Kevin Spacey: 3 Elements of Storytelling


  1. CONFLICT. Conflict creates tension, and tension keeps people engaged with your story… This kind of conflict between who we are and what we want to be and what others may expect of us is the central thread of the human experience. Look into your own lives and you’ll see that kind of tension everywhere… Our stories become richer and become far more interesting when they go against the settled order of things, to really achieve something different and unexpected.
  2. AUTHENTICITY. I think a lot of content marketers need to be mindful of falling into the trap of looking for keywords or quick hits to boost their ranking on Google. [Applause] Stay true to your brand and true to your voice, and audiences will respond to that authenticity with enthusiasm and passion.
  3. AUDIENCE. Possibly [the] most important element of any story… The device and the link are irrelevant to the story, which is an essential concept that content marketing has learned and embraced better than anyone… It’s no longer about who you know, or how much you can afford, but what you can do, and audiences have spoken: THEY WANT STORIES. They’re dying for them; they’re rooting for us to give them the right thing — and they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them to the bus and to the hair dresser, force it on their friends, tweet, blog, facebook, make fan pages, silly GIFs, and God knows what else about it. Engage in it with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie can only dream of. And all we have to do is give it to them.


Agent Query offers writers a literary touchstone. We want every writer posing as an accountant, office manager, bus driver, police officer, housewife, flight attendant, or juvenile delinquent to know that their story has a chance to be something more than a shameful, indulgent escape— pages hidden in desk drawers that only see the light of day in whimsical dreams of publication.


Today we call it programming

10 second exposure of the SRW extracting a square root

Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science, by M.G. Lord

After the launch of Explorer 1 in 1958, spacecraft trajectories began to be JPL’s stock-in-trade.
Introduced in 1952, the Friden SRW calculator weighed forty-two pounds, contained two registers and over one hundred keys. It was nearly always operated by a woman. An early advertisement for the firm, which was founded by Swedish immigrant Carl Friden in the 1930s, showed a voluptuous woman poised with her hands over the keys. Nor were the devices unique to engineering. At insurance companies, rooms full of women used them to compute actuarial tables. The relentless pounding, one listener remarked, was like the thrum of a marching army.
At JPL, computresses made up “Section 23,” an all-female department that some engineers have compared to a convent and others to a harem. They were expected to have the devotion of nuns and to relinquish aspirations to the engineering priesthood. Insofar as JPL had a social season, it involved the competition among these women and other female staff for the title of Miss Guided Missile. Although a torpedo brassiere might thrust a contestant to the forefront — one campaign manager described his candidate as a “shapely craft, 5’6″ in height, payload 120 lbs of well-designed equipment” — beauty alone would not secure the title. Aspirants had to mount the sort of popularity contest that one associates with class office in junior high. This was not a marginalized pageant; it dramatized the impunity with which JPL men objectified women. William Pickering, the director of JPL from 1954 to 1976, himself crowned the winner. In 1959, after the formation of NASA, when JPL turned its attention from missiles to planetary probes, the title became the Queen of Outer Space.
As technology evolved, however, the Friden seraglio became obsolete, replaced by the room-size IBM mainframe computer. (As did the Queen of Outer Space, which vanished in 1970 with no explanation)…

Walter Isaacson on the women of ENIAC

Wanted: Women With Degrees in Mathematics…Women are being offered scientific and engineering jobs where formerly men were preferred. Now is the time to consider your job in science and engineering…You will find that the slogan there as elsewhere is WOMEN WANTED!

Andreessen: The Tech-Eyed Optimist

While he doesn’t know the obesity-hunger paradox are “flip sides to the same malnutrition coin”, Andreessen does pick up on another paradox:

And it’s so weird, but it actually goes to the heart of American culture. You’ve read de Tocqueville,* right? There’s a paradox at the heart of American culture: In theory, we like change, and then when change actually materializes and presents itself, it gets vast amounts of blowback. We like change in the general case, but we don’t like it in the specific case. With every single thing that anybody here has ever done, there’s always been people saying, “That sucks. That’ll never work. That’s stupid.”

* “I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.”

The Return of Jobs

The Apple Revolution: 10 Key Moments, #4

“He had become a far better leader, less of a go-to-hell aesthete who cared only about making beautiful objects,” wrote Fortune’s editor-at-large Peter Elkind of the co-founder’s triumphant return. “Now he was a go-to-hell aesthete who cared about making beautiful objects that made money.” In time, he became recognized as one of the company’s most valuable assets.

I have the same likes (both soundtracks are superb, both casts are great) and dislikes (both screenplays are lousy) with Jobs as The Social Network. Robert X. Cringely nails it for Jobs (as John Hagel did for TSN; cinematic tropes fail Storytelling 101 with these type of tech stories):

Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs somehow misses the whole point

something happened during Steve’s NeXT years (which occupy less than a 60 seconds of this 122 minute film) that turned Jobs from a brat into a leader, but they don’t bother to cover that. In his later years Steve still wasn’t an easy guy to know but he was an easier guy to know. His gut for product was still good but his positions were more considered and thought out. He inspired workers without trying so much to dominate or hypnotize them […] at some point Steve did change. It was subtle but real and it set the tone for the last 15 years of his life — the most productive 15 years of his life or that of any American executive.

Everything in italics is Cringely’s emphasis, mine is bolded — because it’s the most significant point he makes (but I’d also add, with NeXT, Pixar). I also give Ashton Kutcher big points for acting, but question the inaccuracies used. The art of cinematic biographical storytelling — condensing a lifespan into a two-hour frame — fails. However, John Debney’s score actually tells the story. Watching the movie when Track #33.- Think Different started playing captured something. It made me watch Jobs’ introduction of this ad campaign, 8-10 weeks (September 23, 1997) after returning to Apple.

Jobs notes the “poetic” first airing of Think Different on The Wonderful World of Disney that Sunday during the television premiere of Toy Story {11:00}. The permissions needed, and granted, to show the images of everyone appearing in this ad: Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (with Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso. Until Think Different, most of these people never appeared in this type of advertisement and Jobs adds, “and never would until we asked them”.

It’s been an incredible moving experience for me that these people, both living and dead (their estates), have felt so strongly about Apple that they were willing to let us do this. I don’t think there is another company on earth that could have done this campaign. And that to me is something very special.

Think Different Rosa Parks Poster

In 2005, when Rosa Parks died, the Apple website had a photo of her on their first page with the Think Different logo. Many, unfamiliar with the 1997 campaign, thought this was tasteless.

Do you know who that is? Rosa Parks. They’ll be five buses running around five major cities like that.

Turing’s Cathedral

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe
By George Dyson

On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem
Alan Turing, Proc. London Math. Soc. (1937) s2-42 (1): 230-265

IAS Electronic Computer Project

In this 1953 diagnostic photograph from the maintenance logs of the IAS Electronic Computer Project (ECP), a 32-by-32 array of charged spots––serving as working memory, not display––is visible on the face of a Williams cathode-ray memory tube. Starting in late 1945, John von Neumann, Professor in the School of Mathematics, and a group of engineers worked at the Institute to design, build, and program an electronic digital computer.


There are two kinds of creation myths: those where life arises out of the mud, and those where life falls from the sky. In this creation myth, computers arose from the mud, and code fell from the sky.

In late 1945, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, Hungarian American mathematician John von Neumann gathered a small group of engineers to begin designing, building, and programming an electronic digital computer, with five kilobytes of storage, whose attention could be switched in 24 microseconds from one memory location to the next. The entire digital universe can be traced directly to this 32-by-32-by-40-bit nucleus: less memory than is allocated to displaying a single icon on a computer screen today. {&myemph;}

Von Neumann’s project was the physical realization of Alan Turing’s Universal Machine, a theoretical construct invented in 1936. It was not the first computer. It was not even the second or third computer. It was, however, among the first computers to make full use of a high-speed random-access storage matrix, and became the machine whose coding was most widely replicated and whose logical architecture was most widely reproduced. The stored-program computer, as conceived by Alan Turing and delivered by John von Neumann, broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Our universe would never be the same.

Working outside the bounds of industry, breaking the rules of academia, and relying largely on the U.S. government for support, a dozen engineers in their twenties and thirties designed and built von Neumann’s computer for less than $1 million in under five years. “He was in the right place at the right time with the right connections with the right idea,” remembers Willis Ware, fourth to be hired to join the engineering team, “setting aside the hassle that will probably never be resolved as to whose ideas they really were.”

IAS Shifting Register

Electronic Computer Project
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, N.J.
Shifting Register No. 7
Functional Diagram

The First Five Kilobytes are the Hardest:
Alan Turing, John von Neumann, and the Origins of the Digital Universe at the IAS

IAS Video, March 16, 2012

Dyson also gave this presentation June 6th at the 2013 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences [Theme: “@The Edge”]. Part 2 | Part 3