At the risk of being challenged to yet another fight by the 400-plus-pound hulking behemoth that is Mike Daisey, let’s talk about little lies, and why they matter when taking on big truths, even if you’re “just” a storyteller. In a better world, we’d not need to have this discussion, but we don’t live in a better world, and Mike Daisey has been outed as a liar and a fraud.
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic - not a theatrical - enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.
Where’s Karl Pilkington’s alter ego, Bullshit Man, when you need him?
Let’s just get this out of the way: The dramatic license that everyone allowed Mike Daisey was to present an “extemporaneous monologue” that laid the blame for China’s labor issues squarely on Apple’s doorstep, despite the fact that those issues are, quite literally, an industry-wide problem.
It’s not fair, it’s not accurate, and it’s pretty misleading, but it’s well-within the purview of “theater not journalism” to simplify a story in order to make a larger point.
That’s not to say that doing so is without risk:
To this day, Apple is a company that people love to hate. Giving people (yet another) reason to hate Apple, to support boycotts when they were never going to buy Apple products anyway, is to miss the point. Hating Apple isn’t the same as supporting Chinese laborers, and my guess is that Daisey tapped into the former without spurring a lot of serious or lasting interest in the latter.
(How many new iPads did Apple sell last week?)
More importantly, by driving the point home, show after show, that this was an Apple problem, people were left with the idea that the problem could be solved by holding Apple to some “to be determined” ethical standard. And, if Apple refused to live up to that standard, well, we could all just go out and support Android, or Windows Phone 7, right?
The trouble is, Mike Daisey intentionally glossed over the broader issue — there is no ethical alternative, based on Daisey’s standards — in the hopes of raising awareness by piggybacking on Apple’s popularity. He knew that “dramatic focus” would bring about more chatter and, as an entertainer selling tickets, publicity became more important than strict accuracy.
Except, now it turns out that not only did he use dramatic license by focusing his anger on Apple, he also lied about virtually every important first-hand detail in his monologue. If you’ve not yet done so, do yourself a favor and listen to the “Retraction” episode of This American Life.
When you’re talking about workers who are forced to work through fear and intimidation, the story is very different if, in one version, guards have guns while, in another, they don’t. Daisey’s version supplied the guns, reality doesn’t.
That’s not dramatic license, it’s lying.
Daisey’s choice to use Apple as his theatrical whipping boy is about to be trumped by the even more sordid story of a loud, fuming, angry bully who lied and sensationalized a story in order to sell tickets. Everything he allegedly cares about (I’d argue that he cares most about selling tickets, but that’s a personal opinion) is about to come crashing down, fairly or unfairly, because of his lies.
Daisey is smart enough to know that sensationalism sells, so it’s a real shame that he didn’t think that all his little theatrical lies would, once exposed, overshadow the important truths behind the technology industry’s reliance on Chinese labor. Those who want to enact real change shouldn’t do so by taking what Daisey refers to as “shortcuts” but what everyone else refers to as fabrications.
When seeking big changes, there are no shortcuts:
The world has come undone
Like to change it everyday
Change don’t come at once
It’s a wave building… before it breaks
Mike Daisey has posted a new blog entry:
Many consider this week’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode one of the most painful they’ve ever listened to. In particular the segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.
When Mike Daisey isn’t busy casting doubts about the credibility of his translator (remember, he intentionally hid her name so that no one would be able to track her down) he’s shifting the blame to Ira Glass.
To my audiences: It’s you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details.
(“That’ll be $30, please.”)
Look! Up in the sky! What’s that? It’s a bird? It’s a plane?
Mike Daisey is a liar and a fraud. As detailed in the latest episode of This American Life, virtually every important detail of his “Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” monologue was made up in the name of theater:
I just found out that Apple is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.
Quoting here from their note to me, rejecting the book: “Multiple links to Amazon store. IE page 35, David Weinberger link.”
A bibliography at the end of Godin’s book links directly to several books on Amazon. Amazon, in turn, competes with Apple in the ebook market. Apple takes a look at Godin’s links and says no dice.
John Gruber suggests that Godin’s iBooks version could simply link to Apple’s iBookstore, instead of linking away to Amazon.
I’d second that suggestion, not as a way to appease Apple (assuming, of course, that it would), but because it seems like the common sense, consumer-friendly option. I’ve already made the decision to buy an iBook — don’t be cute and link me away to Amazon for follow-up purchases.
Out of curiosity, I checked the price and availability of the books Godin links to, both on Amazon and on the iBookstore:
The Amazon links I’ve used come from a freely-available HTML version of Godin’s book. I don’t know if the version Godin submitted to Apple contains different links or different versions of the same links, though I think the answer to that may be an important consideration.
Out of fourteen books, all but two can be purchased through Apple’s iBookstore. Of those twelve, ten are cheaper (in some cases, a lot cheaper) to buy from the iBookstore than they would be by following Godin’s existing Amazon links.
Clearly, a hypothetical customer who purchases Stop Stealing Dreams from the iBookstore 1) prefers (or at least enjoys) ebooks and 2) has chosen Apple’s offering over utilizing the freely available Kindle app. Common sense, then, says you cater to that customer’s established preference, right?
My first thought was to investigate whether or not Godin was using Amazon affiliate links, which would at least provide a monetary explanation for his desire to carry over those links. (Apple would definitely frown on that, though.)
As it turns out, he’s not (or at least he doesn’t appear to be) but that doesn’t mean he’s using standard Amazon links:
Seth Godin’s company, Yoyodyne Entertainment, is all about fun and games. But its mission is serious business. Godin and his colleagues are working to persuade some of the most powerful companies in the world to reinvent how they relate to their customers. His argument is as stark as it is radical: Advertising just doesn’t work as well as it used to - in part because there’s so much of it, in part because people have learned to ignore it, in part because the rise of the Net means that companies can go beyond it. “We are entering an era,” Godin declares, “that’s going to change the way almost everything is marketed to almost everybody.”
The new model, he argues, is built around permission. The challenge for marketers is to persuade consumers to volunteer attention - to “raise their hands” (one of Godin’s favorite phrases) - to agree to learn more about a company and its products. “Permission marketing turns strangers into friends and friends into loyal customers,” he says. “It’s not just about entertainment - it’s about education.”
I honestly don’t know what it means, if it means anything at all, that “permissionmarket” appears in Godin’s Amazon links and, as I mention above, I don’t know if it appears in the links that were included with the version of Stop Stealing Dreams that Apple ultimately rejected.
I do know that Apple, citing privacy concerns, is notoriously picky about letting 3rd parties use its platforms as a vehicle for collecting customer data. As an example, Apple doesn’t allow magazine publishers access to valuable customer data without explicit consent from the customer.
For what it’s worth, the above link — without the permissionmarket bit — seems to work just fine:
More from Godin:
And there’s the conflict. We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.
I have a lot of respect for what Seth Godin has to say, and I think the Domino Project remains a laudable and important undertaking.
With that said, Godin’s idealism (as it relates to this rejection) is a bit hard to swallow given his past connection to Amazon and the fact that he seems to exclusively favor Amazon links whenever he links his readers away to purchases. I’d be more inclined to sympathize with his position if he’d taken the time to provide links to a broader content ecosystem, when possible, especially given that it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to do so. (It took me about 20 minutes to compile the above iBookstore and Amazon links.)
From a customer service standpoint, it just doesn’t make much sense to link me away to Amazon when I’ve already opted to patronize Apple’s iBookstore. That is, unless permission marketing plays some role in Godin’s decision to do so?
Given that I’ve confessed a certain level of ignorance on the subject, I’ll update if and when I learn more.
Make Me Steaks
Hit men, click whores, and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Cesspool
Separately another VC recently told me his firm recently had passed on opportunities to invest in some new tech blogs that were proposing a business model he described as “hush money.” Potential investors were being offered “most favored nation” status for themselves and their portfolio companies if they put money into the site.
This is what now passes for “journalism” in Silicon Valley: hired guns and reformed click-whores who have found a way to grab some of the loot for themselves. This is perhaps not surprising. Silicon Valley once was home to scientists and engineers — people who wanted to build things. Then it became a casino. Now it is being turned into a silicon cesspool, an upside-down world filled with spammers, liars, flippers, privacy invaders, information stealers — and their grubby cadre of paid apologists and pygmy hangers-on.
Guess who else wants to “monetize his influence” and become a blogger slash angel investor?
Yeah. Good grief. Fucking Scoble. I just posted an article about it here on the Daily Beast.
So: Godspeed, Robert Scoble. May the force be with you—and with all the other hacks for hire who will soon be following in your footsteps.
I’ve been responding to comments on a post about my article on the Daily Beast today about Robert Scoble looking to get involved with an angel fund. This has set off a bit of a debate about online journalism and whether we’re all a bunch of click whores…
This is not to say one group is better than the other. Bloggers can do this, but mainstream reporters play by a different set of rules than bloggers. Having been both a blogger and a mainstream media guy, I see value on both sides. I definitely know which side was more fun. If bloggers can find ways to get rich off their blogs, more power to them.
Oh, fuck off, Dan Lyons. If that’s not what you were trying to say, you’ve got an awfully interesting way of not saying it. Everyone saw where the goalposts were, and it’s pretty clear that you’re now trying to move them.
Let’s be real, here: Dan Lyons doesn’t write anything particularly interesting about tech and no one really cares when he does make a feeble attempt to do so.
Because of that, he appears to be incredibly jealous of the reach of some of the internet’s more popular (and more outspoken) bloggers. He even admits this (via a hypothetical) in the first article linked above:
It’s tough being a journalist, especially if you’re covering technology and living in Silicon Valley, because it seems as if everyone around you is getting fabulously rich while you’re stuck in a job that will never, ever make you wealthy. What’s worse is that all these people who are getting rich don’t seem to be any brighter than you are and in fact many of them don’t seem very bright at all. So of course you get jealous.
This jealously is manifesting in increasingly personal attack rants and is taking up time that could (presumably) be better spent being relevant as a tech reporter for The Daily Beast.
I’m not sure Lyons ever got over the fact that he’s never been more popular (and probably never will be more popular) than he was back when he was pretending to be a man he seemed to despise.
And, of course, having retired Fake Steve Jobs, his only chance at staying relevant seems to be publicly shitting on people he’s clearly jealous of.
No one gives a shit about mainstream tech journalists these days. Those of us who care about technology news get better reviews and timelier information from popular tech blogs than we’ll ever get from people like Dan Lyons, and I’m sure that’s an awfully hard pill for some in the old guard to swallow. Especially those who fall into the category of too old to change, too young to retire.
Instead of accepting that and putting his head down and doing the “real” work he claims “real” journalists do, Lyons is going to spend the rest of his career pleading with people to give a fuck that technology blogs don’t live up to his expectations. The problem is, most people who read tech blogs don’t share those expectations.
He knows it’s not going to change anything, but at least it’ll drive some clicks.
There’s an early scene in the skate documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys where team Zephyr crashes a 1970s skateboarding competition, hoping to demonstrate new tricks. They were full of attitude and ego. They were also, by and large, thuggish assholes with a huge chip on their shoulder.
Samsung AV product lead Chris Moseley, circa today:
TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration. The ultimate is about picture quality and there is no way that anyone, new or old, can come along this year or next year and beat us on picture quality.
Palm CEO Ed Colligan, circa 2006:
Responding to questions from New York Times correspondent John Markoff at a Churchill Club breakfast gathering Thursday morning, Colligan laughed off the idea that any company — including the wildly popular Apple Computer — could easily win customers in the finicky smart-phone sector.
“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” he said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and Freedom:
For serious readers, Franzen said, “a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience”. “Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change,” he continued. “Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”
The Serious Reader — much like the Serious Music Lover and the Cinephile — is dying.
It was Colonel Ebook, on the subway, with the Kindle.
One wonders if Franzen isn’t lamenting so much the loss of the “serious reader” as the loss of the status quo: Readers who don’t actually do much reading, but who save their money for those bestsellers (cough, Freedom, cough) which pique their interest two or three times a year, because a massive marketing campaign tells them it’s time to open up their wallet and splurge on the next big thing.
That’s the sort of “serious” market which will always favor the Jonathan Franzen’s of the world. It’s not particularly condusive to the breakout author, the self-published, the diamond in the rough, or, you know, the rebirth of an industry gasping for breath.
This is the point where I planned to make some sort of “why so serious” crack about Franzen’s luddite-like views on the emerging ebook industry, but the more I think about it, the more obvious the answer becomes.
I guess I’ll skip the rhetorical question.
It’s kind of remarkable. I’ve set up a couple of PCs and a few TVs over the last couple of years. Buying a new television and setting it up is far more complicated now than buying a computer and setting it up.
Hat tip to Daring Fireball for the link.
The trouble, to me, isn’t that TVs are difficult to set up. The trouble is that they’re difficult to set up right.
For most consumers, good enough is as far as they’ll ever get.
How many times have you been to someone’s house, forced to watch “fat people” because the person who owns the TV hasn’t bothered to fix the aspect ratio?
How many people even know what an aspect ratio is? Which one to choose when watching HDTV versus SDTV? (Don’t even get me started on the cute names TV manufacturers come up with to make aspect ratios seem consumer friendly.) How to handle one movie in one ratio versus another? What’s the difference in quality between an HDMI cable, a VGA cable, and a component cable? Digital audio vs. the “red and white” cable?
“Why the fuck am I getting bars on both the top AND bottom AND sides of the picture!?”
Of course, it’s “easy” to plug in and get everything wrong — “the fat people don’t bother me anyway; I hardly even notice at this point” — or use whatever cables come in the box.
When people ask what Apple could possibly bring to an Apple-branded television, imagine plugging your TV in and getting the best quality you can get, out of the box, every time.
Imagine a TV smart enough that you don’t have to be all that smart to get everything you can out of it.
If you’re thinking about it from the perspective of what Apple can bring to the table, you’re probably on the wrong track: It’s not about adding, it’s about taking away.
Ideally, from Apple’s perspective, you’ll be using your new TV with their rich ecosystem of content. If you’ve got an iPad or an iPhone, all the better. Your new TV will fit your digital lifestyle like a glove.
If not, go ahead and plug that Blu-ray player in using the only option possible: HDMI for video and audio. You can go ahead and ditch any cable that Apple deems unworthy and don’t bother wondering if there’s a better option, because Apple won’t provide options.
Options result in stretched out fat people.
Everything just works.
(Cross-posted from the official Lendle blog.)
It’s hard to believe, but it was around this time last year that I called Jeff to pitch the idea for a social site that would allow strangers to share their ebooks with one another.
Here’s an excerpt from an email I typed up after our initial call:
Carolyn came up with an idea that I think is pretty outstanding:
Nooks have had this feature for a long time, but Kindle just added the ability to “lend” a book to a person if they have a kindle account (kindle or any device with the kindle app) so long as you know their email address.
So, fleshing her idea out a bit, you sign up, input the books you have on your kindle and then people can search for, say, “the lovely bones” and see that 10 people have it available to lend. You then send a lend request and if someone accepts, they can lend to you as per Amazon’s guidelines. People can reject a request as well. Perhaps people could make their lists public or private and share with anyone or only friends.
It’s basically a public library for kindle and nook books mixed with a peer-to-peer network.
Obviously, we later decided to focus solely on the Kindle (a decision we’ve never regretted) and, unfortunately, The Lovely Bones wasn’t then, and still isn’t, a lendable title. We had really hoped to see more publisher support in 2011, but several remain on the fence.
The idea was so simple, so obvious, that my original pitch is pretty much what we’re offering today.
We quickly discovered that we wouldn’t be alone in the social lending space. In fact, the competition we faced on day one is more or less the same competition we face today. It’s tough to build a really good social lending site!
In spite of – or maybe because of – the competition, we’ve remained true to the lending site we want to offer, resting the urge to become too gimmicky.
We love stats, and we show off as many as we can: How many copies of a given book are available (if any), how long you’re likely to wait on a lend to come through, whether a book is lendable, or not, how much it would cost to purchase a book instead of waiting to borrow, and so on.
On March 21st, we faced a minor (cough, ahem) setback when Amazon revoked our API access. Less than two months in, we were forced to shut down.
Here’s what we had to say about it: Lendle Press Release
No one wants to get shut down, even for a day, but the media attention that followed the loss of our API access is really what put us on the map.
Some of the outlets that wrote about us:
We also saw mentions on Gizmodo, The Guardian, Business Insider, The Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, Slate, Ars Technica, GigaOM and The New York Times.
Fortunately, everything worked out for the best and we were back up and running the following day. We lost one of our best (and most requested) features – RIP, beloved book sync tool – but we gained a lot of new Lendlers. Press outlets even started referring to lending and borrowing ebooks as lendling.
Over the next few months, we introduced several new features, including our first marquee feature: Patron accounts. A free Lendle account is pretty amazing. A $25 (one time) Patron account is an unbeatable deal.
Read the announcement here: New features and three major giveaways
We also added the Book My Spot feature (still one of a kind in book lending), achievements, and the ability to “thank” fellow Lendlers as borrows are fulfilled.
To top it all off, we gave away a Kindle and an iPad 2!
Towards the end of May, a few of our Lendlers were featured on a CBS local news affiliate in Philadelphia: City Center Book Club Goes High Tech
And, of course, we launched Lendle’s most unique feature: It Pays to Lend
Even as we were preparing to launch, Jeff and I were talking quite a lot about a pay to lend concept. We thought it would be really cool if we could somehow pay our Lendlers for lending books, but we couldn’t really afford to do so.
Once we were finally earning a bit of consistent revenue through our Patron sign ups and the limited advertising we feature, we realized we could finally make it happen.
Whether you’re talking about Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, social networks are nothing without the backbone of a community, and that’s doubly true for lending sites: If no one lends, no one can borrow, and we’re a bust.
Lending sites have to be, in many ways, a perfectly balanced ecosystem – unless, of course, you’re happy to be a lending site in which no one ever lends any books.
Fortunately, our community of Lendlers has always been really great about fulfilling lends as quickly as possible – sometimes too fast, judging by some of the emails we get – and we wanted to put some of our revenue towards rewarding that effort.
So, we hatched a plan to pay out credits for every lend, and then $10 Amazon gift cards as those credits accumulate. No one else offers anything at all like this, to this day, and we think that’s one of the reasons Lendle has been so successful.
We launched the newest version of Lendle – the one you see when you log in today – on December 14.
Read the announcement here: Everyone? Meet everyone else.
Not only did we completely redesign the site from the ground up, we introduced Book Clubs, the best way yet to interact with other Lendlers and talk about your favorite books and authors.
We’ve got a ton of features planned for your clubs, so the best social book lending site is only going to get better over the next few months.
We also dramatically improved the speed and reliability of our search feature. (It was a long time coming.)
It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in only a year. Publishers haven’t embraced lending anywhere near as quickly as we’d hoped, and we’re still stuck as a US-only offering, but there are millions of Kindle owners who have yet to sign up with us and we’re happy to report that awareness is increasing at a rapid pace. Over the last several weeks we’ve seen easily six times our normal rate of traffic and the market is still wide open. Every new Lendler is another book you’ll be able to borrow, a new author to discover and obsess over.
Meanwhile, Amazon has broadened its lending scope by partnering with OverDrive to offer library lending and, more recently, by announcing the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Lending has a long way to go, but the future is bright.
Here’s hoping everyone has a happy and fruitful 2012. We can’t wait to see what happens!