J. Robert King

Of Singularities

I’ve long known of singularities. In astrophysical terms, a singularity is a point in space with no height, width, or depth–often with a whole star shoved inside.

But there’s another kind of singularity–a cultural change that is so revolutionary that the world will not be the same afterward. The shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural city-state was a singularity. The hunter-gatherers on one side could not possibly understand the city-dwellers on the other.

The Gutenberg printing press was another singularity, taking reading and writing from the province of priests to that of every person.

In the same way, the Civil War marked a singularity in U.S. culture. The south was agrarian, in need of slavery, and the north was industrial, in a post-slavery economy. As much as anything else, the War of Northern Aggression was the war of a new paradigm against an old one.

The point of a singularity is that you have to get through it. If you don’t, you are stuck in the past, and the world will no longer make sense to you.

We are forcing our way through a singularity right now, folks. The kids born into this singularity already live on the other side of it. Those of us born before the Internet, though, have a choice. We can press our way through the bewildering new world of social media and find the future on the other side, or we can reject it all and become artifacts of a previous age.

Way back in the early ’90s, I had a friend who was a computer expert. I asked him how he could possibly stay on top of the ever-evolving world of computers. He said he had to give up his right to incredulity. When someone said that computers could do something, he couldn’t say “No!” He had to simply find out how.

That’s the credo for anyone who wants to get through this current singularity. You have no right to reject new technology. To say you don’t want to learn how it works is to turn down the future. No. You have to say, “How does this work? I want to understand.”

Left to my own devices, I would’ve come up with the wrong answer. I would’ve been left behind.

So, thanks to my two great publishers–Sebranek, Inc., and Angry Robot Books. Both have required that I get through this singularity. Both have insisted that the world beyond is worth seeing, and that I am not worth leaving behind.

So, thanks, Chris and Marco and Lee. Now that I’m on the other side, I have to agree with you.

March 30th, 2010
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13 Responses to “Of Singularities”

  1. Jarrod Says:

    Hi Robert, good article.

    I think that the particular singularity you mention here isn’t solely defined by those who are born pre/post internet. Many of my peers are on one side, and I’m on another. Indeed, some of my younger relatives are happily ignorant of the many joys of the internet.

    But we do certainly need to keep that spirit of adventure and enquiring attitude – otherwise, as the world becomes less appealing, relevant and meaningful to us, we simply shut down.

  2. admin Says:

    Thank you, Jarrod!

    I very much agree. It’s not necessarily a matter of age, though my generation is sort of caught on the cusp. There are a lot of folks older than me who are washing their hands of the world as it is becoming, and a lot of younger ones who just live there naturally. I have to work not to be a neo-luddite.

    Thanks, again, for your insightful response!

  3. Curtis Says:

    “The point of a singularity is that you have to get through it. …We are forcing our way through a singularity right now, folks. “…give up his right to incredulity.”

    Robert, I thought you had dropped off the face. Glad to see you back.

    My Dad had a credo too. ” Son, I wake up in a new world every morning.” He didn’t have to force his way through anything. He blew threw it. As a result, I have learned there are those that “singularities happened to and those who create the singularity. He caused the things. LOL

    As a result, his son, this old man of sixty-five, me, has further developed his Dad’s credo.

    My credo ” Just imagine. I wonder? And, drum roll, What’s next?!” Besides all that I know this Dude who walked on water. I’m waiting for technology to catch up to my faith. LOL

    “Great publishers who required…” Now, there is a singularity I’m seeing a lot of lately. Writers having to write more and in a different vein than they are accustomed to.What is the cliche? “Out of our comfort zone.”

    The good news for you. You Sir are clearly very good at it. In fact, if you will stay at this blog business you will become more comfortable with it and given a little time you will begin to discover that you are producing what is clearly excellent non-fiction material. Your content is excellent.

    My guess is right now it feels more like a chore than a flow. Stay with it and you will discover you will have another club to play the course with. By that I mean an additional publisher who publishes non-fiction.

    Anyone who tells you you can’t jump genres today needs to be helped through that singularity. You might as well be the one who does it. ( Tacky alert. I’m thinking the ” you can’t jump genres means don’t write what I don’t sell.)

    Anyway your good at it. Hope you keep it up.

  4. Rob King Says:

    Great comments, Curtis, and thanks for the encouragement.

    Yes, the best writers are the ones who can adapt. That’s true at any time, but especially now.

    As for dropping off the face of the earth, I’m currently in the throes of a really heady revision. It’s tough to carve out time for writing blog posts–but I really should.

    Thanks, again, for your great insights!


  5. Don One World Says:

    yes Rob, we have to stay connected – in appearance at least. there is something that does not feel right about all this connectivity, but I can’t put my finger on it. I recently got a “Droid”. Now I really feel I am on the event horizon. email, facebook updates, live traffic, maps, navigator. there are even metal detector and guitar tuner apps. with me ALL THE TIME. makes me really tired sometimes.

  6. admin Says:

    Hey, Don:

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I’m glad you’re pressing through that singularity, buddy. It can get tiring, and it does seem to be odd to be connected all the time.

    As I say, I wouldn’t have gotten through this singularity except that my boss required it, and I’m so glad he did. Otherwise, I would have blissfully faded into the past.

    Yes, I’m a digital immigrant, but I’m going to learn the language of this new culture and be part of this country we’re all building. I’m going to keep my wits about me and figure out how a writer can succeed in an industry (publishing) that is so catastrophically failing.

  7. Curtis Says:

    Loved what you had to say. It truly is the other side of connectivity.

    ” does not feel right… can’t put my finger on it.” I do understand. My guess,it empties relationships of more than a tad of meaning or significants and replaces them with superficial contact. The “tired” you feel, I’m guessing, is the sense of actually expending energy on a real relationship when in fact all we have done is tweeted or broadcasted something to a general audiance on FB.

    And, the rest of the story. The big boys i.e. Google et.al. are spooling up info. like crazy.

    There is more to privacy than you not knowing “something” about me. The end of privacy and constant conectivity can leave us with the fatigue of exposure. Not to mention the end of solitude. Connectivity can become just another addiction. And, we know how that works out.

    Yours for the celibration of sanity in a wired world.

  8. Curtis Says:

    The link below is an example of the discomfort. Also, an example of what the new wave user will race to be hooked into.

    Also, how, in making a point, I am allowing myself to be “used” by the service to actually advertise their product. Isn’t that a hoot. Like it. Love it. Despise it. Hate it. A networked conversation is, as they say, viral.


    What we used to call privacy the next generation calls obscurity. They will trade their soul for visibility. The dream of course continues to be the same, to become the next big thing.

  9. Curtis Says:

    One more and I’m going to stop. 🙂

    Connectivity ain’t going to be cheap.

    Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline
    Commentary by Kurt Opsahl

    Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

    Remember the “… Sultans of Swing?” They wanted their”… money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Same song different dance.

  10. Rob King Says:

    Great comments, Curtis! Really insightful.

    I like what you said about privacy being reconcepted as obscurity.

    I also was really amazed by the article on Facebook’s eroding privacy policy. Wow does that make this shift completely demonstrable.

    It’s all a lesson for me. I’ve been seeking fame for twenty years now. I might not like it once it arrives.

    Thanks, again,

  11. Curtis Says:

    I promised one more and I would stop. 🙂 But, the old bean kept working or at least churning.

    This little tid bit about blogging should give publishers who ask writers to spend time blogging pause. Currently, according to Techorati,there is an estimated 100 million blogs online. Give or take, that is one heck of a slush pile to float above.

    Basically, when I/we blog, we have, in addition to the paper we sell, we have an online publication to market. I doubt that is news to you but it is worth saying.

    There does seem to be just a bit of wishful thinking on the part of publishers that online means instant discovery. I have a hunch about how that is going to work out.

    For giggles and grins do you have an idea how many hits your blog has had? I don’t need to know the number. But, is your publisher going to help with the visibity of your blog?

    Now, I promise to leave this alone.

  12. Rob King Says:

    I think you’re right, Curtis. We’re all just feeling our way along, and this gigantic slush pile of blog posts is really daunting to get through.

    For me, when I first got started, blogging seemed a foreign concept. I should stop writing my novel in order to write free musings in hopes someone would like to read? And I’m still by no means accomplished at blogging. I still have to get myself to set aside time to produce posts.

    However, the online presence is just part of a whole suite of buzz builders, and the different pieces play off each other, providing feedback that amps the volume. Yes, my blog hasn’t the power of Neil Gaiman’s, but as my presence grows elsewhere–Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, and traditional channels–traffic will grow here, and my efforts will become more focused.

    I guess I see social media as a big party with lots of great people. The first important thing is to go to the party. The second is to be social and meet people. The third is to have fun. And last, but certainly not least, stay at the party until something big happens so that you can take part.

  13. Curtis Says:

    Thanks for your response. I skipped on over to your Facebook page and signed up.

    The other side of the slush pile issue for me is that it does seem like a party and the possibilities are still based on imagination as much as on established practice. The best mouse trap ain’t been built yet.

    It will be fun seeing where we, meaning the bazzilion of us giving it a shot will take it.

    Hopefully, the big corps. won’t gobble it up to the point that it drifts off into the equivalent of network/cable T.V. The push to centralize and control being what it is.

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