Of Future Past

I’ll call this entry “Of Future Past” and not only because I just finished watching the X-Men movie of nearly the same title, but also because of something I read this evening, and the source of it.

Many years ago I worked in a bookstore in the neighborhood where I now work for an IOT company (IOT: internet of things). Back then there was no internet, though there were plenty of “things”. Back then I was working for minimum wage as a stock-clerk/cashier, and this particular bookstore contained a small coffee shop within it. In that coffee shop, a young man with famous dreadlocks was often surrounded by a coterie of followers or fellow-travelers, and he was a prophet of sorts, a technology prophet holding court about “the future”. So you see, this memory is about a fellow who in the past boldly proclaimed great things about the future, things he is now sort of taking back, on second and third thought.

Jaron Lanier, author of “Who Owns the Future?” was this young man, and the quote that struck me in a recent interview had a lot to do with some of my favorite topics : open-source software, free and global information, instant access, self-publishing, and free online art of all kinds (music, video, art, literature, etc …). Here’s the quote:

There’s this idea that there must be tens of thousands of people who are making a great living as freelance musicians because you can market yourself on social media. And whenever I look for these people – I mean when I wrote “Gadget” I looked around and found a handful – and at this point three years later, I went around to everybody I could to get actual lists of people who are doing this and to verify them, and there are more now. But like in the hip-hop world I counted them all and I could find about 50.

That’s right. Fifty that could be considered “successful”, and that was defined by making some six figures in income, which is something quite pedestrian for software engineers in my part of the world. Not that special. But that is all there are. You hear all the time about how so many people are making a living self-publishing, how liberating all this stuff is, how bold the future and so on, but the larger point Lanier is making in his book is that with all of this “sharing economy”, what we’re actually seeing is a smaller number of people making all the money, and most people finding fewer normal jobs out there. He may or not be correct with his current predictions, which are pretty much the opposite of his old predictions, but at least he’s not going broke being completely wrong all the time.

Or is he? The book sounded interesting so I went on Amazon to get it, and found many copies available for around ONE DOLLAR (plus the usual Amazon $3.99 shipping and handling). It’s a real book, hefty and smelly and all that, not an e-book, but what’s the diff? I would have to pay three times as much for the e-book version. As they said duing Occupy Wall Street, “shit is all fucked up”.

Yes, we’re all providing labor for Facebook and Google and Alibaba et al to give them our information so they can turn around and sell it to advertisers, and yes we’re sharing our photos on Instagram for free instead of stopping off at the FotoMat so some sucker in a booth can have a crappy job, but I don’t think technology is the real killer of the middle class, though frequently a prime suspect. The middle class was a creation of quasi-socialism, and the reactionaries wiped it out by slashing the tax base and “cutting the fat” of government, of which said faat was mainly used to generate jobs in the areas of construction, maintenance, teaching, policing and other social niceties. They still have middle classes where they still have socialism. It’s pretty basic. If you don’t allow unbridled global corporate profiteering, far more people get to have their cake and eat it too. But since corporations (as people) own the politicians  (who stock the courts) and rig the game, theyre the ones with cake while the rest of us zombies drool and forget – for generations at a time – that all power does in fact reside in the people when the fucking people wake the fuck up and do something about it. But those generations are few and far between. We’ll see how it goes in the 22nd century.

In the meantime, don’t tell me there are tons of people MAKING a KILLING and YOU CAN TOO. There aren’t, and you can’t. There are probably more than fifty, but probably not a whole lot more.


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