Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Silence of the Clams

Silence is ambiguous. When I write to someone who simply doesn’t answer, it can mean that the intended recipient of the message ( 1) never received it in the first place (or got it but hit the delete key by mistake),  (2) was so baffled by my inquiry as to be incapable of answering it, (3) is sick, injured, cognitively impaired, or otherwise incapacitated from replying, or (4) is just being a boor who considers me and my inquiry to be beneath notice.

It was not always so, at least not among equals. Our burgeoning wealth of short communication media and its associated forms (the subject of Short Cuts; see our blog lets us share information with ease and with sometimes breathtaking speed, but has not evolved an epistemically sound framework allowing us to manage those technologies, which have thus exploded into something of a vacuum. To be sure, a century ago you could ignore a letter that arrived in the mail, but it was generally understood that failing to answer it was likely to have real-life consequences, if only to your reputation for reliability, and even an illiterate recipient was apt to be at pains to find someone who could read it and fashion some sort of reply. This understanding is not so self-evident today with our gamut of e-mail, texting devices, phone messages machines, and other communication technologies; like Hotspur, we can call spirits from the deep, but will they answer?

In short, no reply is not itself a minimalist reply, a communication by default; on the contrary, it is not really communication at all.

A word about On the Dot

My co-authors and I will be making a lot of hoopla these days surrounding the publication of our newest book (Short Cuts, by Alexander and Nicholas Humez and Rob Flynn, the first bound copies of which arrived on our doorsteps this week from its publisher, Oxford University Press). And rightly so; it’s a good read. But we would be remiss not to mention that this is our second Oxford book, the Humez bros.’ On the Dot having been published by that same press in October of 2008 — and that one’s a good read too.

The dot is the absolute minimum sign that can be used to impart some sort of meaning, and has been used in one form or another for as long as there has been any writing at all, as a delimiter or separator, as a multiplication sign, in bullet lists, in Morse code,  incorporated into other signs (colon, semicolon…) and so on. A “social history of a punctuation mark” (as one reviewer put it), On the Dot continues our lifelong exploration of the ways in which language and their components travel with their jam-packed cultural baggage, which we pry open and invite the reader to join us as we peek inside.

Making collaborations work

An old friend from Portland days, Craig Freshley, published a book this spring for which I had the pleasure of writing the index, and IMHO it is the best I have ever seen on its subject. It’s called The Wisdom of Group Decisions: 100 Principles and Practical Tips for Collaboration, and it delivers exactly what its title promises. Having worked in collaborative situations for much of my life (all of my books but one, and each of my recordings), I found Craig’s collection echoes and adds significantly to my own experiences (positive and negative) in projects with other people.

Readers of this benevolent and highly useful book will learn how to avoid many of the pitfalls that inevitably lurk along any path trodden by teams with diverse talents and desires, and plenty of real nuts-and-bolts advice that will help collaborators achieve a common goal that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s available for $19.95 for single copies (discounts on five copies or more) from Craig’s consulting company, Good Group Decisions,  in Brunswick, Maine; to learn more and order copies, visit his website at