October 02, 2011

The hollowing out of the 'creative class' - including by new media

Working at a newspaper, I can of course attest to this personally. But, it's artists, musicians and others, too, as this excellent Salon column notes. I hadn't don't a blog post in my "dark side of the Internet" series recently, and this piece (h/t Leo Lincourt) makes a good foundation for that.

The reality of this hollowing out?
Some of these employees are young people killing time behind a counter; it’s hard for them, but they will live to fight again. But education, talent and experience — criteria that help define (Richard) Florida’s creative class, making these supposedly valued workers the equivalent of testosterone injections for cities — does not guarantee that a “knowledge worker” can make a real living these days.
“It’s sort of like job growth in Texas,” says Joe Donnelly, a former deputy editor at L.A. Weekly, laid off in 2008 and now pouring savings and the money he made from a home sale into a literary magazine. “Gov. Perry created thousands of jobs, but they’re all at McDonald’s. Now everyone has a chance to make 15 cents. People are just pecking, hunting, scratching the dirt for freelance work. Living week to week, month to month.”
Now, I don't think Florida, or New Urbanism, is/are the antichrist. But, I do think a fair amount of people who buy into his ideas are the same white, Volvo-driving, latte-sipping, Meyer-lemons-for-lemonade-squeezing white liberals who bought into Barack Obama, too.

Here's the nut grafs of this hollowing out:
Optimists like Florida are undoubtedly right about something: This country doesn’t make things anymore and never will. What the United States produces now is culture and ideas. Trouble is, making a living doing this has never been harder.
Wait a minute, says Allison Glock, a magazine journalist and writer who’s just returned to her native South because she and her novelist husband could no longer afford life in New York. “Wasn’t the Internet supposed to bring this class into being?”
Well, yes, theoretically. However, non-Chicago School non-Randian non-economics libertarians underestimated the power of big biz. AOL, though, should have been a wake-up call. But, because blogs offered us all a sliver of "idea space," and the hope of not working for the corporate media man, we "bit."

Problem with that? As Bill Gates notes when saying he thinks we need larger inheritance taxes, a lot of life, for both individuals and movements, is about luck. And timing. And ... per modern terminology ... about bandwidth. (More on that below.)

So, yes, we do need a new Dorothea Lange.

And, no, new media isn't the answer, contra the blogging PR chief for a certain science magazine. After all, Scientific American's parent, Nature Publishing is itself part of an international, monstrous conglomerate that owns Holt, Rinehart, Winston; McMillan; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; and major German publisher S. Fischer, among other things. So, sorry, Bora Zivkovic; working for a multinational corporation that is determined, like similar other multinationals, to use digital rights management laws and other things to extend its dominance from the $3 billion or more in annual sales worldwide isn't exactly "new" from the capitalism side.

More below the fold.

Whether it's AOL with HuffPost, Patch, etc., Demand Media, etc., or "old media" players like Nature/SciAm owner Georg von Holtzbrinck stealthily changing its business operations, new media is really not the answer. At least, not where new media is headed.

Dorothea Lange worked for ... remember .. the gummint! Unfortunately, our neolib Dear Leader thinks "college for all" is the answer, and it's not.

Most new news media, as I have blogged before, is either not that good, whether for reasons of lack of time (more on that below, that "bandwidth" issue!), lack of skill or grinding axes. New science media? PLoS may be doing some good things, but, that's more an "access" issue than a content issue. New tech media? FCC requirements aside, it's questionable about how much of this, at the smaller scales, isn't getting paid for product placement blurbs. Ditto, in some way, on entertainment new media.

And, that was true three years ago, before all the hollowing out hit with a vengeance. (And, Great Recession aside, it was "coming" to this in some way, shape and form anyway.)

Let's get back to the "bandwidth" issue. There's only so much time in the day, especially with our time-fixated modern West, above all, in the United States which, in modern terms, wants to work people to the bone. Above all, here in the U.S., sorry, Bora, this IS a zero-sum game, until more of "us" get more time to think, read, write, photograph, film and otherwise act and be creative.

And, luck and contingency, sir, were factors in where you are now, too. Just as with Bill Gates. Yes, you do have a good position. That said, it's dependent on at least some of the bloggers, mainly master's degree grads, Ph.D. students and others trying to get the slimmest of legs up in the dog-eat-dog world of science careers, who will blog for free or nearly so at SciAm. Just like laid-off newspaper writers and editors do that for Demand or Examiner.

(And, you could be next, yourself. What's to stop SciAm from getting a little widget to "auto-Tweet" individual bloggers in a blog stable to Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.? I'm surprised it's not being done already.)

Meanwhile, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Scott Scoble and others are either gullible, pulling up the ladder after their Net-neo-liberal selves and preaching gospel to gullible suckers below them, or both.
Much of the writing about the new economy of the 21st century, and the Internet in particular, has had a tone somewhere between cheerleading and utopian. One of the Net’s consummate optimists is Chris Anderson, whose book “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling More,” championed the Internet’s “unlimited and unfiltered access to culture and contents of all sort, from the mainstream to the farthest fringe of the underground.”

In 2009, Anderson came out with the intelligently argued “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” which suggested that new revenue streams and the low cost of computer bits meant that both businesses and consumers would benefit as the Internet drove down prices. It’s nice to contemplate, but the human cost of “Free” becomes clear every day a publisher lays off staff or a record store closes.
 With new media touters like that promoting the cyber equivalent of unequal "free" trade with China, no wonder we're in the fix we're in.

Reality? Cornucopian ideas about new media, new creativity, etc., at least as anything more than a hobby, are inflated indeed, as I have blogged before. Jarod Lanier, cited in the story as, like me, having a much more skeptical take, has discussed this before, as I blogged about here. It's all part of a larger issue of "infowars," or as Lanier notes, who controls the servers. And the "cloud." I discussed that more here.

Oh, the offering of more and more university classes online may be a boost to universities' recognition, and  possibly to the bottom line of universities focused more and more on a business-like bottom line. But, if it leads more and more universities to hire more and more non-tenure track instructors, it will add to the hollowing out.

That said, the Salon article linked at top says it's going to be part of a series. I sadly, in a way, look forward to it.

And, is it a "depression," not just a recession? At the least, to riff on Jerry Ford, it's a "stagcession."

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