The Digital Age

Literature

As some people have mentioned on the comment site for this video, books are being pirated all the time, whether or not they are on a digital format. Not releasing your book into such a medium will not guarantee protection against piracy.

Alexie’s fears seem to be all over the place, I don’t think any of them require the kinds of alarms it seems he’s sounding. For instance, at one point, he says:

You as a libertarian, you as a small government person, should be absolutely terrified at having a device that has everything you read, everything you listen to, all of your contacts, all of your correspondence, in one easily pirated device.

By all means, don’t keep all of those things on one single device if you are concerned about that device’s security being compromised. Likewise, do not keep things in your house that are of immense value and would utterly devastate you if taken away. There are things like safety deposit boxes. If you don’t want your contacts and your music on the same device, keep one on a phone and the other on CDs or an mp3 player. It seems to me, however, that his concern in that quote is more with hacking than pirating, and it’s disturbing to hear him casually combine the two.

Alexie’s most peculiar argument was this one:

Bezos [founder and CEO of Amazon.com] has actually been quoted as saying he wants to change the way people read.

Why would this be of any concern? I am not sure why Alexie is uncomfortable with people reading differently today than they did at any other point. The way people read constantly changes, as new realities are confronted and people learn more. It is helpful to diversify the way you experience stories, by checking out different media ranging from paper to performance” you name it. Just because alternate ways of reading are coming about doesn’t mean you totally have to conform to them. No, paper books are not going to be banished from the earth. They will be around for as long as people are alive. Bound reading material is way too popular and close to people to be suddenly or gradually done away with. By the way, feel free to write a letter to someone. Just because email is so pervasive doesn’t mean that you can’t write letters anymore. If you care about these mediums, keep them alive. You aren’t the only one who still wants them around, trust me.

As frustrating as that part of the interview was to listen to, Alexie really got me going when he started talking about the music industry. The poor music industry with its still super-rich stars who have adapted quite well to the digital age and who have suffered this supposed 75% – 95% of their music being stolen. Stolen! Listened to on a PC just as if you had slinked into a music store and swiped a copy of the new Black Eyed Peas album yourself! BMI, Sony, Univerisal, and Capital Records, once towering media giants, now skeletons of their former ridiculously opulent selves.

Musicians during the dawn of Napster who demonized file sharing only made themselves look less like artists and more like business people as they lamented all the lost profits as young people very intrigued by their music started listening to them with easier access. Now that a decade or so has past and Metallica, Eminem, and Maynard James Keenan are still quite wealthy people thanks to all the albums and shows they’ve done, they are not as convincing in their arguments of how Napster and Morpheus were just positively bankrupting them. Or how file sharing today cripples them.

But then their arguments changed, or bounced all over the place as Alexie’s does, and they said that they were actually looking out for the little guy, for the up and coming artists who would be financially devastated by potential fans who wanted to listen to them for free before buying them, or maybe just listen to them for free. They were actually looking out for all of us aspiring less advantaged artists.

Personally, I do not need their business advice. I actually want people to have very easy access to what I make and I’d like to have a variety of options of how it might be disseminated. The Internet is a remarkable place for sharing media and we have to keep our eyes open in order to keep this realm free and open to anyone who can click links or type URLs, or even to people who can’t for that matter. Alexie is simply wrong when he says “with the open source culture on the Internet, the idea of ownership, of artistic ownership goes away”. He may want to actually visit the sites of open source communities, like Creative Commons, and realize that different artists have different concerns regarding what happens to their work in the hands of other people. Some people merely want their name associated with their work, allowing others to change what they make and call it their own as long as they acknowledge the original maker. Some people don’t care if you make money off of what they made, but don’t want you to change their work in anyway. There is quite a list of varieties, all of which can be legally stipulated. The open source community is not about abolishing ownership, but allowing the artist to have more say in how their work is distributed what “ownership” means, if they don’t totally jive with traditional copyright.

As far as digital archiving stripping away human elements, again I see that as ridiculous as saying that email strips away the intimacy of letter writing. You can write emails like you write letters if you want. Or you can write letters instead of emailing. Your correspondence won’t get there as fast with snail mail, but the experience is not gone or abandoned. You need not prevent yourself from writing such a thing. Similarly, if Alexie wants to go door-to-door more to promote his book, then he totally can. He admits in the interview that he does indeed still do so, but fears that other writers can’t.

What on earth prevents other writers from engaging with people face to face more? So you’re on a book tour doing “afternoon matinees”, whatever the heck he’s referring to? Well, when the session’s over, dive into a local bookstore, check out the local authors, contact them. Get a hold of college professors and see if they’re interested in what you’re up to. Go to a frickin’ open-mike night, for crying out loud. I do all of these things and I’m getting zilch for what I write. And who will stop me??

Anyway, it always upsets me when people, very intellectual people especially, complain about more information becoming digitized. If these people were actually interested in the proliferation of knowledge, they’d be excited about this phenomenon. Art and business do not mix well at all. The first is concerned with seeking truth and beauty, and the second is concerned with seeking money. Some people are masters at merging these two pursuits, making them appear inseparable from each other. If someone wants combine the two, they are free to do so. If, however, you are primarily concerned with learning more about the world through the humanities, you must realize that this is a pursuit in and of itself. You can add other pursuits to it, by they are hardly necessary aspects of it.
As some people have mentioned on the comment site for this video, books are being pirated all the time, whether or not they are on a digital format. Not releasing your book into such a medium will not guarantee protection against piracy.

Alexie’s fears seem to be all over the place, I don’t think any of them require the kinds of alarms it seems he’s sounding. For instance, at one point, he says:

You as a libertarian, you as a small government person, should be absolutely terrified at having a device that has everything you read, everything you listen to, all of your contacts, all of your correspondence, in one easily pirated device.

By all means, don’t keep all of those things on one single device if you are concerned about that device’s security being compromised. Likewise, do not keep things in your house that are of immense value and would utterly devastate you if taken away. There are things like safety deposit boxes. If you don’t want your contacts and your music on the same device, keep one on a phone and the other on CDs or an mp3 player. It seems to me, however, that his concern in that quote is more with hacking than pirating, and it’s disturbing to hear him casually combine the two.

Alexie’s most peculiar argument was this one:

Bezos [founder and CEO of Amazon.com] has actually been quoted as saying he wants to change the way people read.

Why would this be of any concern? I am not sure why Alexie is uncomfortable with people reading differently today than they did at any other point. The way people read constantly changes, as new realities are confronted and people learn more. It is helpful to diversify the way you experience stories, by checking out different media ranging from paper to performance” you name it. Just because alternate ways of reading are coming about doesn’t mean you totally have to conform to them. No, paper books are not going to be banished from the earth. They will be around for as long as people are alive. Bound reading material is way too popular and close to people to be suddenly or gradually done away with. By the way, feel free to write a letter to someone. Just because email is so pervasive doesn’t mean that you can’t write letters anymore. If you care about these mediums, keep them alive. You aren’t the only one who still wants them around, trust me.

As frustrating as that part of the interview was to listen to, Alexie really got me going when he started talking about the music industry. The poor music industry with its still super-rich stars who have adapted quite well to the digital age and who have suffered this supposed 75% – 95% of their music being stolen. Stolen! Listened to on a PC just as if you had slinked into a music store and swiped a copy of the new Black Eyed Peas album yourself! BMI, Sony, Univerisal, and Capital Records, once towering media giants, now skeletons of their former ridiculously opulent selves.

Musicians during the dawn of Napster who demonized file sharing only made themselves look less like artists and more like business people as they lamented all the lost profits as young people very intrigued by their music started listening to them with easier access. Now that a decade or so has past and Metallica, Eminem, and Maynard James Keenan are still quite wealthy people thanks to all the albums and shows they’ve done, they are not as convincing in their arguments of how Napster and Morpheus were just positively bankrupting them. Or how file sharing today cripples them.

But then their arguments changed, or bounced all over the place as Alexie’s does, and they said that they were actually looking out for the little guy, for the up and coming artists who would be financially devastated by potential fans who wanted to listen to them for free before buying them, or maybe just listen to them for free. They were actually looking out for all of us aspiring less advantaged artists.

Personally, I do not need their business advice. I actually want people to have very easy access to what I make and I’d like to have a variety of options of how it might be disseminated. The Internet is a remarkable place for sharing media and we have to keep our eyes open in order to keep this realm free and open to anyone who can click links or type URLs, or even to people who can’t for that matter. Alexie is simply wrong when he says with the open source culture on the Internet, the idea of ownership, of artistic ownership goes away. He may want to actually visit the sites of open source communities, like Creative Commons, and realize that different artists have different concerns regarding what happens to their work in the hands of other people. Some people merely want their name associated with their work, allowing others to change what they make and call it their own as long as they acknowledge the original maker. Some people don’t care if you make money off of what they made, but don’t want you to change their work in anyway. There is quite a list of varieties, all of which can be legally stipulated. The open source community is not about abolishing ownership, but allowing the artist to have more say in how their work is distributed what “ownership” means, if they don’t totally jive with traditional copyright.

As far as digital archiving stripping away human elements, again I see that as ridiculous as saying that email strips away the intimacy of letter writing. You can write emails like you write letters if you want. Or you can write letters instead of emailing. Your correspondence won’t get there as fast with snail mail, but the experience is not gone or abandoned. You need not prevent yourself from writing such a thing. Similarly, if Alexie wants to go door-to-door more to promote his book, then he totally can. He admits in the interview that he does indeed still do so, but fears that other writers can’t.

What on earth prevents other writers from engaging with people face to face more? So you’re on a book tour doing “afternoon matinees”, whatever the heck he’s referring to? Well, when the session’s over, dive into a local bookstore, check out the local authors, contact them. Get a hold of college professors and see if they’re interested in what you’re up to. Go to a frickin’ open-mike night, for crying out loud. I do all of these things and I’m getting zilch for what I write. And who will stop me??

Anyway, it always upsets me when people, very intellectual people especially, complain about more information becoming digitized. If these people were actually interested in the proliferation of knowledge, they’d be excited about this phenomenon. Art and business do not mix well at all. The first is concerned with seeking truth and beauty, and the second is concerned with seeking money. Some people are masters at merging these two pursuits, making them appear inseparable from each other. If someone wants combine the two, they are free to do so. If, however, you are primarily concerned with learning more about the world through the humanities, you must realize that this is a pursuit in and of itself. You can add other pursuits to it, by they are hardly necessary aspects of it.

What say you?