Book interviews aren’t supposed to be contentious. But Shel Holtz and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As Ali said about Frazer, “Me and him can’t get along, so we gon’ hafta get it on!”
The problem is, Shel invented the internet as far as I am concerned, and I’ve never forgiven him for it.
It was the mid-90s and I was a young kid in publishing. I’d just learned what a lede and a nut graph were, the difference between leading and kerning, how to use a proportion wheel and why not to trap white space.
And here came this tech-happy communication elder telling me if I don’t learn about this internet thing, I’ll be made into a dinosaur before I reach the age of 30. The internet, which offered such benefits as more of the science and technology that I’d gone into writing to avoid. And technology in the service of doing things like giving hard-lured readers chances to escape your article that they were reading and go off in another direction, through something called a “hyperlink.”
So I used my callow editorial platform as the editor of an industry trade newsletter to attack what I felt was Holtz’s over-enthusiasm for the internet, proudly earning Shel’s label, “The World’s Youngest Curmudgeon.” Even as I edited his weekly “Technology Corner” column in that same newsletter.
The details of our early debates are lost to history. Many of them were long email exchanges (bandied between addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org). Others took place on a rudimentary online professional bulletin board for communicators, called PRSIG.
So luckily, there is no record of some of the rude and reductionist things I said to this kind man, though I do remember a couple of headlines directed his way. “Blog wonks need chill pill,” was one. And I made fun of a Holtz podcast interview with the venerable PR newsletter owner Jack O’Dwyer, “The porkpie hat versus the propeller heads.” (That was a good one.)
But because of Shel’s generosity, we’ve always gotten along well in person. Once I picked him up at his downtown Chicago hotel in my roofless hoopde 1964 IH Scout and drove him for lunch in Chinatown. (Shel had a Scout when he was young.) Another time, we were with Steve Crescenzo at Wrigley Field; the three of us got into an argument about what year the ivy was planted on the outfield wall, and started taking bets. Then Shel astonished us by whipping out his phone and looking up the information and settled it: 1937. Of all the dirty tricks ….
Shel and I have also publicly disagreed and just as vociferously agreed about the fortunes of the International Association of Business Communicators, the purpose of employee communication and the meaning of “strategy” when it applied to a phenomenon as unpredictable as human communication.
Well, we haven’t settled all of those arguments.
And now I’m out with a book that expresses my philosophy on communication, and purports to articulate the communicator’s general philosophy on life.
And Shel has read it. And he says he likes it very much.
But I guess I should not be surprised that takes exception to a few points in it. And he invited me to discuss those with him on his FIR Interview show on Friday, at noon ET. Excellent. There’s actually a chapter in the book that that laments the loss of professional debate, and its replacement with LinkedIn log-rolling. “If we can’t muster the caring or the courage to start serious conversations on the meaning and purpose of the work we do,” I ask, “can we at least stop blowing so much smoke up each other’s asses?”
That’s what we’ll be about on Friday.
Maybe you’ve read the book yourself, and have some of your own bones to pick. Well, it’s a YouTube live event, so you can join the fracas yourself.
Let’s get ready to rumble.