction coming from Canada

Psychologists at the University of Montreal will soon begin studying Internet addiction.

Their study will focus on teens who don’t leave home, who don’t have relationships with other human beings and who “only speak in the language of the characters they play iwth in network video games” — no doubt a subtle prod at MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft, and their copious jargon.

Professor Loise Nadeau, head of the university’s new addictions center said, “There is no reliable study or clinical data on the issue. … We are starting from scratch.”

It seems to me that Internet addiction was a big deal about a decade ago when people, you know, first started studying it. (for example) The Chronicle of Higher Education linked to three articles from its archives on Internet addiction, one published as early as 1998.

Perhaps Nadeau and her colleagues are looking at Internet addiction in a different way, taking a path that hasn’t been academically trod yet. I don’t know. But it’s a bit unfair and inaccurate for her to say that the University of Montreal is “starting from scratch” on this.

Government likely to antitrust Google

The Justice Department may sue Google over its upcoming advertising partnership with Yahoo, the Wall Street Journal reports. The department has hired high-profile lawyer Sandford Litvack and has been deposing witnesses and gathering documents about the deal for weeks.

Under the ad partnership, Yahoo would show the valuable Google ads along with its own ads. The prices will be set by auction and the companies would share the profits, Bloomberg reports.

It is uncertain whether any antitrust suit would address any of Google’s other advertising business.

Elemental Stylism

Jonathan Yardley at the Washington Post wrote a little praise for Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style a couple of days ago, which drew some criticism from Jan Freeman at the Boston Globe and some follow-up criticism from various bloggers across the Web.

It make me think about the “little book.” I’ve owned a copy since my freshman year at college. It was the fourth edition then, as it still is, with its introduction by Roger Angell. It’s a little gray paperback that I read through back then and though was great — not as great as Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams (a book that has inspired me for years) but still pretty good nonetheless. When I “retired” from newspaper reporting, my editor gave me a first-edition, a copy that I’ll probably treasure until the day I die.

But that’s just it. I’ll treasure it; I probably won’t use it much. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seriously cracked open the Elements since that first reading a decade ago. My love for that little book is like my love for baseball. It’s a passion that I have when I’m feeling poetic and deep, when I feel like I should be cultured, but it gets laid aside when practical concerns arise and force me to get real work done, rather than sit back and admire the watchmaker’s perfection.

I understand Yardley’s love for the book. I have it myself, in spurts. Do I recommend people read the book? Absolutely. I also recommend they read the King James Bible. I just don’t advocate die-hard belief.

J.K. Rowling prevails over fandom and perhaps opportunism

A U.S. district judge has ruled that a Michigan-based company cannot publish an encyclopedia about the popular Harry Potter novels because the reference books uses too much of author J.K. Rowling’s original material.

The material for the Harry Potter Lexicon was taken from a Web site operated by Steven Vander Ark, a former school librarian. Rowling herself once praised the Web site, but said earlier this year that it had become just a rearrangement of her writing.

Vander Ark’s lawyers argued that the use of Rowling’s words were fair use for a reference publication. Rowling’s lawyers argued otherwise and won. Rowling herself told the Associated Press that if the encyclopedia had been allowed to be published, “carte blanche” would have been given to “anyone who wants to make a quick bit of money, to divert some Harry Potter profits into their own pockets.”

The thought of this made her “so distressed … that she had stopped work on a new novel.” She told the AP in April: “It’s really decimated my creative work over the last month.”

This is not the first time I’ve noted Rowling’s guard-dog ferocity concerning the copyrights on her moneymaker series of novels, but this is the first time I can remember hearing an author say that a copyright dispute stressed her out so much that it ruined her ability to create. I recall William Zinsser who once wrote that writing is a job you do whether you feel like it or not; it is your calling and your profession. You do it on the good days and the bad. Otherwise — and I’m paraphrasing here — you’re little more than a tourist in the world of writing.

Maybe Rowling didn’t write great literature. In fact, she didn’t. She recombined myths and spiced it with enough originality to create a phenomenon that has earned her millions. It’s no wonder she wants to guard that and protest her nest egg — which is, no doubt, the size of an extremely large ostrich egg by now, perhaps even the size of a dinosaur egg…

Anyhow, it seems that it should be more about the books and the story and less about possessiveness. But that’s just me; you have to be an idealist about something, even if it’s unrealistic.

What I expect from the Apple event on Tuesday

A new iPod, just in time too, because we were just thinking of buying a new one for my wife. This means that now we have to wait a few months until things calm down before we buy her new iPod, or else we have to hunting for a store that will still be carrying any of the older (and hopefully cheaper) models.

I suppose I can’t blame Apple. They do this sort of thing every year at about this time, so.. Damn you, Fate! Why did you have to wreck Susan’s old iPod Shuffle now of all times? Whhhhyyyyy!!!??