The title of this post is actually a lyric from one of the Springsteen songs I posted, but also fits what I want to talk about today.
One afternoon twenty years ago, as I sat in my cubicle watching the clock inch toward 5:00, two friends from the IT department came over and asked if they could install something interesting called, “Mosaic” on my computer. Ready for any diversion, I said, “Sure.
For those who do not remember, Mosaic was the first publically available internet browser. I spent the next three hours transfixed, only logging off when hunger drove me from the building. I didn’t realize I had witnessed something as significant as the steam engine – the world had started to change.
The other half of this equation manifested within the year – NAFTA – although us techies were slow to see what was happening as we continued to rake in the bonuses, at least for a while, for enabling the change.
It’s old news now: the twin engines of the internet and globalization have changed the landscape of work forever, for everyone. According to two significant articles I came upon recently, too few of our leaders are acknowledging what everyone in the trenches knows.
I glossed over the articles in my Springsteen post, which does not do them justice; both are worth reading. The gist is that no amount of stimulus money, or politicians “plans,” or “business friendly environments” are going to bring back many jobs that a changing world has made obsolete. In this country, economic recovery will not restore opportunities for elevator operators, gas station attendants, most travel agents, most manufacturing workers, or the tens of thousands of software engineers whose work is now done overseas. New “efficiencies” have allowed occupations in all industries to be “right-sized.”
Here are the articles:
“Where the Jobs Aren’t: Grappling With Structural Unemployment,” by Zachary Karabell, Time, January 17, 1011.
“Many Jobs Gone Forever Despite Onset of Recovery,” by Darry Sragow, The Sacramento Bee, Jan. 8, 2011,
In my opinion, all this was well underway ten years ago, but masked by a decade-long economic sugar-rush comprised of a housing bubble and military spending. Quite a few people saw it for what it was. In 2005, someone on a financial bulletin board quipped that soon Americans would earn their living selling each other beanie babies on eBay.
The grand irony as a tech worker over the last decade has been seeing so many positions eliminated as a direct result of our success. Young yang always becomes old yang, according to the I Ching.
I have been thinking about how this affects writers. On one hand, as Dylan said, “When you got nothin’ you got nothin’ to loose.” I know published authors, but none who make their living solely from writing. A while ago, someone asked Gary Snyder what he would do if he was just starting out as a poet. Snyder, who has written poems about fixing old pickups, said he’d probably get a day-job as an auto mechanic. For most of us, with vocations different from our avocation, not too much has changed.
This may be Pollyanna-ish, but I tend to think the internet represents mostly upside for us. I do not mean just opportunities for exposure, though these are important, and I am certain new avenues will continue to emerge.
I am talking of information or services that one may fairly ask and receive payment for. One example is Randy Ingermanson, whose AdvancedFictionWriting.com is listed on my Blogroll. He charges a nominal fee for some of his online classes, and if they are as worthwhile as his free discussion of the “Snowflake Method” (for working out plot and structure), they are probably worth the cost.
The internet holds more information and services than any of us could use in ten lifteimes. How does any one site rise above the crowd? By specializing, somehow aligning with personal passion, I suspect. Beyond Google I probably visit no more than a dozen sites on a regular basis, all of them very focused on topics of interest to me.
Sometimes over coffee I fantasize different internet ventures the way I fantasize story plots. It recently struck me that it’s probably harder to write even a bad novel than to dream up an online venture that could generate income, if one was so moved and motivated.
What does it take after all, at a minimum, to write a novel?
- A high degree of desire and determination.
- In depth knowlege of fiction in general and one’s genre in particular.
- Imagination to dream up story ideas, pick one, and continuously refine it.
- The company of like minded people for advice and support.
- Several years worth of evenings and weekends.
Isn’t it likely that if someone focused this kind of effort on an online endeavor, something worthwhile would come of it? And if it happened to mesh with one’s passion…well, that is worth pondering over a cup of coffee. Hmmm, now what features would you want in a beanie baby exchange?