Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft, has coined the term "continuous partial attention" to describe life in the era of e-mail, instant messaging, cellphones, and other distractions. This curious feature of modern life poses a problem for a someone like me. Every productive thing that I do requires ALL my attention.
I cannot put it any better than Donald Knuth, who writes on his website, "Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. "
Knuth also provides the following quote from Umberto Eco: "I don't even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages."
In a recent review of one of my novels, I was described as "Umberto Eco without the charm" and so it should be pretty clear in what direction I am going.
The purpose of this web page is to help me focus all of my attention on productive activity. Three strategies are used:
All of my time and attention are spoken for--several times over. Please do not ask for them.
Some years ago, I wrote a document that tried to explain why I am not very diligent about answering my mail, and why I only accept speaking engagements on rare and special occasions. The document is entitled Why I am a bad correspondent and you are welcome to read it.
More recently I found an article in the Atlantic Monthly by Jonathan Rauch that describes my personality with uncanny accuracy. It explains why, whenever I find myself in a room full of people, or discover a lot of e-mail from strangers in my inbox, my first thought is: "where did all these people come from and how do I make them go away?" This---i.e. the discovery that I am a classic introvert---does not render "Bad Correspondent" invalid, but it does fill out the picture a little. In particular, extroverts ought to read this article!
The bottom line is as follows: I simply cannot respond to all incoming stimuli unless I retire
from writing novels. And I don't wish to retire at this time.
Click on this link to see a FAQ document, intended for readers with an interest in cryptology, on the subject of my novel Cryptonomicon.
Here are some other FAQs:
>Neal, why is your web page so ugly?
Because to make it beautiful would require time and attention. of which I have none to spare.
>Why don't you hire someone to make it beautiful?
Because hiring someone would require time and attention.
>Neal, what is your opinion of your first novel, The Big U?
The fact that virtually all of the first edition ended up getting pulped created an unnatural scarcity of the printed book, which is only now being alleviated by a new edition from HarperCollins. This scarcity caused the price of the first edition to become ridiculously high, and led to bootleg editions being posted on the Web. If the book were judged on its own intrinisic merits, it would not attract such a high price or engender such curiosity. The Big U is what it is: a first novel written in a hurry by a young man a long time ago.
>Neal, I read your piece in WIRED about Global Neighborhood Watch and I think it sucks/I think it's a great idea/I want to get involved in it.
The Global Neighborhood Watch piece is now very very very old. It is a demonstration of one of the chief drawbacks of the Internet, namely, that nothing ages there, and so people who stumble across ancient documents have no way of knowing that they are long out of date. From time to time, someone will happen upon that article, or it will get mentioned in a newsgroup, and I'll get a flurry of messages about it.
Nothing is happening with Global Neighborhood Watch. Nothing ever did, and in all likelihood, nothing ever will.
Many of the issues raised in the WIRED Global Neighborhood Watch article I tried to address in a more mature form in a talk I gave at CFP 2000 in Toronto.
>Neal, what is up with Havenco?
Havenco is a data haven recently established on Sealand, which is a micronation off the coast of England. I have known one of the principals (Sameer Parekh) for several years, but I have no other relationship to this company.
The concept of a Data Haven has been around in cyberpunk fiction and on cypherpunk discussion groups for many, many years--certainly long before I used it in Cryptonomicon. It is a misconception to think that the founders of Havenco derived their inspiration wholly or even partly from my work. The fact that one of the principals at Havenco is named Avi is a coincidence.
Even supposing that the founders of Havenco drew any ideas or inspiration
whatsoever from my work--which I deny--this amounts to nothing, because
to actually do a thing is different from to write a novel about
>Neal, in Cryptonomicon why did you call Windows and MacOS by
> their true names but used the fictitious name 'Finux' to refer
>to what is obviously 'Linux?' Does this mean that you hate Linux?
Since Finux was the principal operating system used by the characters
in the book, I needed some creative leeway to have the fictitious operating
system as used by the characters be different in minor ways from the
operating system called Linux. Otherwise I would receive many complaints
from Linux users pointing out errors in my depiction of Linux. This is
why Batman works in Gotham City, instead of New York--by putting him in
Gotham City, the creators afforded themselves the creative license to put
buildings in different places, etc.
> Neal, what is that symbol on the cover of Cryptonomicon?
It is one of several symbols that were used, long ago, as a kind of
shorthand by alchemists, to denote gold. I provided the publisher's art
department with several such symbols and they happened to choose that one,
presumably because it looked the coolest.
> Neal, what exactly did you say in your talk at CFP 2000 in Toronto?
I made what I think is a somewhat nuanced and complicated argument about the nature of security. As such it is difficult to summarize. Basically I think that security measures of a purely technological nature, such as guns and crypto, are of real value, but that the great bulk of our security, at least in modern industrialized nations, derives from intangible factors having to do with the social fabric, which are poorly understood by just about everyone. If that is true, then those who wish to use the Internet as a tool for enhancing security, freedom, and other good things might wish to turn their efforts away from purely technical fixes and try to develop some understanding of just what the social fabric is, how it works, and how the Internet could enhance it. However this may conflict with the (absolutely reasonable and understandable) desire for privacy.
For a pithy summary of this interesting quandary, check
out this excerpt from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Adventure of the
Copper Beeches, which suggests that at least one person was thinking
about the same issues a hundred years ago.
Many people come here because they want to make contact with me for some reason. If you are one of those people, please read the following.
There is a Neal Stephenson in Canada who has an e-mail address at yorku.ca. He is not me. That is, he is not the author of Snow Crash, etc. Don't hassle him with e-mail unless you specifically want to reach him.
If you want to tell me about typographical errors in Cryptonomicon, thank you, but don't bother. I am aware that the book has many typos. The publisher and I are trying to fix as many as we can in a subsequent printing.
If you want to contact me to propose some sort of business transaction, you should begin by considering that all of my time and attention are spoken for and so it is out of the question for me to engage in any sort of new project.
It you have in mind a transaction that does not require my time and
attention (such as a translation of one of my works into another language),
contact one of my agents. My literary agency is:
Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents
236 W. 26th St.
New York, NY 10001
phone: 917 305 1300
fax: 917 305 1400
e-mail: kristin at dvagency dot com
My film agent is
United Talent Agency
9560 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
phone: 310 273 6700
fax: 310 247 1111
e-mail: GreenR at UnitedTalent dot com
When in doubt, contact Darhansoff Verrill Feldman and they will route you to the correct agent or sub-agent.