Week 2: Ann Arbor, Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans

Post your comments over on the original post on the Tempo blog.

I am in Ann Arbor, MI as I write this, preparing to head south tomorrow. The plan is to wander down to New Orleans over the week, and then start up along the Mississippi next week. For the coming week, I have Atlanta plans nailed down and Nashville and New Orleans plans almost nailed down. According to Google Maps, Dayton, Cincinnati, Lexington, Knoxville, Montgomery and Mobile are along the route. If you suspect you are within a reasonable band off this route, give me a holler.

Here are links to my the posts I liveblogged on the Tempo blog during the first week. Delay-blogged rather.

Some reflections on Week 1 follow, for those interested in the metatext.

So week 1 of the road trip was, hmm… how do I put it? Surreal. Equal parts enlightening, puzzling and just plain odd. This road trip project was based on the idea that I could combine book promotion with a sort of literary-performance-art approach to market research. The term “market research” somehow seems inappropriate for a guy bumming around sleeping on people’s couches, but since the net effect is that I am slowly beginning to understand who reads my writing and why, I guess you could call it that. Maybe there’s a second book waiting to come out of this road trip that I could call “market research for bloggers.”

I am experimenting with a lot of things at once: high-tempo/short-length posting, video, photography, interviews and other random things. So prepare to be somewhat befuddled. I know I am. One thing I’ve learned already is that when you are generating raw material very quickly, it becomes far harder to process it into insight, especially in real time. In other words, this road trip is turning out to be far more interesting than might be coming through in the writing (the video in particular is probably awful; very new medium for me, at least in the improv self-recording sense). I dislike reality-TV style blogging (my life, even on a road trip is not a good spectator sport), so I’ve been trying instead to focus on the key memes that I am encountering in my conversations and solo experiences, rather than the people.

But really rich and dense conversations and experiences don’t yield either value or key memes immediately. The real-time story, rearranged with the benefit of hindsight into a remembered story, makes for much more interesting reading. But on the other hand, liveblogging does seem to be more “live” and immediate, and that’s worth something. At least to me. By capturing a view of the journey in real time, ambiguity, dissonances and all, I am sort of creating a reference narrative which I hope to return to later to jog my memory when I need to.

There is one specific way in which meeting people in real life is interesting and immediately valuable. In my online interactions with people, I usually see only a tiny slice of who they are, and that in the context of my life, since the interactions are in places like the comments section of this blog, where I play host. Meeting them in person as a real-world guest instead of virtual host allows me to see why and how my writing fits into various individual lives. It is particularly interesting to see my writing in relation to the other things in people lives, and how people integrate the information they consume from different sources into a whole that makes sense in their lives. I admit the view is somewhat unsettling, since I am only used to seeing my thinking within the context of my own life. The process feels at least a little voyeuristic, since my ideas seem to provide a more intimate look into people’s lives than strangers normally get. It felt weird, for instance, to hear a reader explain the Gervais Principle to a friend who had never heard of me.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter