Brain Reel #23

The ego fuelling hype, book tour planning, time is so damn precious

Hey you lot,

I’m writing this from a hotel overlooking Lake Windemere. I’ve been here with Lawrence since Thursday, I’ve read 3 books in 3 days, I’m feeling good.

I hope you guys are having a glorious weekend too - whatever might be your equivalent of a ‘glorious weekend’.

🔬 Science Reel 🔬

This week I’ve been pondering the role of the media in covering the deep tech and science startup world.

I’ve been asked to moderate a panel on the theme at Slush (on Fri 22nd, for anyone else going), but I’m the only person from the media on there. And I’m moderating. Which means I’m meant to be the one asking questions…to people all from the business side.

Don’t get me wrong, the panellists are all brilliant people, very capable of having balanced opinions, and I’m excited for the session. But in case I don’t manage to get the nuance out (as the panel might end up being understandably quite one-sided), I wanted to write my thoughts here:

I think the science and tech media has a lot to answer for when it comes to covering complex topics such as quantum computing, biotech and energy - I have literally just wrote a book about it, after all - but I also think that companies, universities and investors are equally complicit in the wrong messages reaching the public. Hype is *needed* to get support behind complex ideas, but what I think those outside the media sometimes fail to understand is that not all journalists are ‘in’ on the hype train. Not all journalists know that what you’re communicating is over the top. They don’t live in your world.

Some journalists *are* cognizant of the game that deep tech hype is, and they’ll write and cover the field accordingly (I try my best in this respect), but unfortunately, the ‘deep tech startup’ beat is not one many outlets have, and one that not many journalists cover (yet). I myself have had issues when pitching stories - the editors ask if it’s a science story, or a tech startup story, or a business story. In reality, it’s all of the above, but it has to land in one of those sections. And when you tell the story through the lens of only one of those sections, hype will be misconstrued, statements will be misunderstood, and the ‘real’ story will be lost in the segmentation of the piece into a category not right for it.

Yes, good journalists check many sources. Yes, good journalists do research. But many journalists take the press release as gospel, under pressure to publish more, quick. And the digital tech PR / media / startup world - which is *far* easier to understand and gain context around - churns out pieces like no one’s business.

When deep tech startups ask how they should get their story out, I *always* say that they should pitch the outlets that understand their world, if they don’t want to be tarnished with the ‘overhyped’ brush. But despite this, many deep tech startups say they want the TechCrunch / WIRED coverage of their raise / release / whatever else. Those outlets are great, but they are not deep tech outlets. So unless you pitch to a deep tech journalist who writes for them (most likely freelance) OR to a deep tech (industry) outlet, your story is almost certainly going to get misconstrued. The ego involved in the bid for the TechCrunch / WIRED piece is getting in the way of the message.

I guess I see it as everyone’s responsibility to do better. The media gets blamed for a lot, and rightly so on some counts, but business, VCs, and academics also need to take responsibility for getting their stories out correctly.

It’s their job too.

📖 Book Reel 📖

As some of you know, I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve posted 4 episodes so far covering agents, publishers, first drafts, research planning and all sorts, and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :)

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I’ve started planning the ‘tour’ next year after the book comes out. I’m not sure I want to go around bookshops all over the UK (despite my LOVE of bookshops) - mainly because I’ve heard its not the best tactic for nonfiction authors. Instead, I’m planning on doing events at coworking spaces / popular venues for the tech / science / startup crowd, and inviting awesome local scientists / technologists / thinkers to join me on stage for a discussion - reckon this will be far more interesting for folk to attend as opposed to me reading out the intro and then signing copies. If you know of a space, or an awesome person I should invite as a speaker, in your town - do shout! I haven’t finalised the locations, so I’m all ears!

  • I’m travelling a lot the next two weeks, and was really hoping the physical proofread copy would land in my postbox ahead of going away, but alas it has not. Which means I’m probably going to have to read it pretty speedily when I get back to London…and this does not bode well considering how terrible I am at spotting mistakes in my own writing. All of this is to say that if there are any comma splices or spelling errors in the final manuscript, you can blame Royal Mail, ok?

  • Still looking for recommendations for who I should send ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to - this is for people who might write reviews of the books in big media outlets, as well as well-known people who might provide a quote for the front / back cover. Any suggestions of people I should send ARCs to? Hit reply :)

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)

🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

So I mentioned I’ve read three books since Thursday - two of those were fiction, which is most likely how I’ve managed to read so much so fast.

I find fiction far easier to get through, but not always quite as fulfilling. Not in the sense that I don’t enjoy it as much - I love reading, full stop - but I’m a bit of a slave to my own wee brain saying things like ‘yeah but this is just LEISURE if you’re not learning’, or ‘if you’re not making connections between the fiction and something _profound_, then it’s *just* reading’ etc.

Yes yes yes I know, I’ve been on holiday and so why does it matter (/ give yourself a break you twat / seriously no wonder you’re approaching burnout woman), but this really is the reality of how my brain works.

I know that I don’t find it easy to do something ‘just for the sake of it’. I know that I’m far too easily pulled into that world of self-care-for-productivity-enhancement.

But I also feel the effects of ‘information FOMO’, as it were. I don’t want to do or read or watch something at the expense of something else. Not because I want to be productive or do more work; but because I’m haunted by the books I’ll never get to read, the TV shows I’ll never get to watch, the countries I’ll never get to visit - there just isn’t enough time. Maybe that’s why recommendations mean so much to me: I want to have some level of confidence that it won’t be a waste of my time.

Maybe it’s because my life is just particularly hectic right now, or because my close family member is particularly ill right now, or because my career feels like it’s recently shifted into the ‘this is it’ phase…whatever it is, time feels so damn precious.

I’m a big fan of the phrase ‘if you worry, you suffer twice’, and so I try my best to not worry about things like wasting time (so I then don’t waste more time worrying and end up spiraling into a hole etc…)

All of that is to say I’m going to take December off client work. I want time. I’m not sure yet what I’ll use it for, but I want to spend less of it - even just for a month - worrying that it’s going to waste.

📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • How To Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables (Should cities be run like businesses? Should city services and infrastructure be run by businesses? The stories and essays in this book explore how a city might look, feel and function if the business models, practices and technologies of 38 different companies were applied to the running of cities. They ask: what would it be like to live in a city administered using the business model of Amazon (or Apple, IKEA, Pornhub, Spotify, Tinder, Uber, etc.) or a city where critical public services are delivered by these companies?)

  • Conan Doyle to the Defence (“After a wealthy woman was brutally murdered in her Glasgow home in 1908, the police found a convenient suspect in Oscar Slater, an immigrant Jewish cardsharp. Though he was known to be innocent, Slater was tried, convicted, and consigned to life at hard labor. Outraged by this injustice, Arthur Conan Doyle, already world renowned as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the methods of his most famous character to reinvestigate the case, ultimately winning Slater’s freedom.”)

  • Born to be Posthumous (Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.)

I absolutely *loved* The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast from Jamie Bartlett, Georgia Catt and BBC Sounds, and I’ve been very much enjoying following along with Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press)’s coverage of Ruja’s brother’s NYC court case. (Get involved with the podcast if you’re not hooked already..!)

I just started subscribing to The Syllabus, by Evgeny Morozov, which is a personalised (to an extent, by categories) newsletter which is so far providing me with some fascinating reads. He pulls together journalism, academic papers (but you can say you want more of one or the other if you like), and all sorts of videos, podcasts and articles from across the internet. Recommend.

➡️ Next Reel ➡️

✍️ Work Reel ✍️

Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀

Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.