Peace Corps Writers
Talking with John Bidwell (page 4)
 Talking with
John Bidwell
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page 5

I grew up in the age of Marshall McLuhan and The Mechanical Bride, among his other books. How would your relate your world of “branding” and the use of Internet and electronic information to what McLuhan was writing about back in the ’60s?

I think that McLuhan predicted branding, though he didn’t coin the term. According to McLuhan, mass communication homogenizes experiences, thus promoting specialization. Branding is the consistent presentation of a unique position, or specialization. So according to McLuhan branding was inevitable, but I note some mitigating factors.
Television introduced a wider number of people to similar experiences, like the Super Bowl. So, you could say that this diminishes individualism. But now the Internet allows people to experience a wide range of sports, which, it could be argued, diminishes homogenization. After all, McLuhan instructed us to be aware of technology’s moral implications. Technology is not passive. It is not simply a vehicle of getting information from point A to point B. It touches points A and B. The implications of TV may have been to homogenize, but can we say the same of the Internet? Is not technology — including the Web, cell phones, and video games — more interactive than the technology of a generation ago? Does it not demand a more conscious participation, and promote individualism by default?
I don’t fear a homogenized world, because I think that individualization can be overrated. Speaking of Canadians, I love Margaret Atwood’s poem Siren Song, which shows how we are all susceptible to the irresistible song that says we are unique.
I think there is much to be gained from seeing we are more similar than we are bred to think. It requires great creativity to imagine yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Now that is a powerful conscious exercise.
A discussion of McLuhan vis-à-vis branding is fodder for a book — consider his cautionary concept of the “global village” — and certainly more than I can cover here.

Is it now possible for all of us to have Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes of fame?

Wow, another book topic! I think that specialization offers the greatest chance we’ve ever had for 15 minutes of fame, but in a more limited sense than I think Warhol intended. Branding yourself within a specialized market improves your chances of fame . . . within that specialized community.
Big-time fame — the kind that Warhol is talking about — is a different matter. Your chances may be better due to more communications in general, but then the idea of fame reorients itself. 15 hours of fame is the new 15 minutes, because 15 minutes isn’t worth anything. Big-time fame will remain as elusive as always.

Since most RPCVs don’t have the money to hire someone like you, what basic things should they do to promote their book?

Kris & John

  1. Differentiate your book. Figure out what makes it unique, and promote that in a consistent and concise way. This will make it easier for you to talk about it, easier of others to remember it.
  2. Make it newsworthy so that it is more likely to get picked up as a news piece (free) rather than you marketing it (costly). This means linking in with one or more of the following: timeliness, trends, controversy, strong opinions, fresh angles, and/or proven expertise.
  3. Ask for lots of help and opinions all the time. Toss out the random subjective opinions, but pay attention to repeated comment. Be prepared to “kill your baby,” and toss out a lot of work. Don’t be a prima donna.
  4. Marry somebody like me. It worked for my wife Kris.
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