Wired’s Party Line

I don’t have a publicist and so I rely on the kindness of friends to spread the word about my new book, Outlaw Blues; Adventures in the Counter-Culture Wars. Its been pretty well reviewed and has been in the number one spot on the I Bookstore Arts and Entertainment chart for a while. The book is a history of the role of artists from Mark Twain to Bob Dylan in shaping our culture and our politics. It has over 100 embedded videos that help guide you through the culture. The Wall Street Journal thought it was a technological breakthrough in the E book world.

So I figured Wired Magazine might be interested in this new form. But when a friend inquired of an editor there, the word came back that “they were aware of the book, but it was not a good fit.” I should have known. The last chapter of the book takes on the question of the future of America as a knowledge society in a world where knowledge is being devalued. How can you build a society that’s great at making music, movies and video games if the rest of the world thinks these objects of desire should be free? And of course the main proponent of this view is none other than Wired’s Editor in Chief, Chris Anderson, whose most recent book is titled, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. I was pretty hard on Anderson in the book, going so far as to quote Malcolm Gladwell’s famous query from the New Yorker.

“It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganizing itself around getting people to work for “non-monetary rewards.” Does he mean that the New York Times should be staffed by volunteers, like Meals on Wheels? Anderson’s reference to people who ‘prefer to buy their music online’ carries the faint suggestion that refraining from theft should be considered a mere preference.”

So I guess Wired is run like the old Soviet Politburo. If you are not willing to spout the party line of Free Culture and Techno-utopianism, you don’t exist.

“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

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7 Responses to Wired’s Party Line

  1. len says:

    Yep. It’s a history of no one noticing until their axe is gored. I suppose in the spirit of non-violent resistance one could go through the bookstores putting small stickers on Wired Magazines and anything Chris publishes that say “Steal this!”

    Abbie would.

  2. Fentex says:

    I don’t think you’re correct to call the diffilculty in finding payment a devaluing of the goods it is becoming awkward to attract direct payment for.

    If people want and acquire something they are valuing it and it is a mistake to confuse value with price.

    I personally think ISP’s are missing a trick here – people want convenience and autonomy, supplying the conveninence of access to media and the autonomy to pick and choose which and when is a service ISP’s are best placed to provide.

    If I were running something like Verizon (or any large ISP) I would be trying to develope a repository that all my subscribers have access to that delivers in any format through easy interfaces any media possible to deliver over a cable – and disburse a portion of my subscribers fees as payment to the legitimate provider of that content based on their consumption.

    Books, songs, TV, films from around the world cached as locally as possible for performance and availability. People will pay for the service and content, it is possible to compete with the anarchy of people ripping and encoding and distributing willy nilly content for free because trust, certainty and quality is worth money alone.

    At the moment it is preposterous that anarchic uncoordinated and unsanctioned copying provides a better service than anything commercially available.

    Amazon and Apple are becoming gatekeepers by being left alone to service demand and the music industry has regretted letting Apple stand between them and customers so far, though probably not for the right reasons (they regret Apple controlling prices they want to raise instead of Apple being a choke point on distribution).

    The biggest danger anyone is in is not being able to find an audience among the horn of plenty of media that is gushing forth, those who do find an audience oughtn’t fear for being able to capitalise on it – there will be a way.

    But as I can’t explain how it will be done to and for every hopeful we can’t deny the future for our lack of being able to hatch it to everyones satisfaction fully formed.

    Do I know recall someone making an argument about the past being superceded but what currently exists is an untenable mess with the unknown future waiting to emerge against the pressures extant from the past?

  3. Alex Bowles says:

    Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion”, has become a particularly vocal critic of Silicon Valley’s techno-utopianism, arguing that many of the people building and promoting the systems for which SV is known have a distinctly “Californian outlook”, that’s hugely at odds with the way things work elsewhere. Syria, for instance. Morozov, rather gleefully, pegs Wired as a chief proponent of this delusion.

    Of course, Wired does run the ‘Threat Level’ blog, so it’s not all rose-colored glasses. But so far, that’s just been a collection of alarming updates. There’s no indication of a broader conceptual framework or tactical response to filter any of this. Certainly nothing like the more jaundiced view that Morozov treats like a corrective.

    On one level, you could argue “well, that’s just basic journalism.” But there are few outlets that report on fact which don’t also publish relevant opinion, or the ‘conceptual scoops’ that the digerati live for. When it comes to this side of the equation, they’ve avoided Morozov almost entirely.

    The one exception is an op-ed in which he briefly describes the essence of his work, without mentioning the source of the delusion in the work’s title. In the book itself, he actually names Wired as a conspicuous source and promoter of the utopian mindset he excoriates. I don’t know if publishing this was an example of Chris Anderson keeping friends close and enemies closer, but if you know where Morozov is coming from, the Wired piece is amusing due to all the things he was too polite and / or heavily edited to include.


    Incidentally, for a more complete (and very nicely produced) introduction to Morozov, this RSA Animates piece is outstanding.


    And if you’re interested in the book itself, its page on Amazon is worth reading.


    Being deeply Californian myself, I can’t say I share his pessimism entirely. It’s just not in my nature. But it’s very good to keep this outlook in mind. And it’s worth remembering that Silicon Valley – being profoundly and positively forward-looking – isn’t terribly comfortable with ruminative introspection. After all, they’re supposed to be the ones in the disruptor’s seat. Abandoning the old for the sake of the new is what other people do. Even when your own tech is getting eclipsed, you don’t wonder why. You already know why. There’s nothing to think about. You just move on. As long as you stay in the Valley, you remain where it’s at.

    Which brings us to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_invented_here.

    It’s pretty pervasive, and not entirely unreasonable. As one coder put it, it’s far easier to write your own code from scratch than rewrite someone else’s. Also, much more enjoyable. The flip side is a limited value placed on cultural inheritance, and next to no appreciation for the intelligence found in operating norms that developed outside, or before, SV.

    The place you really see this as a problem is in startups run by people with no experience in the business they’re “disrupting”. And this is a major point of frustration for people in trades that need evolution – not revolution – and who find themselves bombarded by inept technologists who are so busy trying (and failing) to “completely reinvent” things that they can’t figure out how to make themselves properly useful, and thus, valuable. Instead, of viable solutions to actual problems, you get an experience with all the joy of an unintelligible error code, produced by someone who thought he knew how your business could work better than you did, without actually knowing how it all worked in the first place.

    Or caring, for that matter. “Not a good fit” indeed.

  4. Jon Taplin says:

    @Fentex-I assume your last paragraph is an elliptic reference to The Interregnum. Eh?

    I have put forth your same idea for the past three years—a global ISP content fee paid like an ASCAP royalty by the router records in every country. I would probably come to about $5 per month per subscriber. At 2 billion global subscribers thats $10 billion a month for content creation across all platforms-Video, audio and print. $120 Billion per year. All advertising and direct Payment (I Tunes, etc.) would be above that.

    By comparison the whole global recorded music business is $17 billion per year.

  5. Fentex says:

    I assume your last paragraph is an elliptic reference to The Interregnum. Eh?


    I have put forth your same idea for the past three years—a global ISP content fee paid like an ASCAP royalty by the router records in every country.

    I don’t think we mean quite the same thing.

    If I understand correctly ASCAP uses statistical sampling to disperse monies to a registered pool of people. I feel uncomfortable with that system being applied to ISP accounts, I do not like the implications of monitoring, registration and statistical disbursement.

    I think ISPs could, and ought, without any compulsion, gather pools of content and manage renumeration themselves from their own records of what their customers sup. Then they may compete among themselves for quality and reliability of delivery as well as prices to customers and content producers.

    I believe an attempt to construct a global (or even simple national) levy and ASCAP like disbursement will be inefficent, corrupted and captured by interests to serve as a barrier to rather than enabler of individuals profiting online.

    I haven’t considered, and don’t really have sufficient direct experience with, the idea of doing this via a compulsory licensing system. Straight away considering that means monitoring will have to be in place everywhere to audit everyones claim they’ve paid the neccessary fee. Which I don’t like (and isn’t possible anyway).

    ISP’s want very badly not to just be dumb pipe maintainers and the best ideas they’ve had to avoid that is to udermine network neutrality which is a stupid thought as it’s very anti-customer andn ot a good way to improve a business.

    Establishing themsleves as quality purveyors of what the Net can bring you is a much better startegy I feel. At the heart of my opinion is the certainty that one can compete with free and that price isn’t the reason people download content.

  6. len says:

    And that idea translates to a tax on Internet use in most circles. I understand why but in a time when the political environment won’t even accept a tax on those who can well afford it, it won’t fly for the rest of us who can’t.

    Sorry lads, but the music industry gets to suck hind tit with the rest of us. If you want that to change, you may want to hit the streets with the OWSers. Digital art is where all the things we know that just ain’t so in the economy flip.

  7. len says:


    An odd counterpoint to Jon’s Outlaw Blues: modern art destroyed our culture. Wow. News at eleven.

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