Twit­ter co-founder’s bio brings too-pol­ished pearls of wis­dom

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

TWIT­TER co-founder Biz Stone’s self­penned bio has the prose of a good tweet. En­ter­tain­ing, con­ver­sa­tional and eas­ily read­able, Things a Lit­tle Bird Told Me fuses mem­oir, self-help and non­fic­tion study as Stone re­counts Twit­ter’s cre­ation and me­te­oric rise as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool. And like a tweet — par­tic­u­larly one try­ing to be three things at once — it has lim­its. There’s a crafted pos­i­tiv­ity to Stone’s voice and care­ful cu­ra­tion of per­sonal sto­ries that to­gether keep the book from re­ally grip­ping as a mem­oir.

It’s pos­si­ble Stone is the ever-smil­ing cre­ative who can de­scribe quit­ting Google to join a pod­cast­ing startup with, “Livy and I were in­stantly back on our way to credit card debt. But hey, it wouldn’t have been a true leap of faith in my­self if the stakes hadn’t been high.” In de­scrib­ing co-founder Evan Wil­liams’ fir­ing, Stone muses “We’d built this com­pany to­gether. And he was my friend. It was very dif­fi­cult to process what was hap­pen­ing.” But he’s not re­lat­able. In the rare mo­ments of con­flict Stone in­cludes from Twit­ter’s as­cent and his fi­nan­cially chancy child­hood, his re­ac­tion is never less than ide­al­is­tic and ex­em­plary. It’s hard to see the user un­der the han­dle. Partly to blame is his open agenda of em­pow­er­ing read­ers with lessons learned along his rags-to-retweets jour­ney. Fre­quently point­ing to his pay­off for pur­su­ing a pas­sion, Stone gives over whole chap­ters to draw­ing out a mem­ory’s moral, from crash­ing his own prom to the code of as­sump­tions he drew up for Twit­ter em­ploy­ees (“There’s more smart people out there than in here,” among oth­ers). Nuggets of wis­dom he draws are en­cour­ag­ing, up­lift­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions. They’re pleas­ant, but com­ing from an in­dus­try that’s pro­duced a hand­ful of Biz Stones and many more crashes, they’re easy to dis­miss. Stone’s stand­out ex­cep­tion, which packs em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence with a pos­i­tive punch, is flock­ing. The hive-mind be­hav­iour that birds have demon­strated for eons now finds ex­pres­sion in the hu­man race, thanks to plat­forms such as Twit­ter, says Stone. The re­sults tilt to the con­struc­tive, from live-tweet­ing dis­as­ter re­ports to en­abling demo­cratic revo­lu­tion. The proof isn’t just in one man’s story — it’s in daily head­lines, and gives weight to Stone’s re­fresh of the op­ti­mistic chant, “People are good at heart.” The dis­cus­sion of how Twit­ter dove­tails with hu­man psy­chol­ogy, how fea­tures such as hash­tags and retweets emerged, and how the com­pany ini­tially tried to re­main govern­ment-neu­tral are fas­ci­nat­ing, with in-the-room sto­ries given vivid, tight retellings. It’s sub­ject mat­ter beg­ging for more in­depth dis­cus­sion from a Twit­ter co-founder, par­tic­u­larly the grip­ping topics of data min­ing and govern­ment sur­veil­lance. But Things a Lit­tle Bird Told Me veers away from the grit of meaty dis­cus­sion to stay light, happy and sim­ple. Too bad. I can al­ready get that on Twit­ter. Matt TenBruggen­cate is a CTV writer who

tweets from @tenbruggen­cate #plug


Biz Stone’s book could use more be­hind-the-scenes sto­ries and fewer up­lift­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions.

Things a Lit­tle Bird Told Me: Con­fes­sions of the Cre­ative Mind

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