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April 7, 2010 1:18 PM   Subscribe

"There has rarely been a man to whom the title productivity guru has been applied so often who has less wanted to be called a productivity guru." A long, rambling, seemingly uncut interview with Merlin Mann that touches on the origins of 43folders, Merlin's dislike for StoryCorps, and the rise of professional blogging.
posted by Rory Marinich (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know what else is long and uncut?

Stephen King's original version of The Stand, you pervs.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:31 PM on April 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Weird how there's so much hate between identical twins Merlin Mann and Ira Glass.
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on April 7, 2010


There's no twist! There's no twist! It's a completely sanitized, sentimental version of the past that has none of the teeth or texture of adult life's complexities. It's a completely maudlin attempt to cash in on middle-aged people in fleece who don't have much of an emotional interior world. Here we go. Here's my lyrics I wrote for you. Ready?

StoryCorps! StoryCorps! I wonder what that story's for? StoryCorps! StoryCorps!

That's how it goes. It's the lyrics I wrote.

I sing it every time it comes on. I'm still kind of working it out, but —

It's a business, Colin. It's a business! They're not just doing that because they love old people. It's a business! They sell books. Any time somebody's in a position to make you feel something emotionally, you have to ask yourself what they get out of it. If what they get out of it is, it means a lot to them to tell a story, that's great. But what I hear is, every Friday they sit around in a bus and make immigrants cry. I don't think that's storytelling.


Boy oh boy, does this guy ever not have a CLUE what StoryCorps is actually about. It's not meant to be radio pieces. The fact that they're selling a book is a side-line to the actual project.

StoryCorps is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, over 50,000 everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on our Listen pages.

The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.

Our goal is to make that experience accessible to all, and find new ways to inspire people to record and preserve the stories of someone important to them. Just as powerful is the experience of listening. Whenever people listen to these stories, they hear the courage, humor, trials and triumphs of an incredible range of voices.
“By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.
Dave Isay,
Founder, StoryCorps


It's an oral history project going directly into the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Period. The NPR broadcast of select moments from their recordings is incidental. The book is incidental.

Saying that StoryCorps is bad storytelling and is a business is like classifying that guy who did all those recordings of early american folk music as a bad record company executive.
posted by hippybear at 1:40 PM on April 7, 2010 [35 favorites]


oh, crap, meant to link that second quote to the StoryCorps website.
posted by hippybear at 1:41 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I love StoryCorps. I guess I'm just a big sap. *shrug* (I also love The Moth, which in my mind is like StoryCorps on super steroids.)
posted by kmz at 1:42 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Unrelated, but what's with numbers and new company names? 6 Apart, 37 Signals, 43folders. I'm waiting for this trend to merge with the other popular naming trend to produce something like: 11 Piprs.)
posted by kmz at 1:49 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that StoryCorps exists. Just don't ever make me listen to it.

I heart Merlin. Mainly for You Look Nice Today.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:49 PM on April 7, 2010


It sounds like MM is trashing StoryCorps because it's not This American Life. I like MM's site, but nobody bats a thousand, I guess.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:49 PM on April 7, 2010


It sounds like MM is trashing StoryCorps because it's not This American Life.

Isn't that a reason to like StoryCorps?
posted by kittyprecious at 1:55 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


They should rename StoryCorps, "Boring People Talking to Their Even More Boring Fucking Grandparents."
posted by The Straightener at 1:57 PM on April 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's a business! ... Any time somebody's in a position to make you feel something emotionally, you have to ask yourself what they get out of it.

---

Bring 43 Folders to your company by inviting Merlin to speak at your next event. It’s fast and painless to book Merlin – just contact us with details about what you need. »

posted by drjimmy11 at 2:07 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love that StoryCorps exists. Just don't ever make me listen to it.

Exactly. By all means keep doin' what you're doin'. Just: I'm going to go ahead and unsubscribe from the podcast if that's cool with you.
posted by penduluum at 2:12 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a funny self-selecting bias that delights me. I love when I post something on Twitter and a bunch of people unfollow me. It delights me, because that is the sound of my audience getting better.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:23 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why isn't he doing 5ives anymore?
posted by Severian at 2:29 PM on April 7, 2010


A long, rambling, seemingly uncut interview...

Is any other type of conversation with Merlin Mann possible?

Before this gets too far or too hung up on Story Time, folks (and I say this as a long-time consumer of Merlin Mann across a variety of media), the dude is like pathologically incapable of not being glib. He has this ADD-addled conversational style that is so eager to make a quick joke and barrage you with visual imagery that you really have to take what he says aloud with a huge grain of salt and then wait for him to slow down and write out something more reasoned about, like, Story Time or Lifehacker or PR people or whatever he's snarking on at a given time. He really seems like one of those people who says shit for the insta-LULZ without really believing it at the time and then has to go back and ponder and figure out why he actually believes what he said. So.

I have a huge degree of admiration for Merlin's work and his integrity viz. "productivity culture," and 43f was certainly my first stop on my own road to getting things done--and I'm sure he's going to stop by here at some point to make us all feel like dicks--but the dude does not edit his thoughts in conversation (and sometimes I wish they would just cut his mic on You Look Nice Today). So assume a lot of the hating on Story Time is not meant as literally as it is a vehicle for snarking, and do not hold him responsible for everything he says.
posted by EL-O-ESS at 2:55 PM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh man, I just made the "5ives" connection.

I'm all for some good pretention (and it was very often funny), but for fucks sake Merlin could you please stop making lists about "favorite Stone Roses BART passes" or whateverthefuck it is you think is clever. This guy might be the ultimate smug asshole.
posted by lattiboy at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2010


Ha! Didn't realize he has a Meta account.

Also, pretension
posted by lattiboy at 3:02 PM on April 7, 2010


Saying that StoryCorps is bad storytelling and is a business is like classifying that guy who did all those recordings of early american folk music as a bad record company executive.

No, it's like saying that early american folk music is not very good music.
posted by smackfu at 3:13 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


you really have to take what he says aloud with a huge grain of salt and then wait for him to slow down
why wait? bailing is so much more productive.
posted by bonaldi at 3:18 PM on April 7, 2010


(Unrelated, but what's with numbers and new company names? 6 Apart, 37 Signals, 43folders. I'm waiting for this trend to merge with the other popular naming trend to produce something like: 11 Piprs.)

Well, six apart probably refers to the idea that everyone is six degrees of separation apart from each other.

With most of the other ones, it's probably simply a side effect of the lack of availability of good domain names.
posted by delmoi at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


37 Signals comes from unidentified signals from space.

43 folders comes from the 43 file folders used in the GTD system, one for each month and 31 for each day in the current month.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 4:06 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Preview: Danger... already said it, but here's a bit more:

37signals is named for the 37 unexplained signals from outer space intercepted by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project (history more from their original manifesto; the 37 signals claim comes from Paul Horowitz).

43folders refers to one of the early ideas from MM: 43 folders: 12 monthly and 31 daily folders.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:07 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, it's like saying that early american folk music is not very good music.

IT'S NO LADY GAGA THAT IS FOR SURE
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:15 PM on April 7, 2010


(But I like Lady Gaga and early American folk music.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:15 PM on April 7, 2010


Well, six apart probably refers to the idea that everyone is six degrees of separation apart from each other.


"The co-founders of the company, Ben and Mena Trott, were born exactly six days apart."
posted by the aloha at 4:32 PM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm with him on StoryCorps. As much as I like the idea of it as an oral history project, I've heard show producers talk about how radio segments are created and you would be shocked to hear an original recording vs what ends up on the air. It is ALL about manipulating the audience emotions. They will completely rearrange a story to maximum effect, even moving parts where someone cries to make the story more dramatic.
posted by mathowie at 4:43 PM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


This article/interview doesn't surprise me at all. Last month I checked out the Pipeline podcast when mathowie's interview was sidebarred. Interesting stuff, so I subscribed. The next podcast was an interview with Merlin Mann.

As much as I enjoy Merlin's work, and I've followed him since the early years of 43f, Pipeline was the first actual interview I'd heard. If I had heard the interview first, I would never have read 43f. Aside from rambling, the ratio of "newly minted business-y jargon" to "actual words" was so very wrong.

I stopped the playback when he used the phrase "in my wheelhouse" without irony. Sorry, but: No.
posted by ErikaB at 5:28 PM on April 7, 2010


I stopped the playback when he used the phrase "in my wheelhouse" without irony. Sorry, but: No.

You seem like the sort of person for whom this joke presentation would redeem him somewhat.

Also, like someone who's never listened to You Look Nice Today.
posted by sparkletone at 5:55 PM on April 7, 2010


It is ALL about manipulating the audience emotions.

This would also seem to go for most movies, novels, etc, etc...
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:06 PM on April 7, 2010


That's what he looks like? He's adorable.

Hmph.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:19 PM on April 7, 2010


Merlin Mann is one of the funniest people I've ever heard/read. It's actually criminally unfair that he spends most of his time giving serious advice about things, rather than making more jokes, preferably on his podcast which hasn't come out for a month and I'm starting to get really antsy.

Seriously there should be some kind of entertainment-writing draft where MM and other hilarious folks doing serious stuff (brian williams perhaps? sting?) be enlisted and shipped to an internment camp where they write amazing sitcoms and make viral web-videos for my delectation. and for the Motherland.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:58 AM on April 8, 2010


This would also seem to go for most movies, novels, etc, etc...

Right, and that's fine in the world of FICTION, but StoryCorps exists on NPR where it is played in between news segments where serious journalism is practiced and they couch their whole thing as an oral history project.

In my mind, they betray their original goals when they move a recording of a guy getting choked up in the middle of his story to the end of his story because it sounds better in the end to have him cry at the end (I have literally had a StoryCorps producer play me a tape of before and after of them doing precisely this). StoryCorps are supposed to be documentarians, not fiction writers.

We regularly flay documentary film makers for moving scenes around to fit their narrative because it's plays with timelines and how events actually happened in a way that is untrue to the idea of simply documenting a story. I'm simply saying the StoryCorps producers are worthy of the same scorn for the practices they employ.

Back on topic, I think Merlin is great and extremely funny and this long interview isn't the best piece to judge his work by. Long interviews with people are usually like DVD extras on their life -- if you're familiar with their other work they are great but sometimes they come off as windbags when you've never heard of them and have no frame of reference.
posted by mathowie at 7:21 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really like Merlin and I think it would be horrible if this was someone's first or best exposure to him. So,while I'm sure this has been posted elsewhere on MeFi, here's a speech he gave at last year's inaugural MaxFunCon. I saw it given live and it brought the whole audience to its knees.
posted by inturnaround at 7:57 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't heard a StoryCorps radio segment in a very long time (I have a very short commute, and I share it with my wife & daughter, so if there's any audio in the car other than our conversation it's usually music our 3-year-old likes), but I recorded an interview for the project in the first couple of years it was going, when they had a mobile studio here in town.

I don't have any living grandparents to interview, and it wasn't my intention to make anyone cry. I interviewed my friend about his experience as a Marine helicopter pilot in Iraq. He and I were in graduate school together, and he was married, and was a commander, and had lost comrades in combat, and I thought we could have an interesting conversation about how all of those things had affected him. We did, and I'm proud that our talk is part of the collection at the LoC.

So, um, what I'm saying is, I don't agree with Merlin Mann on this.
posted by yiftach at 10:34 AM on April 8, 2010


I interviewed my dad for StoryCorps a few years ago. An edited excerpt of our conversation will be on Morning Edition tomorrow morning. In it he talks about being from a WV mining community and about how my grandfather died in the mines. The StoryCorps people called me today and played the segment for me. They also called my dad and played it for him. We're both really pleased with the results. There's nothing fakey about editing stuff for the radio. Almost all interviews are carefully edited for time and clarity.
posted by irisclara at 10:58 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Long interviews with people are usually like DVD extras on their life -- if you're familiar with their other work they are great but sometimes they come off as windbags when you've never heard of them and have no frame of reference.
You're saying it could use some radio-friendly editing?
posted by zamboni at 5:19 AM on April 9, 2010


There's nothing fakey about editing stuff for the radio. Almost all interviews are carefully edited for time and clarity.

Yeah, I agree and I know that everyone takes out pauses, ums, and ahs in interviews and have no problem with that. I just had a problem with a specific example of a StoryCorp producer (giving a talk on how to interview people) that played us a 5 or 6 minute unedited segment and then played the final two minute version that went on the air and it included moving words and crying parts around to fit the story in a way I felt was crossing a line.

Minor edits are like punching up contrast or color on a photograph, but moving parts of a story around to sound more dramatic is like photoshoping things into or out of a photo and when that happens with photography we call that wrong for photojournalism.

Usually I like StoryCorps stuff, it's just that one example kind of soured me on the whole deal.
posted by mathowie at 1:48 PM on April 9, 2010


That's what I mean. In the original interview my dad doesn't give the mine description right before he talks about his dad dying in the mine. That was included because of the mention of methane in the mines. His mentions of his father were mostly scattered through the interview. When I asked him to talk about granddad he told me about going to basketball games with his dad before he talked about the mines.

It is all shuffled around to tell a currently relevant story. Maybe one day some one will want to hear the part about the ball games but leave out the part about the mines. Either way it's still my dad's story. His words. Squeezed into a two minute radio segment. It may be the most relevant my dad has ever been in two minutes.

There is perhaps a reason to question the practice of releasing the short StoryCorps segments. Are the interviews only useful in their full unedited form? I don't know. I do know that my interview was recorded because I heard the radio clips. If not for those heavily edited two minute segments I would never have heard of StoryCorps or thought it was something I wanted to contribute to. They're like a short term return on a long term investment.
posted by irisclara at 8:49 PM on April 9, 2010


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