Tag Archives: Blogging

The Pepys Now project: How to write a blog people will read in 100 years

pepyssmall[This piece was originally posted in 2005.  It got displaced in a transition to TypePad and this meant it lost its connection to the Samuel Pepy’s Home Page, a connection for which I was grateful.  This reposting will generate a new link and I’m hoping Duncan Grey, keeper of the Samuel Pepy’s Home Page, will post the link.]

Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) kept a diary for ten years, 1660-1669 (http://www.pepys.info/index.html ). He helps us understand the great fire of London, some of the plague years, the aftermath of the English civil war, and the English navy.

Equally important, he helps us see what life was like. We hear him kicking himself for “carrying my watch in my hand in the coach all this afternoon, and seeing what o’clock it is one hundred times.” A man fretting.

For recording the great and little events of the day, Pepys has been given immortality. We read him still.

There is no shortage of diarists these days, not with billions of blogs on line. But will bloggers find immortality? No. This is not just because there are so many of us. The trouble is we assume the things readers will want to know in 100 years.

There are, for instance, countless blog entries from people experiencing the flu.   But what history will care about are all the details that struck us as too obvious or banal to mention.

What the “flu” was like, what we took as “medicine.” The “pharmacy” we got the medicine in. The conversation we had with that man in the lab coat. The advice we got from friends. What we wore while recuperating. What we watched on TV. What was illuminated by that faint light in the “refrigerator.”   The idea, for instance, of “comfort food.” (What was it?  What comfort did it give?) What we talked about on the “phone.” What “emails” we wrote. What happened to personhood?   What was it like to be us, as we lost momentum, as our affairs went into suspension, as our life began slowing to come undone. Where did the mind turn in this rare inactive moment. What fretting did we do?

In 100 years, the flu will be an exotic experience.   (We read Pepys for his accounts of the plague; we know longer know what this was like.)   Historians will hold conferences on the experience of sickness and curing.   And they will consult our blogs mostly with unhappiness.

A conference paper in the year 2103:

We have 3.74 million references to “flu” in the blogs of the early 21 st century.   We have the medical accounts of what it was and what curing was.   But we do not know what it was like as an experience.  

These bloggers were talking to one another.   They were not talking to us.   

But I am happy to report that I have discovered one web log that offers a meticulous record, one might even say Pepysian account, of one flu in one life.   

Using the weblog entries of one Sarah Zupko , I intend to show how the “flu” worked as a social, cultural, emotional, physiological and medical event in the life. 

With this as my platform, I will seek, then, to illuminate key aspects of everyday life.   Sarah Zupko ’s account of the flu she suffered in the 14 th week of their year 2003, in conjunction with other records we have at our disposal, help us to see how the “self” was constructed, maintained and, in a word, lived.

In an odd way, we owe this now vanished virus a debt of thanks.   Under its duress, Zupko was moved, meticulously and with rare sensitivity, to reveal not just what it was to be “sick” but what it was like to be a creature of this historical and cultural moment.   

Blogs for their time

There are two strategies here.

The first is simply to document everything we can and let history do the sorting.   In the case of “blanket documentation,” we don’t need to choose because we seek to capture everything.

1. The blanket documentation: a week’s regime

(do this once a year)


Recording place:

Photo documentation:

Home, work, neighborhood, local store(s), other places we go,

Do 5 level of documentation from broad to the individual object

(e.g., our neighbourhood, house/apt., rooms, objects, contents)


Recording time:

Prose documentation

Structure of the last week

Things that were scheduled

Things that were spontaneous

Who, what, where, when, and why of each event


Recording things:

(Clothing, furniture, art, fridge magnets & other possessions)

Photo documentation

Prose documentation

Link the two, prop a photograph of your favorite sweater in front of the computer and describe where it comes from, where you found it, things that happened as you wore it, what it means to you know, how it interacts with other articles of clothing, the last time you wore it and anything else it brings to mind


Recording media:

Music, movies, television, websites

The regulars

The occasionals

The discoveries

Prose documentation of and for each.


Recording people:

Diary entries:

Video documentation

Do interviews with everyone who will put up with one.   Set up your video camera (if you have one) and leave it standing in the living room (if you have one).   When someone comes over, sit them down and ask them these questions… and anything else that occurs to you, and capture anything else that occurs to them.


Review, reflect, spot holes, capture the things we’ve missed


Review, voice over commentary on each of your bodies of evidence.   There are two imperatives here:1) capturing the assumptions that did not get onto film and that do not normally get into blogs; 2) showing the interrelationships of all the pieces we have know documents. What are the wholes that organized the parts? What was the lived experience of this world

There will be moments when you’ll think to yourself, “Oh, what’s the point, this is so obvious.” But think about what you would give to have account like this from your life, say, 20 years ago.  If would be a dear possession.  Think about what you would give to have this account of your father’s life when he was the age you are now.   Think about what you give for an account of your great, great grandfather’s life.   By this time, you have materials that historians would be pestering you to have a look at.

The “as if from a glass bottom boat” documentation

This is the second strategy. This is the documentation of a single thing, person, place, object, event. It could, for instance, be the flu. Now the trick is to tear ourselves away from the familiarity that, blessedly, makes so much of our experience intelligible and manageable. Only thus can we deliver what historians want (and what we will be pleased to have in 20 years).

There are a couple of aids here. One is surprise. Surprise occurs when assumptions are violated and it represents an opportunity to capture what these assumptions are. I was standing in Grand Central Station last week and a man passed me wearing a burgundy red fedora. It was too stylish to be a prank, too odd to be a simple act of style.   It forced me to think about hats and to see the conventions that govern them.

Another is humor. This too depends on violated assumptions. Victorian jokes now strike us as not very funny. And this is because we no longer share the cultural assumptions they assumed and on which they operated. Take a moment of humor and supply the archeology on which they rested.

A third is what the Russians called deformalization. The banal example here is repeating a word over and over until it becomes strange to the ear. (Try saying, “saying” thirty times and see if it continues to deliver meaning as it once did.).   The trick here seems to be just concentrating on something for long enough that its “taken-for-grantedness” begins to fall away. Think long enough about a kitchen and this begins to happen with surprising ease. (CxC assumes no responsibility for the dislocation that will follow.)

A fourth might be called the Goffman effect. Erving Goffman sought out the company of people who had forgotten or misremembered the rules of everyday life. They stood too close to him.(Ah, so there is a rule that says we must remain 12 to 16 inches from a conversational partner.) They gave too little eye contact or too much. (Ah, so there’s a rule…) They shouted or whispered. And so on. The trick here is to treat social error as an indicator of social convention.

(A fifth is the alienating effects of drugs and alcohol, but CxC is forbidden from recommending this path to illumination.)

What we really need here are pen pals in mainland China , correspondents who read our accounts and say, “sorry, I still don’t see how this person, place, event, or thing made sense to you.”


Once you have performed your Pepys scrutiny, burn it on a CD or DVD and send one copy to the youngest responsible member of your family, with careful instructions that they are to do the same in 20 years. Send the other to the Smithsonian. Congratulations, you are now immortal.

wars of a different kind

Someone called Veronica commented on the HBS Blog post “The War for the Soul of Advertising.”  She suggested that my interpretation of the ads in question is sexist.  (I don’t think I have the right to reproduce Veronica’s comment here.  I will have to ask you to go here to see it.  

My first reply, written last night around 11:00, was a little intemperate.

Veronica, I can’t help feeling this is a drive-by accusation. The use of this language judged by context and not by the instincts of an inquisitor is appropriate. I don’t object to showing someone as a “competent leader of outdoor expedition” but I wouldn’t have thought it wouldn’t take much interpretive skill to see that the ad in question makes the character in question look like a complete and utter idiot. (I mean, really, is the guy behind her actually made more secure by “watch your step.”) As to your difficulty figuring out “exactly” what my argument is, I would suggest reading it again. Thanks, Grant

My second reply, written this morning, was still more intemperate.  So much for the clear light of day.

Veronica, I wanted to follow up on my original reply, my last night in haste about 11:00. As it turns out I am a fourth-generation feminist. My great-grandmother saw to that. I point this out not to argue that I am incapable of sexism. This is so deeply embedded in our culture and in our upbringings that I wouldn’t dare make this claim. I point it out to argue how seriously I take your accusation.

So let me give you a more detailed reply than the one I gave you last night. First, “brittle and shrill” is my reading of _a woman in an ad_. I am not imputing this to a real person! Second, it is the guy _in the ad_ who is “suffering” a call from his wife. Go back to the ad and you will see that _it is the ad_ that makes this guy nonchalant. And now to defend the creatives at BBDO. I believe they have made him so in order to set up the embarrassment that is to follow. I am not imputing his indifference, the ad is. And the ad is not doing it out of sexism, it is setting up the story to follow.

Having accused me of sexism, you carry on to diminish the men in the ads…as middle school boys and people with the memory of a goldfish. This is so shockingly hypocritical as to test belief. You can’t accuse me of sexism and then engage in it.

Then to leap to the conclusion that I “don’t relate to ads with strong women in them” This is, well, a leap, isn’t it? Pray have a look at my blog, specifically a post called Lighting It Up at the Coca-Cola Company, February 17, 2006. This post lauds Mary Minnick then the CMO of the Coca-Cola Company.

[I begin with this quote from Hein and Sampey] “The strategy for the global Coke campaign is to make choosing Coke a purposeful act,” said Mary Minnick, the head of marketing strategy and innovation. “We don’t just want to be entertaining or be different, we want to be more relevant. We want to build a relationship with consumers, not hold a mirror up to them.” (from Hein, Kenneth, with Kathy Sampey. 2006. Pouring It On: Coke Unveils New Tagline, Products, Philosophy. Brandweek. December 08, 2005

[the post continues] This is an interesting model that marketers may with to conjure with. In the meantime, we may admire the recent Diet Coke ad (“Haircut”) that seems to me to capture and perhaps illuminate Minnick’s philosophy.

A young woman enters a very old fashioned barbershop. She emerges triumphant. The risk has paid off. She went into the shop a great beauty. She emerges a great beauty who has claimed her beauty with an act of daring and imagination. [end of post passage]

I believe this establishes that I admire strong women in ads, and as makers of ads.

Best, Grant

I pressed on to suggest that Veronica seemed to me to be practicing the blogging equivalent of “vexatious litigation” (as Wikipedia defines it: “legal action which is brought regardless of its merits, solely to harass…”) but by that time I was feeling a little less irritable.  

Last note:

I’m not sure exactly why I sharing this with you, to be honest.  Your comments, please.

Miracle on Highland: the return of 40 lost posts

A couple of days ago, I was bumping along on line.  I am very like a Manatee.  Not so much navigating as going from plant to plant.

My chief thought: I sure hope I don’t get slashed by a passing motor boat.  Really.

And what should I discover?  Forty lost posts, just floating there.  These were posts lost in the great Network Solutions debacle and presumed lost forever.  

I am no useful detective in these matters but it looks like a French outfit called FeedShow reproduced the posts.   

I will never speak ill of the French again.  Especially some guy called Thierry at Feedshow, to whom I am very, very grateful.  

What remains lost are the many comments on these posts.  And for this we may thank those scoundrels at Network Solutions.  


Dec. 21  Christmas gift-giving
Dec. 22  Social Media, once wild, now tame
Dec. 24  Art of the trench coat
Dec. 29  That mythic beer guy
Dec. 29  7-Eleven, where brands go to die
Dec. 31  Creativity’s brief moment in the sun


Jan. 6    Bud Caddell interview
Jan. 7    The Fiesta Movement by Ford, Undercurrent and Bud Caddell
Jan. 8    Local Motors
Jan. 11  Tuesday if you’re in Toronto (not reposted)
Jan. 12  You say content, I say composition
Jan. 13  Real time transformation
Jan. 14  Chief Culture Officer watch: the troubling case of Jeffrey Zucker
Jan. 15  So you’re a CCO – what would you do?
Jan. 18  Girls at Yale in the 1960s
Jan. 20  Anthropologist goes all roller derby
Jan. 22  Mind reading [not reposted]
Jan. 22  Eyelashes in the field
Jan. 26  Zappos and the idea of forced fun
Jan. 28  Meaning manufacture, old and new
Jan. 29  By their lettuce, we shall know them


Feb. 1   Buy this product: we have writers standing by
Feb. 2   Tumi and the case of the talking suitcase
Feb. 4   Recycling: Adding value by adding meaning
Feb. 5   The secret script at USA Networks (aka the unmeshed male)
Feb. 8   CCO bootcamp (not reposted)
Feb. 9   Herskovits: the Elvis of African-American studies
Feb. 9   Bootcamp (not reposted)
Feb. 11 The John-Boy Problem (recovered months ago and reposted with an Oct. 13 date)
Feb. 11 Boot camp Saturday (not reposted)
Feb. 23 Bootcamp and a week of ethnographic interviews
Feb. 23 Oh Canada (not reposted)
Feb. 26 Rusting Buicks and the destruction of wealth

Mar. 1   Edinburgh notes
Mar. 4   Truth, Beauty and D’oh!
Mar. 8   T-mobile behaving badly (not reposted)
Mar. 11 Simultaneity versus seriality (what to do now we have no attention span)
Mar. 18 Lara Lee (what a Chief Culture Officer looks like)
Mar. 20 Trend watch: from Woody Allen to Monk
Mar. 23 Jeff Bewkes and the end of influence
Mar. 23 Chief Culture Officer goes Portuguese
Mar. 25 Nooyi, Arnel and the brand debacle at Pepsi (not reposted)
Mar. 25 DNA, String theory, and what might have been
Mar. 30 Mystery of capitalism

Apr. 2   Blank looks for a new comedy and culture

Calling all CCOs: how good is your gut?

Next week, Fox will launch a cop show called The Good Guys.  (It previews May 19th. The series starts June 7.)

Outwardly, things looks fine.  The producer is Matt Nix, who recently triumphed with Burn Notice. Its stars Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford, able actors to be sure. Plus Fox is good at making good TV.  

But my gut says this show is going to be a stinker.  The Hollywood Reporter description:

[The show] centers on Jack (Hanks), an ambitious, by-the-book detective whose habit of undermining himself has resulted in a dead-end position at the Los Angeles Police Department. Worse, he has been partnered with Dan (Whitford), a drunken, lecherous, wild-card cop who hangs onto his job only because of a heroic act years before.

This made the eyes roll back in my head.  At a time when Modern Family is reinventing the family comedy, Burn Notice the spy story, and New Christine the situation comedy, this doesn’t sound promising.  My first warning: I got bored in the middle of the 15 second promotion.  

Of course this is why people hate bloggers.  We don’t do due diligence.  We just make shit up.  We don’t investigate or even think very hard.  We shoot from the hip. 

But exactly!  This is precisely the time to judge the show   Before we know the details, before we have seen an episode, before any diligence is done.  When all we know is the concept, this is the best, the only real, opportunity to see whether our instincts are good for anything. (Sometimes, that is to say, bloggers do the wrong thing for the right reason.  Hasty judgment in this case is due diligence.)

It’s also a chance to go on the record.  So I’m going on the record.  I believe this show will be a stinker.  I believe it will be so bad Fox won’t run the whole of the first season.

I hope I’m wrong.  Unlike Angie Tempura (above), I am not a sneering, know-it-all, blogger.  I wish this show well.  No one likes to see this much talent, money and risk go to waste.  

Please come join me.  I would especially like to hear from those who like the sound of the concept. 

Your comments please!


Andreeva, Nellie.  2009.  Colin Hanks Revs Up for Jack and Dan.  Hollywood Reporter. November 3.  here.  (subscription fee may be required)

For more on The Good Guys, check out the Fox cite here.  But, please, form a judgment first!