Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thoughts on Jaron Lanier, Amazon and Kindle

After reading Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, I’ve been paying much closer attention to the user-centric internet (Web 2.0) that he critiques so harshly.  For those who haven’t yet read the book, he makes a strong argument about how this form of technology has actually backfired.  Web 2.0 has not democratized the internet.  Nicely stated, it is now controlled by a hive-mind made up of anonymous (or may as well be) users,  who in some cases fill the void with their topical chatter and in others work to quickly censor and disenfranchise those who might think otherwise.  Not so nicely stated, you might call it mob rule.   The internet is now a place where we exist as options in drop down boxes rather than as the truly colorful individuals that we are.
This is of course a very simplified rehashing of only a section of Lanier’s book.  I recommend you read it rather than just taking my very short and much more ignorant summary for face value.  It’s not really this rebellious “evil internet” book but a well thought out and eloquent manifesto on the importance of regaining control and paying attention to the direction that we are moving as a society—nothing wrong with that, right?  Do you see how my original summary made it sound awful?
Something that has grasped my attention this week, especially being a bookseller, is some drama going on over at Amazon.  First you must check out the entry for Game Change.  Some of you might know about this book.  It’s been all over the internets, tv, and the radio and of course sold out of its first run with a couple days of release.  Take a look at its ratings.  Its Amazon’s #1 selling book but has a 2-star rating out of 243 reviews.  What’s the deal?  163 single star ratings?  Take a look at the single star reviews—almost none of them are by people who have read the book.  They are all people who are pissed off because its hasn’t been released on the Kindle yet.  Customer reviews are supposed to be a beautiful thing to help us make choices—but we’ve even messed that up. 
*sub-blog continued below
After I noticed all this going on with Game Change, I looked at Amazon’s listing for You Are Not a Gadget.  It seemed like a fitting thing to do.  I saw four 5-star reviews and a single 1-star review.  I took a look at the 1-star review and found that it was a reviewer stating that he had not read the book but from what others had told him about the book, it would probably make him mad.  He then went on a rant and argued against what he imagined the book is about.  So I commented on his review and asked him to please not leave reviews of books he’s never read and that it made him sound ignorant (I might have said it more rudely).  Within 45 minutes, he had retracted his review.  This is a case where one person misused Web 2.0 technology, was reprimanded, and retracted the misuse.  The case of Game Change is much different.  The ones misusing technology have taken over and cannot be silenced.  You can even check out the discussion boards for this title and see the fight raging and easily being won by the mob.   Now, I’m not sure if this book is any good or not but the whole situation is annoying and I’ll probably never read it (along with lots of other folks).  Maybe some possibly valuable info is now lost to me because it has been shouted over.  Is this a form of mob caused censorship that the mob is totally unaware of being a part of?
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I’m noticing a lot more about the technology I use every day to communicate.  It’s not real communication because we have allowed it not to be.  For the masses, its not making more beautiful relationships or getting real ideas out there. We are fitting into it rather than the other way.  We have found a new medium in which to censor ourselves, control each other, and cause ourselves to be fearful of our own creative natures.  We have become irrational because there is no time to notice that we are becoming irrational.  But then again, maybe all of this is our nature and therefore, how could it be any different?


* I’m not going to go off on the Kindle or e-books even though I’m a bookseller and I’m apparently supposed to.  I guess I’m one of those booksellers who understands we need to make technology work with us and take advantage of it.  Because seriously, if we don’t—it will take us down.   Where were the booksellers when I switched to paperless online bill pay?  Paying bills just doesn’t feel the same without writing checks.  I miss the perforated edge of my checks and licking the envelope glue.  I’m losing out and where the fuck were you? 
The true fact is that I pay some online and I write checks and snail mail some.  I imagine this will be how books will be.   I guess unless Amazon gets what they want and forces publishers to sell them exclusive e-book rights for super cheap and decent authors can’t make a living from writing good books and all books are reviewed by a mob of idiots like the whole Game Change fiasco—deap breath and yell—THEN WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO WANT TO READ BOOKS ANYWAYS?  (yes... that was a Kanye moment) There won’t be any good books to read.  No one will write them and no one will publish them because no one will want to read them.  E-books will not destroy literature as long as corporate deal makers aren’t allowed to let that happen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

over the hill... or under the gun?

I like getting older...  honestly, I hated childhood-- totally fucking hated it.  I'll be 31 in a few weeks and I like that...  no more of the social pressure of the 20's.  I dress how I want (New Balance shoes for the arch support), listen to the music I want, and hang out with the people I want.  I also find that day to day, I am different than I was even just a couple years ago.  The morning is no longer my enemy.  I don't set my alarm for an hour before I have to be at work, hit the snooze a couple times, and then rush.  I like getting up a couple hours early.  I like to walk through the neighborhood to the coffee shop.  I like the walk home smoking a cigarette and drinking iced toddy-- standing in front of my shack for the last couple drags.

I like my bar to be quiet.  Weekends I stay in and try to get better sleep, because now I can go hiking again.  Nobody ever wants to go hiking with me-- and that's great.  I like being by myself in the desert.  I no longer have to feel guilty or bad because I like being alone.  Antisocial? no...  Unfriendly? no...  I just like it.  You know, like Bukowski said, "I don't hate people, I just feel better when they're not around."  That's not necessarily true but its a sentiment I keep close to my heart-- out of principle. 

There is a drive with youth that I sometimes feel I should have latched onto...  and I think that's true-- I could have used and still could use more motivation in my life.  I've seen that drive go completely haywire, though.  How many divorces, unwanted babies, and drug addictions have we all seen?  But that's even a cop-out.  I'm not traveling the world or saving lives...  that doesn't mean I can't in the future.

But at this age, its too easy to look back on your twenties and see waste.  Its easy to see the credit card bills, medical bills, paycheck to paycheck way of life as if you've stepped under a cement mixer.  That's not what it is.  Its the consequences and happenstances of your life.  Sometimes it's an unwanted message...  but its a reminder that we are in control.  I did this...  my parents didn't do this...  the other kids didn't do this...  The trap of being raised middle class and feeling entitled to things I didn't earn-- well, lesson learned and being paid for.  Ignoring my leg going numb randomly for over a year-- lesson learned and not to be repeated.... friends and family lost in fray-- greatly missed...

Of course, at this point you realize that the dreaded "The Man" is there to capitalize on all your downfalls.  But atleast you know he's not some mythical beast you rage against and that he's a real motherfucker and you learn how to avoid as many of his tricks as possible (although, I still support the raging)....  some days you'll be lucky and just as he's about to stick his fist in your ass, you dodge and laugh about reaching your out-of-pocket maximum...  oh, and then realize that if you've hit your OOP max, you've had a pretty bad year...  but none the less, these bills are on him-- you take what you can get and ask for as many unnecessary medical treatments as possible... 

I guess I like the knowledge and comfort of getting older.  I feel like I finally have the tools to maintain myself rather than constantly trying to figure out who that is.  Not that I can't change or that I make perfect decisions, but I know a bad decision when I'm making it.  I know when I fuck up.

But really, the best part is not having to dress like an idiot...  seriously...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

you are breathing chicken shit-- a response to Foer's Eating Animals

During a 3am trip to Riva's the other night, I found myself questioned about  being vegetarian.  I used to always defend my diet choice politely by stating why meat is an inefficient way to get nutrients and to feed a global population, but I found myself in an unending monologue—spouting off all the reasons why the meat industry is a destructive and disgusting global disaster.   Before I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I would have felt guilty bombarding someone (eating rolled tacos) with what I really felt about what they were doing.  But not now—and it’s really inconvenient to feel this way.

When you try to talk to someone about the meat industry, they simply do not want to know—and they have no problems telling you that.  Honestly, I am the same way.  I wanted to go off into my vegetarian world, be able to sit down with friends and eat and be fine with the fact that I eat one way and they eat another.  Now it’s a little harder. 
The things that bother me now are socially and ecologically conscious friends (meat eating)—you know the folks who grocery shop with canvas bags, ride their bikes whenever they can, and talk shit about people who drive huge SUV’s and Hummers.  The meat industry is the world’s largest contributor to global warming.  The transportation industry comes nowhere close. 
Why do people take such offense when you talk about this stuff?  It’s just another huge industry run by assholes who don’t care about us and just want to make as much money as possible no matter what the cost.  You can talk shit about the oil, healthcare, military, and auto industries.  Would you trust the people at Halliburton or Blackwater to produce your food for you?  Well, we are trusting people just as awful. 
And it would be fine if it didn’t affect me (except for random reminders of the animal cruelty and the ecological destruction).  Meat eaters could go on and eat chicken that nine times out of ten is infected with e.coli, salmonella, or some other type of avian disease before it ever hits the shelves at the grocery store whenever they wanted.  And they can tell themselves that those random 24 bugs are just little fluke flu’s and have nothing to do with their food.  All flu’s are bird flu. They all come from avian flu and we are constantly helping them mutate by putting them in our bodies.  I'm gonna get sick because America can't put down their chicken tenders.
OK…  so this is what I mean.  I meant to write a short response to JSF’s new book about what a craftsman he is-- how his nonfiction is just as touching and powerful as his novels.  Now when I see people eating meat—at restaurants or the break room at work—I get pissed.  It’s a globally destructive thing that according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA) is completely unnecessary (for people of all ages) and increases your chances of a number of life shortening diseases.   All this because people like the taste?  Quitting meat is not hard…  it’s not like getting off of heroin or even like quitting smoking.  I did it years ago.  You don’t go through withdrawals.  You don’t get the shakes.  What’s the deal?
Foer’s new book is not like Michael Pollan.  It’s not there to help rich people feel better about themselves by eating free-range.  It makes you question meat and question yourself.  Why don't we know anything about the thing that’s most important to our survival?  It's ridiculous.  Its like Soylent Green  but the information is easier to obtain.  JSF writes the same themes he’s explored in his novels—shame, family history, sacrifice, and making amends-- though this time, we are not only along for the ride.  It’s brilliantly written—and now eating meat pisses me off.
Oh, and also—factory farms dispose of chicken shit by spraying it into the air as a mist…  gross…