Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Machine Is Using Us.

I was chatting with a friend of mine a few days ago, about how the Internet and new media and such were supposed to create something of a global information/entertainment renaissance.

She quoted Steve Wozniac. One of the men who helped to start the PC revolution with the founding of Apple. He said: “Our first computers were born not out of greed or ego, but in the revolutionary spirit of helping common people rise above the most powerful institutions.”

She told me that quote and said:

“I want to get that optimism back so badly.  I just don't know how.  If we could somehow have, like, a two-week moratorium on stupid.”

Well, I can't speak to the stupid, but I can speak to the disillusionment.

The fact is, that dream came true. The time of the powerful institutions are over.  What few the stock market crash didn't kill outright, are being starved to death by people's natural ability to find what they want for free.

The Internet is the ultimate forum. No names, no prejudices, no race, no questions asked. You arrive, you speak your piece, you go, other people comment.

The first computers were made as an intellectual exercise. At the time, a guy with a slide rule was faster. Computers were a technology looking for a use.

The first internet was born out of impatience of academics. The internet was made as a forum for colleges to pass around information, then somebody started typing about something else and you couldn't lay phones lines fast enough.

The powerful institutions have now lost their grip through sheer force of volume. And I'm not talking about torrents. I've never used a torrent in my life.

Most of the money from book sales goes not to the authors or the printers but the publishers. Most of the money from Album sales in music stores go, not to the bands, but to the record labels.

Who pays a grand for cable TV when Hulu is there? Nobody cares about High Def that much. Most of my bandwidth is taken up with Audio dramas and short films now. There's nothing good on TV anymore. So when I look for something to entertain me, I go looking for Audio dramas and short films on Youtube. I haven't seen the inside of my local Blockbuster in months. Haven't needed one. My computer and my MP3 player are my personal entertainment unit.

Kindle book sales this past Christmas outpaced actual book sales for the first time. Amazon gets a small fee, the author gets a much higher percentage.

Look at this guy:

My dad raves about this guy. He put it all up for free, and the quality got him noticed. Somebody offered to print. Most of the fans went and bought the hardcopy, because they already knew they'd enjoy it. I have a PDF, and a hardcover version of some of his good stuff which I found in a secondhand store. A whole ebook library plus a hardcover of my favorite. The whole set cost me less than a meal at McDonalds.

I haven't bought a new book in ages. There's a book exchange up the road from my place. I buy a bunch of books second hand and trade them in there for store credit. I trade in more books later to get credit back. An extra five bucks at a swap meet or a garage sale and I boost my credit line. The library and PDF downloads of novels written by people who could never have been published a year ago make up the numbers. I haven't spent more than $20 on books in years. A lot of authors are putting their books up as Ebooks, and are getting widely read and getting money off it, without ever having to sign on with a publisher.

The publishing houses have realized that their day is over.

A lot of rock bands are publishing their music online at a much cheaper rate for a paypal donation, they cut out the record label completely.

I haven't spent money in a record store for almost five years. Why would I need to? The radio puts out the new stuff and most of that I don't like. A few music publishing sites let you buy track by track for a 99c instead of albums as a whole for $30, which works for me because I hardly ever enjoy all the songs on an album.

My MP3 player is filled (not counting audio dramas and podcasts) with indie music from these sites which is made freely available under creative commons. And these indie performers? They put up on their profiles where they live, and all the coffee houses or private clubs that have live music playing check these places too. Most of them contact a performer and arrange a booking. They can do that in faith because they've already heard the music.

Don't get discouraged by the impossible amount of stupid in the world. Smart is there. It just takes a little effort to find. For every great story I read online? There are two hundred that I get a page into and skip. For every great Independent music album I download? There are about twenty albums I listen to and delete because it's so impossibly bad, or at least not my taste.

For every future Pulitzer writer penning blogs now? There are a hundred see-spot-run's. For every future U2? There are 340 bands of teenagers jamming on their guitars in garages until their moms tell them to shut up.

And for every thoughtful, considered opinion piece, there are fifty flames.

The potential has always been there, but it takes a lot of effort to find it.