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November 9, 2013

the demi-gilded age

I don't really know the context of this.  I stumbled upon it because of a tweet that was RTed by someone I don't really know that well.  But my curiosity was piqued, and I'm glad that I read it.

It's a post on a personal blog (remember those?) eviscerating a carelessly thought-out claim that there's no such thing as American poverty from some dude I had to look up (oh, a founder of Vice, quelle surprise).  It's long and thoughtful and well-researched and well worth the five minutes you'll spend with it.

And it got me to thinking, not about the poverty question, because you and I both know that if someone claims that there's no such thing as American poverty that person is either an idiot or works for the Heritage Foundation (or both!), but rather about How We Write Now.  Remember, I guess is was ten years ago, when the Internet of public writing consisted mostly of personal blogs, hundreds of them, speaking their minds, talking to each other, incessantly?  Remember when we thought that was the future, a tessellation of privately owned weblogs, micropublishing pushing its way to the surface?

Well, we were wrong, of course, as a bunch of Silicon Valley/Alley found a way to monetize that.  Oh, there are a few personal blogs left (Hi!), but now that thing you're reacting to more than likely came from an Internet magazine, or "social media," in which the content driving the value of is given for free, or even newer sites like Medium, where anyone can pretend that they're a columnist.  There's still the chance out there to write and have everyone read it, and you don't have to pay the five dollars a month to keep your own site up, but what it really is is a Demi-Gilded Age.  The same vocal population that wanted to get their words out has the same opportunity to do so that they had ten years ago, but now they are digital serfs, increasing shareholder value.

There's not much to do about it but look back wistfully, I guess.  But thank you, Elizabeth Stoker, for writing that lovely piece.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:44 AM

November 8, 2013

a brief emo pause

Two weeks ago there was a man sitting on the curb in front of my office.  He was hunched over in what I took to be the default pose of the second decade of the 21st Century. — thumbing his handheld device, or watching some content on his iPad.  This was not the case on second inspection.

Actually, he was sobbing.  Quietly, imperceptibly rocking back and forth.

The elevator took a while, as it always does.  It was the middle of the afternoon, and my block is chock in the middle of the now-trendy West Chelsea art district, Pace Gallery right across the street.  The man was well-dressed, but he had no backpack or briefcase or messenger bag, none of the signifiers of the NYC man-on-the-go.  He was alone, dispossessed for whatever reason of normal accoutrement, crying.

The elevator came and I looked back at him.  Maybe he'd stood up, went on his way?  Maybe I should actually stop and ask him if he was okay?  Maybe I should give that dude a hug?

I didn't, of course.  He was still hunched over, heaving sobs, and I stepped onto the elevator and punched my button.  We like to think we're the hero of our story, but we don't always live up to that.

I deeply regret that I did not do the right thing, for two reasons.  First, don't we all like to think that we do the right thing when forced?  And second, sometimes the guy sobbing on the street is you.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

November 5, 2013

vote don't vote

I understand that Russell Brand told you not to vote.  It was not very circumspect of him.  My rationale this morning was that, well, I didn't see any revolution on the street in front of the polling station, so until such time as such revolution obviates the need for voting, I'm voting.

And let me congratulate the City of New York for again providing a frighteningly unpleasant and incompetent voting experience.  Run by obviously unqualified volunteers who bicker with each other like five year-olds and employing an utterly mystifying voting process that was clearly developed by some "private-public partnership" and made someone very wealthy.  But I'm sure it's no better anywhere else.  God, now that I think of it, if Voter ID is going to do anything it's going to make the whole process two to three times longer.

But vote I did.  It's how the system votes.

"But the system doesn't work that well," you respond.  Fair point.  I think we all feel that there is a dearth of choice between candidates and that the whole thing has a strong whiff of oligarchy or one of those other -garchies.  In this case, spend your morning coffee reading the always stalwart Joe Nocera suggesting six ways to ameliorate the situation, including one that may well cause you to raise your eyebrows or otherwise indicate mild surprise.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:22 AM