Monday, May 15, 2006
Get your red hots!
That said, a couple of Kelly's points stuck in my craw. First: we are about to enter a second age of mechanical reproduction, in which the copies themselves are universally available and therefore worthless. "As copies have been dethroned," Kelly writes, "the economic model built on them is collapsing. In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies lose value. They are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection and sharing are." Oh, great. And what are writers supposed to do? Well, you can give away your work for nothing and peddle souvenirs, snacks, beverages, and t-shirts on the profitable periphery of literature. As Kelly puts it: authors and artists "can sell performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information, the scarcity of attention (via ads), sponsorship, periodic subscriptions--in short, all the many values that cannot be copied." Please, let's think about this for a moment. What's happening is that the work of the imagination is being devalued: writing a novel is essentially on par with writing a rubber check. What's valuable is squeezing the ancillary rights out of your creation. I'm particularly excited about the scarcity of attention--just think, it was there all along and I never made a nickel from it!
Yes, I'm griping. You could even say I'm whining. But it's not just because Kelly is celebrating the slow death of my livelihood: it's because I still think of reading as an intensely personal activity, whereas for Kelly, it resembles a giant game of Twister:
When books are digitized, reading becomes a community activity. Bookmarks can be shared with fellow readers. Marginalia can be broadcast. Bibliographies swapped. You might get an alert that your friend Carl has annotated a favorite book of yours. A moment later, his links are yours. In a curious way, the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world's only book.I don't want every book to vanish into the slurry of the universal library. I don't want Carl to annotate my favorite novels. And he'd better keep his hands off my scrimshaw collection, too.
But I agree that Kelly's proposal to focus instead on these ancillary endeavors is obnoxious and devalues the writer's craft.
...Or maybe I could just get a sponsorhip deal from Coca-Cola. Just put it on the cover - sponsored by ... Everyone else does it, why not me?