“Should my goal be to remain what I was when I was 20? What kind of insane, self-corrosive goal would that be?” –Ashton Applewhite
What do you get when you synthesize Marx & McLuhan? Ask Bob Stein! Bob’s the rare person for whom the term “visionary” isn’t an overstatement (seriously: check out his bio below). He’s been at the forefront of digital publishing for decades, and has plenty to say about how technology is transforming human experience, from LaserDisc to Oculus Rift. We talk about the importance of failure and the era of Good Enough, how his Maoist background may or may not influence his long-term vision for humanity, the directions that future media creation and consumption may take, Silicon Valley’s twisted obsession with immortality and machine intelligence, living comfortably in the virtual world, his hopes for a VR revolution, and more! Give it a listen!
“In the last few hundred years, we thought of reading as something you do by yourself. What we’re discovering now is that all media consumption — whether movies, games, or reading — is going social. And it’s going to be completely different.” –Bob Stein
Then Bob’s partner, Ashton Applewhite, joins us to talk about the publication of her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism! We discuss the societal bias against aging, what she learned by dyeing her hair gray, the decision to “self”-publish This Chair Rocks, why she doesn’t want to think about writing another book for at least a decade, the potentials of an all-age-friendly world, and more! Go listen and then order a copy of This Chair Rocks!
“The real book of the future is going to connect everyone.” –Bob Stein
Also, if you want to find out who Bob & Ashton are reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who he’s reading and why.
About our Guests
Bob Stein writes, “I got bit by the electronic publishing bug in 1979 and haven’t looked back since. I spent the first 15 years expanding the notion of the page to include rich media. the two companies i founded, Criterion and Voyager, managed a lot of firsts — the first films with commentary tracks and supplementary sections; what is widely regarded as the first commercially viable CD-rom, The CD Companion to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, referenced in Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations and referred to by Alan Kay as “the first piece of digital “content” worth criticizing”; and the first electronic books — Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Trilogy and Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice in 1992. After that there were a bunch of years spent on tool-making and in 2004 the Macarthur Foundation gave me a huge five-year grant to explore the question of what might happen to publishing in the internet era. with that grant I started the Institute for the Future of the Book where my colleagues and I conducted a bunch of exciting experiments around the question of what happens when you locate a text in a browser with a live dynamic margin. The upshot of this work was a new company SocialBook aimed at building the first truly post-print publishing platform. we’ve been developing the underlying principles for almost ten years and actual code writing for more than three. SocialBook is browser-based and it works.”
Ashton Applewhite writes, “I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on Jeopardy (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?”; Answer: “Blanche Knott”), and as Blanche, I made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list. My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun. The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to my new book, This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. Since then I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and been published in Harper’s and Playboy. In 2015 I was included in a list of 100 inspiring women–along with Arundhati Roy, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Germaine Greer, Naomi Klein, Pussy Riot, and other remarkable activists–who are committed to social change.” This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism (Networked Books) was published in March 2016.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Roosevelt hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Bob & Ashton by me.