This Book is a Conversation


(see what I did there?)

This book is a conversation starter. it was written in order to try a different way to get academic knowledge and thought into a wider sphere, and to help other people to be able to actually take part in the process of writing and creating knowledge.

How can this work? What do I mean by a conversation? More prosaically, why would I even want to do this? Let me answer this, as Anne Lamott’s father would have it, Bird by Bird. Bear with me, there’s a lot going on here and it is all quite important, possibly even more important than the book itself.

I call it a conversation starter because that is how I see it. Here’s how it goes: when people get together there is usually some form of a conversation, about shared interests, books, politics, the weather, you name it. Often they engage in what we call ‘small talk[1]. Generally, someone starts by saying something which other people (or the other person) get to respond to somehow. We use words, gestures, thoughts, our faces and our bodies and if we are really lucky we get to be involved in a conversation that actually means something important to us[2]. This could be something we disagree with, or a problem, someone we wish we could understand and honestly seek more information from, things like that. This book is one of those. You know, a conversation starter.

It’s written as a collection of chapters, each of which might refer to others, but each of which can also be read on its own. It is the sum of thirty-plus years of thought and practice in the fields of trust and computers. It is also completely unlike pretty much any other science-type book. Oh, sure, you can read it like a science book–it has references and everything, and I sometimes know what I am talking about–but you can also read it as someone who has an interest in how some things work. Like people and security and risk and more. Given that I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time, there’s some good stuff in here, even if I say so myself, but there’s also a lot of myself in that it is also a personal reflection on what I think matters in the field. Two for the price of one, as it were.

But there is one thing that I want you to bear in mind before you start thinking all those clever thoughts. Have you ever been involved in a conversation and, whilst the other person is talking, found yourself thinking about what you are going to say next because it is going to change the world, or at least they way they think?

Yes, you.

Don’t be that person. Stop and actually, actively listen to what is being said, then take the time you need to figure out what it is you want to say back[3]. This takes active listening and it’s worth it. If you’ve never done it before, practice. So, I consider this to be that start of a conversation with you. Imagine someone standing in front of you for thirty-odd years before actually getting up the nerve to say something to you[4]

Now, where was I? Oh yes! When you are reading this, whichever bits you read[5], take the time to really read it, however much of it you want, before you think about a response. You may agree or disagree with what I say. I may make you angry enough to want to throw the book out of the window[6]. It’s all good. And then, you get to respond. The book has been written on a platform that enables social commentary using the social annotation engine that the clever folks at made.

Think of it sort of like a book you can answer back to.

With this system you can highlight, make comments and annotations, ask questions and so on, all either privately or publicly (your choice). If you send them to me privately I will endeavour to respond likewise, by the way. Public comments are there for others to see and respond to. Including me, which is fun. I will be delighted to respond, in fact.

Comments and responses will become part of the book. It’s that simple. Tell me stuff and, assuming it makes sense, it’ll stay there forever. Okay, that also is creepy, but it may become part of the fabric of the book. What does ‘makes sense’ mean? Mostly, relevant to what it is commenting on – the world doesn’t need more stupid comments, but it could use all the sensible thought it can get, so the comment might be a personal anecdote, a thought, a correction, a reference, a question, you name it. Just don’t be that person. You know who they are.
I promise a couple of things. The first, simply, is that I won’t delete sensible comments or questions or their responses, and that I will respond as often as I am able.

The second is a bit more concrete. If you read a book, you are usually reading a version that has been edited and published and so on, and perhaps undergone revision, which basically means “had things chopped out” so that you don’t get to see what has changed, how knowledge and truth has grown and changed, things like that. This book won’t be doing that.

What is written is written and it won’t change[7]. But my promise is this: I won’t delete stuff post the first proper publication (I’m aiming for October 21 2021! It’s my birthday, you see).

Not ever.

Things might change though, and instead of deleting I will just strike them out, because that way you get to see what went first, second, third and whatever and how my thoughts changed, either because so did I, or my knowledge, or because someone changed my thoughts, perhaps by commenting on it.

That’s it. No deletions, just obvious change-making. I hope that this will help you see what I mean by a conversation. And that you can stand every chance of discussing with me and others what the book brings to mind.

Oh, there’s one more thing, and I mention it in the next few sections too: my writing style is definitely idiosyncratic and not for everyone. If you don’t like it, you are free not to read it. Feel free to write your own book. But don’t comment on how I say things because I promise you, those comments won’t survive.
If you are reading this book on paper, please read on and consider how you might want to join the conversation, I would love you to be part of it.

Meanwhile, I’ve said my bits, I’ve started this conversation and I’m genuinely excited about what you are thinking about responding with.


Joy Oladokun |
In Defence of My Own Happiness


  1. Why we call it small talk has always been a source of mystery to me, given the massive importance it seems to have to the way people actually exist together.
  2. As it happens, this is one reason I got into academia… The number of fascinating, totally immersed people in this place is incredible.
  3. If the person you are conversing with is genuine, they’ll wait.
  4. Actually now that I have written that, it sounds creepy. Don’t imagine this if it is creepy to you.
  5. I sincerely hope you want to read it all – there’s a lot of me in here.
  6. Given that this was written to be read on a screen, do not do this thing. If you are reading it on paper, don’t do it either: you can always make hats with it.
  7. I can't resist: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.” Omar Khayyám.


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