More from Lanier: " There are only a tiny handful of writers or musicians who actually make a living in the new utopia"

From “World Wide Mush” by Jaron Lanier in the Wall Street Journal:

…The “open” paradigm rests on the assumption that the way to get ahead is to give away your brain’s work—your music, writing, computer code and so on—and earn kudos instead of money. You are then supposedly compensated because your occasional dollop of online recognition will help you get some kind of less cerebral work that can earn money. For instance, maybe you can sell custom branded T-shirts.

We’re well over a decade into this utopia of demonetized sharing and almost everyone who does the kind of work that has been collectivized online is getting poorer. There are only a tiny handful of writers or musicians who actually make a living in the new utopia, for instance. Almost everyone else is becoming more like a peasant every day.

And it’s going to get worse. Before too long—in 10 years, I’d guess—cheap home robots will be able to make custom T-shirts from free designs off the Internet. When that day comes, then a T-shirt’s design will be no more valuable than recorded music is today.

…The owners of big computer resources on the Internet, like Google, will be able to make money from the open approach for a long time, of course, by routing advertisements, but middle-class people will be increasingly asked to accept a diet of mere kudos. No one should feel insulated from this trend. Poverty has a way of trickling up. Once everyone is aggregated, what will be left to be advertised?

…I don’t want our young people aggregated, even by a benevolent social-networking site. I want them to develop as fierce individuals, and to earn their living doing exactly that. When they work together, I hope they’ll do so in competitive, genuinely distinct teams so that they can get honest feedback and create big-time innovations that earn royalties, instead of spending all their time on crowd-pleasing gambits to seek kudos. This is not just so that they and their children will thrive, but so that they won’t become a mob, which, as history has shown us again and again, is a vulnerability of human nature.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in Tucson, Arizona with Stephanie Smith.

4 thoughts on “More from Lanier: " There are only a tiny handful of writers or musicians who actually make a living in the new utopia"

  1. are you trying to tell me that being able to stream/podcast WFMU is somehow worse for “culture” than having to grow up listening to KROQ, hot 97 and NPR?

    lanier is a clever guy but, to quote another commenter, he may be out of his element here. it’s good that he’s trying to raise awareness about this stuff, but i wonder what he suggests instead? turning back the clock 10 or 15 years, even if it were possible, isn’t really that desirable…

  2. Not surprisingly, I find Lanier’s thing from the WSJ — “adapted from” his book — a bit more palatable than the writing-about-his-writing.

    It’s also interesting to watch all these early-adapter cyber-utopians — Lanier, Erik Davis, Douglas Rushkoff — become some of the better critics of internet’s impact on human culture. Though it’s also funny cuz reading their earlier head-in-the-clouds stuff it was always kinda like “really?” and then you realize they’re all (maybe not Rushkoff?) big Burning Man dorks and it all sorta makes sense, in that that’s another alternate/virtual reality that I never really had much enthusiasm about, for better or worse. The core of the argument is interesting — esp the economic impact on creative industries — but it’s also apparent that dudes bear the flame scars from one too many chat-room nerd-firefights. Yes, the internet might be harshing the ability of professional writers like myself to make money, but I’ve also generally had a good time on the internet because I never expected or hoped virtual reality would be as worthwhile as real reality.

    Also: Another fun tidbit from a Q&A on Lanier’s website:

    “In hearing from people about Facebook, there seems to be a
    generational divide. People old enough to have jobs and kids use Facebook in part to connect to their own pasts, and generally have good experiences. It’s the younger ones who more often find themselves trapped or challenged by cartoon versions of themselves on Facebook. So, contrary to what you might expect, thus far it’s the “Facebook Generation” readers who seem to enjoy talking trash about
    Facebook, and tend to come down on the service harder than I do, even though they use it religiously. ”

    I’d add to that that older generations tend to have a healthier amount of paranoia/common sense about what sort of information they choose to make public on the internet.

  3. The important part of his claim would be how he defines “making a living.” I don’t have any figures either, but it seems to me that, yea, no one is going to become pop-star filthy rich anymore, but the internet has opened the doors for so many indie bands to make “a living” off touring and recording.

    I’m sure there’s many bands that have to do the rock star thing part time, but how does one define handful too? Hasn’t it always been a handful of musicians that make a living off of it?

  4. This book appears to address some of the same concerns:

    Although, a year later, I’m still wary of phrases like “television networks are under attack from free user-generated programming on YouTube” (thank god) and “file-sharing and digital piracy have devastated the multibillion-dollar music business ” (let it burn).

    It’s important to think about the environment that people create through technology. However, castigating it for impacting our massive entertainment institutions is naive at best and propaganda at worst. Hell, the environmental impact of the iPhone is far more serious…

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