Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Dr. John Gamble, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and International Law at Penn State's Behrend College and author of No Bull Information: A Humorous, Practical Guide to Help Americans Adapt to the Information Age.
Dr. Gamble received the B.A. degree (political science and mathematics) from the College of Wooster (Ohio) and the Ph.D. from the University of Washington (Seattle). He was Executive Director of the Law of the Sea Institute at the University of Rhode Island and Head of the Division of Business and the Social Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College. He has been Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School and Senior Fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Dr. Gamble's principal research interests are treaties, information technology and international law, and international law teaching. He is the author of approximately 100 publications. His awards at Penn State include the Behrend College Council of Fellows Research and Teaching Excellence Awards; the W. LaMarr Kopp International Achievement Award; and the Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching (received in 2014). His teaching at Penn State regularly includes American Government, Comparative Politics, International Relations, International Law, and the European Union.
Norm: Good day Dr. Gamble and thanks for participating in our interview.
What served as the primary inspiration for No Bull Information: A Humorous, Practical Guide to Help Americans Adapt to the Information Age? As a follow up, how did you decide you were ready to write the book?
Dr. Gamble: Thanks, Norm. I love to talk about my book, No Bull Information.
The inspiration is rooted in why I became a college professor. College professor is an unlikely profession for someone who has stuttered since he was four years old and will stutter for the rest of his life. I became a professor anyway because I like to explain things in a way that is understood by my audience. For a third of a century my audience has been my undergraduate students at Penn State. I noticed they were being changed by the information age in ways that made it harder for me to do my job as a professor. About ten years ago I decided to write this book but it took many false starts to find a good approach. It’s as if I had an itch that needed to be scratched, but it took a long time to figure out exactly where the itch was and how to scratch it.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in writing this book, how well do you feel you achieved them and what matters to you about the book?
Dr. Gamble: My goal was to provide practical techniques many Americans can use to deal more effectively with the information age and the massive amounts of information we must confront. I wrote for a wide audience with a focus on concrete actions people can take, things that can be tailored to individual preferences and situations.
I think I did pretty well in meeting my goals. NBI is funny, makes very important points. It is brief—160 pages— but it not always an easy read.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing your book and did you learn anything from writing it, if so, and what was it?
Dr. Gamble: The toughest part was finding the right balance: making it easy to understand without sacrificing important content. I do this with humor and with examples, many examples and with a cartoon character I invented, Arnbi.
Norm: What kind of research did you do to write this book?
Dr. Gamble: Ah, the research question. The answer is on two levels. As a graduate student, many, many years ago, I had some great professors who taught me the real purpose of research: understanding, organizing describing and analyzing that stuff. I’ve spent decades trying to follow that sage advice. The more concrete part of my research is the reactions of thousands of my students. I’ve tried to explain complicated things to them with successes, near misses and abject failures. I’ve learned a lot from their reactions and tried different approaches to assess what works. My classes have inspired and been the field test for many of the concepts in the book.
Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Dr. Gamble: I’ve been wrestling with comfort zones since I was five years old and discovered the difficulty I often had saying the words I wanted say was called stuttering. That said—sorry— I think I had to figure how to communicate with a wider segment of Americans than I usually have in my classes. I think I have done pretty well.
Norm: What makes your book different than others that have been written about the same topic?
Dr. Gamble: I explain concepts that are essential, for example, a bit of statistics, but then use many examples to apply the concepts. I intermingle humor, often via my cartoon character Arnbi, with anecdotes, and numerical examples.
NBI is not an easy read. But those who read it carefully will gain a sense of empowerment. I compare it to a life preserver when we feel we are drowning in a mass of information. Further, NBI deals with the abuse of information occurring both with numbers and words. Word abuse is generally neglected in other books. An example: when a senator says, “I just returned from my state and the people are clamoring for common sense solutions to the budget deficit.” What the hell does “common sense”mean?
Acronyms often are abused by those who want to convince us they are knowledgable insiders. Here’s a poem I wrote about acronyms (apologies to Alexander Pope):
amplified through rhyme,
repeated over time,
bring cognitive decline.
Norm: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Dr. Gamble: The response from readers— and reviewers— has been very positive. Usually people point to one thing that provided a eureka experience—“why didn’t I think of that?” I hear from my students in many ways. Two examples. Last summer I received an e-mail from a student on a summer internship. He described how valuable NBI’s primer of acronyms was in adjusting to his summer job. Two weeks ago I was walking down the hall of my Penn State office building. Three of my students were walking about 25 feet behind me. I could hear their conversation. One of them used a “forbidden phrase” from NBI: “playing politics.” The student realized I was within earshot and said—“Sorry, Dr. Gamble.” I’ve gotten people thinking more critically. That’s half the battle.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and No Bull Information?
Dr. Gamble: It is on AMAZON and in some bookstores as paperback, color paperback, e-Book, and hardcover. Search Amazon for “No Bull Information” and the next thing you will see is Arnbi who looks like Aristotle and is cuter than hell.
Norm: Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
Dr. Gamble: I have my “academic track” of writing that might bore everyone—sometimes even me! I see two new projects deriving from NBI, one aimed at kids and a second at Americans aged 60 and older. My dream for NBI is to have curious, bright kids enter a supermarket with their grandparents. When they look at products on the shelf, the kids will asked, grandma, why can’t I see how much this costs? If there is not a clear unit price, they will complain and shop elsewhere. I foresee one version of the book aimed at kids and another at active seniors. Today there are many seniors with energy, time and experience who can help lead the NBI-inspired movement towards better understanding of information.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Dr. Gamble: Norm, that’s a dangerous question to ask of a college professor! Here goes:
Norm’s Question: Dr. Gamble, history is full of examples where an invention—the printing press, the telephone, the automobile— was going to shake the foundations of the world. Usually the change was exaggerated and we settled into a new normal. Aren’t you just an old man who can hardly use his cell phone overreacting to change he feels uncomfortable about?
Response: Norm, that’s a wonderful question. How did you know I have trouble using my cell phone? That’s because it’s a computer disguised as a phone and it has too damn many bells and whistles including an annoying ring that sounds like a pig drowning in its own excrement. Seriously, I believe this change is different from the others you mentioned.
Let me mention several ways. First, the information age affects both the message and way it is transmitted. Second, no change had ever been adopted so widely so quickly. More than 90% of my students have cell phones; for many it is a huge expense. Finally, the information age has created the surreal situation where we have both too little and too much time given the content available. Instant messages and twitter often must try to fit complex thoughts into far too little space. At the other extreme, look at morning cable “news” when they have “breaking news.” Often there is an hour or more with no real information and experts sitting around trying to find something new to say while resisting those brutally-honest words seldom heard on morning news programs: “Sorry, Ashleigh, I don’t know.”
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors