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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Starving Musician

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto.

Jaron Lanier




Continuing: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto.

Jaron Lanier asks a simple question: how many are earning enough to support a family doing music in the new online world? (A young single person can do gigs and crash on people's couches, but the question is, who has made it a middle-class job?) And so he and his acquaintances asked for responses. Turns out, not many. Jonathan Coulton is one of the few. Maybe some content aggregators and people who make jingles for advertising.

Now, you go to Amazon and read the comments: "[Lanier] tries to argue that musicians should be earning at least 100k a year, no way dude." You have a perspective that those who create works that are widely copied -- music, news stories, books, photographs and soon movies and perhaps computer software -- should have seen this coming, and if they are upset, have only themselves to blame for not switching to a real job. An of course, given there can be many economics, you can say that and be right. Another way of framing the issue may be to say, sure, not everyone who picks up a guitar deserves to make a living, but what is a healthy number and is the trend toward or away that number?

What can be easily copied (or automated) is expected to expand. We can anticipate a future with more creative activities, less labor. Information (and creative work) can be free, but it will create growing friction if those necessities of life are not free, or where individual data is free, but meta-data valuable. Once an economy becomes sufficiently entrenched, it can take war to change things. We're still probably at a place where the trajectory can be changed peacefully.

[Note: I'm combining some of my ideas with Lanier's. If you need to know Lanier's exact arguments, read the book yourself.]