Narrative

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the use of narrative in scientific writing. The primary reason is my job (which consists of much reading), but coming in at a close second is an article by the author of Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden.

What initially grabbed me was a scene that could have come straight from the Wire.

So then we left, and we pulled up in front of the housing project outside of Annapolis. And I thought, “This is odd. Why would the major drug dealers in Anne Arundel County be living in the projects? Don’t they make any money dealing drugs?” That night, I watched as they banged on doors and they dragged people out in their pajamas and their underwear, and they rounded everybody up, and made a big commotion. The following morning, like seven o’clock in the morning, they had this very dramatic press conference in Annapolis, where they had invited all of the reporters from the newspapers in Washington and Baltimore and Annapolis, and TV and radio—it was a big deal. And laid out on tables in front so they could all get pictures were all the drugs they had seized from the housing projects the night before.

[…]

I wrote what happened, beginning with the party in the parking lot, with the beer and the urinating, and then going on to my description of the unfortunates being roused from their apartments. And then we come to the press conference, and I describe the drugs that were on the table accurately and estimate what they’re worth, and then I quote the Anne Arundel County spokesman claiming that this is $800,000 worth of drugs.

The story was an enormous hit. My editors loved it, the readers loved it. It was a narrative. It was my way out of a thorny problem. Captain Lindsey was very unhappy with me, but he couldn’t be angry with me, because he knew that everything in the story was true.

Very compelling read throughout.

[Mark Bowden @ Nieman Storyboard via the Browser]

[image via Wikimedia Commons]
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August 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

The New Ettiquite of the Connected

Look at this bro. You’ve seen him before. Maybe you’ve even been him before. Here’s why his Thanksgiving Shenanigans may represent increasingly acceptable behavior:

At its most general, etiquette helps us not kill each other. A negotiation between the self and others, it smoothes rough edges, defuses conflict, and enables a common standard of exchange conducted more in words than steel. Our proximate legacy is the etiquette of the Enlightenment, in which the individual is the ultimate, indivisible unit of civilization, and is treated as such. For example, being with somebody means focusing attention on that person. You respect the discrete nature of the individual by being discreet about the rest. Do you need to make a call or check a message right that minute? No, actually, you don’t; you wait until you have retired, to your office, to your private space, and conduct the rest of your affairs from there.

Etiquette is not just about which fork to use. Or rather, it is — but now it’s fork, fork, cellphone; the vibration of which signals the end of the Enlightenment. Because it signals the end of the individual as we know it.

Undecided on how much I agree/disagree with the author, but the paradigm is clearly shifting. Shortish read.

[Peggy Nelson @ Nieman Storyboard via The Browser]

[image via corbis]

August 11, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.