Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Accidental Subsistence

I got The Social Network through Netflix, watched it on Sunday. Interesting in that it seems to be a movie about a company (Facebook) instead of a movie about a character. There are several characters that the movie follows, but they seem to take peripheral importance to the development of the company. Scenes with the characters are generally truncated, dialogue limited, development minimal. Lots and lots of micro scenes used to show the developing plot, but not really to establish a relationship between the viewer and the character.

Most interesting to me was the idea that the company could go from a vague concept to a 25 billion dollar company in just a few years. 25 billion dollars is an incredible amount of money. It's large enough that the main character, Mark Zuckerberg, is encouraged to pay a settlement of 65 million dollars to people who really don't seem to have much cause to sue him. 65 million is considered negligible when compared to 25 billion.

Another way to look at it: 25 billion is almost twice as much money as it would take to completely rebuild Haiti. Remember Haiti? It's still fucked, nearly a year after the earthquake. Almost 10 million people squatting in tents, dying of starvation and cholera, and Mark Zuckerberg could cash out his Facebook stock (51% ownership of the 25 billion dollar company) and single-handedly save all those people without even needing to fund-raise a dime.

And it's not like Facebook, this monstrously valuable company, actually produces any vital product. It doesn't have any direct connection to survival, ie food water shelter. It probably won't even be around in another decade or so, fading away just like Friendster and Myspace and all the rest.

A while back Mother Jones magazine published a series of charts meant to visually illustrate the disparity of wealth in the United States. Here's one chart from that series:

So 1% of the population have 34.6 percent of all the money. (Actually, the chart uses data from 2007, and the situation has worsened since then.) When one guy (Zuckerberg) can make 12 billion dollars in five years by creating a company that doesn't even do anything crucial (ie related to survival), during a time in which the average American income is less than $35 thousand a year, it's easy to see how that disparity arises. And with every coming year, the number of people who have all the money shrinks, and the number or people who don't grows.

Here's another way to look at it: Our grandparents earned enough from their jobs to afford a house in a few years. Our parents earned enough to qualify for a 15 or 30 year mortgage, which meant that with a regular job they could afford a house in 15 to 30 years. For our generation, even with a regular job, it is no longer possible for many people to afford a house or mortgage at all in their lifetimes. You just can't earn enough, anymore. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg comes up with one unnecessary, soon-to-be-outdated idea, and he makes 25000 times more in five years than the average American will earn in a lifetime of work (assuming 30 years of earning around $35K a year).

Which means that there isn't really any point in trying to maintain a traditional career anymore.

Considering that, maybe this is a better strategy: work as little as possible, just enough to earn money to cover your basic (food/shelter) needs. If you're ever going to claw your way out of poverty, it'll be from coming up with that lucky idea (like Facebook was for Zuckerberg), or from winning the lotto or something. You can't work your way out of the poorhouse anymore (if you ever really could).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Testament - Gideons' Version

I've been given three of these miniature bibles in the course of my life. Maybe you've been given one too. According to the text in the front of my copy, The Gideons International have passed out more than 1.5 billion of them. They're more common than colds.

But I've never actually got around to reading through any of the copies people gave to me. I might have flipped them open here and there, and read a passage or two, and that's it. Eventually, they disappeared or got lost. The copy I've got now has been sitting on my desk for months, untouched since the day it was handed to me.

If people keep giving me a book, why haven't I ever bothered to read it? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm averse to Christian evangelists. Secondly, I'm pretty lazy, and I haven't ever found the bible to be stimulating reading. I did get started on the Old Testament once, figuring I'd work my way through to the New, but I couldn't make it past Exodus. Too boring.

Well, today is a new day. St. Patrick's day, actually. And I've got this untouched copy of the New Testament sitting on my desk. And I'm thinking I'll try reading it, and blogging about the experience.

I don't know what's going to happen if I read this. Probably nothing. Probably I'll stick with it for a few days, and get bored, and give up. I'm not desperate to be saved, or anything. I'd be more interested in Buddhism, or something, if I were. And a while back I read the Bhagavad Gita, also pushed as one of those life-changing spiritual tomes, and it didn't do much for me.

But who knows? Right here in this Gideons copy I have, it says "The Bible contains the mind of God," and the Gideons seem to think it's powerful enough on its own--they seem unique amongst evangelists because they just hand out copies and leave the preaching to the book. How can my puny, lazy, mortal brain resist the power of God's Mind, especially if he wants me to be led by his light?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

DOWN ALL THE DAYS by Christy Brown

ANGELA's ASHES does a better job of conveying the "Dublin Slum Childhood" sort of story, because it's more coherent, but Christy's book has moments of hallucinatory brilliance, and awesome empathy. The writing is wild, sometimes ridiculously indulgent (especially when Christy runs through a series of alliterative adjectives), but it stumbles into brilliance often enough to merit fighting through the rest.

Take this, for example: "Happiest were the children [...] their small bones sang in the earth forever."

Or this: "her eyes like hard coal diamonds swimming in sperm."

Or this: "the fleck of blood [...] burning like a geranium petal at sunset."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

indie writers hit gold with epublishing

I came across this article on NOVLR talking about writers self-publishing books on ereaders. It focuses on Amanda Hocking (here's her blog), a writer who has never been published in the traditional sense--i.e. by a publishing house. She's put out 9 books, all on her own, and is currently selling more than 100,000 electronic copies each month. (According to USA today, she sold more than 450,000 copies in the month of January 2011.) The books sell for about a buck each, of which Amazon keeps 30 cents. In other words, she's making at least $70K a month without ever having had any other person decide her stuff is worth publication. In other words, HOLY FUCKING SHIT!

The NOVLR article also lists the other top 25 authors self-publishing books on the kindle, the lowest selling number of which is 2,500 copies a month. At seventy cents (or more, in most cases) per book, 2,500 copies a month is a good living.

After reading all of the above, I'm practically having heart palpitations. There's plenty of arguing that could be done to lessen the significance of this ebook selfpublishing revolution, but at first blush this makes the idea of earning a living as an author seem like an actual possibility again. The very thought is like lightning in my veins, and I'm super charged up on trying to figure out how to get into it myself.