Jaron Lanier’s recent book You Are Not a Gadget has gotten a good deal of play, because it’s being read as the lament of a guy who was once in the digerati vanguard now standing athwart history shouting “Stop!” Which is probably not quite right, but it makes a good story. Lanier is not skeptical about technology or even about the Internet but rather about vast promises being made by proponents of the Web 2.0 world. And he does sound quite a bit like the people I quoted the other day who see the iPad as marking the decline, or even the end, of a relatively long history of DIY computing.Another increasingly widespread belief Lanier doubts is this: that artists, musicians, writers, and intellectuals can make money even if their works are pirated and copied — even if they give everything away for free — if they are willing to go on the road to perform, or develop similar entrepreneurial strategies. (See Jonathan Coulton and Cory Doctorow.) He was recently interviewed by the librarian Jessamyn West and had this to say on that subject:
If you want to know how many people are making a living by giving away things on the internet then making it up in lectures, there’s an easy way to gauge this, because the people who hire lecturers are lecture agencies: I’ve never met anyone who earned a substantial living from lecturing who didn’t have a lecture agent. So all you have to do is go to the major lecture agency within town and look up the number of clients who are doing this. I’ve done this casually, and I think the answer is under 100, probably under 50. Maybe between 50 and 100. So there are people who are doing it, and of those, I’d have to say the vast majority have day jobs. So, Chris Anderson has done pretty well on the lecture circuit but he also has other gigs with Conde Nast and Wired, so he doesn’t have to rely on it, which is a huge thing. Being able to make money is one thing. Being able to make reliable money is how you can have children. They’re totally, totally different things. So, I don’t think he would quit his Wired job.
Good point — alas. It’s hard even for me, a person who loves teaching, not to fantasize about being able to make a living writing for the Web and only for the Web: Have Laptop, Will Earn a Living. But it ain’t going to happen — not for me, and not for many people.