In the novel These Days, author Jack Cheng explores how technology convolutes and complicates human relationships. His two protagonists, Connor Nast, and ‘K,’ couldn’t be more different- Connor designs prop computer interfaces for furniture showrooms while ‘K’ doesn’t even own a cell phone. K is as ‘disconnected as [Connor] is connected,’ an issue that becomes increasingly evident as their relationship and the book progresses. PSFK spoke to Cheng about the book and the complex relationship between humans and technology:
Tell us a little about how the book came to be- does These Days have a personal element to it, or is it a general exploration of the connections between humanity and technology?
Definitely both. This is a deeply personal book, with an exploration of how technology and social media affect what we look for in our careers and relationships. I left my job as a copywriter four years ago, largely because I wanted to get more directly involved working on building and iterating on my own digital products, versus merely presenting ideas and concepts for them as I was often doing in the ad world. The male protagonist in the story is in a similar situation—he’s making imitations of things to sell other things—and he realizes that maybe it’s not what he’s meant to be doing with his life.
In These Days, there’s a dichotomy between the two main characters- one is ever-connected to technology while the other one shuns it; does the story explore the wedge technology can create between people or how technology can enable new types of relationships?
A lot of books I’ve come across on the subject tend to make a one-sided argument, when the reality is a lot more complex. It’s messy. I certainly go back and forth with it, and one of my goals is to show some of the seams, the roughness, to get across what if feels like to be on different sides of it, both as creators and consumers of its various outcomes.
You were able to meet your Kickstarter fundraising goal in just 3 days. Why do you think people were drawn to your story? Why crowdsource support in lieu of a traditional publishing route?
I’m surrounded by amazing and inspiring people who have had success with their own projects, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I also think a lot of people share these mixed feelings toward technology, can identify with both the guy and the girl in the story. Many have also come across articles I’ve written about these themes, like my recent essay on The Slow Web. While this is going to be my first published novel, it fits very much into what I do and write and think about on a regular basis.
I explored the traditional route early on and felt limited by the process. I saw that it could take eighteen months (sometimes longer) before a completed manuscript would arrive on store shelves. Having built software products these last few years, it seemed like I could iterate on the manuscript much faster and learn much more if I went through the process of publishing it myself. As a designer, I felt confident I could handle the typesetting and design of the book on my own, and that my main challenge was to write a compelling story.
I also knew what my goals were for the book, and knew who my ideal readers were. They were my friends. They were those working in startups, design, advertising, those who have a love-hate relationship with the technology in their lives. I felt that I could reach a lot of those people without the resources of a traditional publisher, and if there was any book suited for self-publishing with Kickstarter and all the new publishing tools available to us today, it was this one.
Watch a video preview of These Days below and read the first four pages of the book here: