As an amateur student of history, I have read lots, and absorbed things from a variety of timeframes and place. A friend of mine ended up in a rough place recently and some others of us were talking about how he had gotten there and what it might take for him to come out the other side. I won’t go into PII, but he’s in a spot where those things that worked for him when he was twenty-five won’t now that he’s fifty-five, and I don’t think he understood that the world had changed when he wasn’t looking.
For example, he just recently (this year, I think) got a cellular flip-phone. Didn’t need one before because he was an artist type with a sugar momma, so he could work from home and not have to face the evil outside world. Mentally, he’s still in the early 90’s technologically and culturally speaking.
That led the conversation to inflection points that he missed. And probably won’t be able to navigate in the future, either (I give him 3 chances in 100 to manage, personally). Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) and I talked about technology changes, and I wanted to record my thoughts here and maybe invite some polite discussion on your thoughts.
Bill Gates did not invent the modern personal computer. But he did understand what was coming, and worked his ass off to make the software a thing separate from the hardware. I remember all the other operating systems you might have in the period 1980-1995, depending on your needs and preferences. Anybody remember their DOA dates?
Because MS-DOS won the desktop war. And then they invented this thing called Office, by giving you a word processor, a spreadsheet, and several other productivity tools that suddenly put all the power of the home office in the hands of everyone.
Similarly, Windows existed from a fairly early point, but MS came out with Windows 95, and suddenly the GUI was the wave of the future. (And yes, I remember Apple, which a few times has made it above 10% total market share, only to collapse again back down to a form of irrelevance that just proves how dominantly Microsoft took over the future. If you eliminate ipod and iphone sales, Apple ceases to exist.)
But those were both fairly casual inflection points. To look at a Kondratiev Wave, they were interesting, but not sufficient. You could miss them and catch up later. Šmihula lists another interesting concept:
- (1985–2015) The wave of the Information and telecommunications revolution (ee above)
- (2015–2035) The wave of the post-informational technological revolution (see below)
So let us look at two things that happened in 2007, and how we really might have hit a cultural inflection point comparable to Gutenberg printing bibles for anyone, if Šmihula is right.
First, Steve Jobs made the smartphone the tool of the future. He didn’t invent them. He didn’t even improve on other work by better companies, but he changed the cultural trajectory of communications technology by getting everyone else to demand the smart phone. (I remember a conversation with a friend in about 2005, listing off all the functionality that I wanted in a personal assistant, since everybody had invented little tablets that kind of did things, but none of them did all of them, as I had a memory box, a digital camera, an mp3 player, etc. The list I worked up with him looked remarkably like the first iPhone, but Steve Jobs was a miserable excuse for a human being, and I wasn’t going to buy one until he was dead. My friend saw the news of Jobs’s death first and sent me an email entitled “Time to buy that iPhone?” but he’s like that.)
Nowadays, not having a smart phone marks you out as a technopeasant of some degree. (And yes, the iconoclast hipster/dipster with his artisanal flip-phone is still a fool. The World Has Changed.)
All of human culture is available at your fingertips, sitting in a restaurant. Do email. Look something up. Watch a video. Text with friends. Take a call. Write yourself notes. Play a game. From a device that fits in the palm of your hand. How cool is that?
But something even more interesting happened, in retrospect, in 2007. Jobs popularized the smart phone but everyone has the technology now, and many other smart phones are better than what you can get from Apple, in terms of power and capabilities. And the devices are becoming more and more commoditized every day. The coolness factor has worn off, and folks demand capability.
Jeff Bezos gave us the ability to publish our own books. To put something up without having to deal with the Manhattan gatekeepers who would decide what was allowed in print. Amazon upended the old world, and shattered the control that the big publishing companies had over the printed word. Worse, now anybody could read ebooks on their new smartphones, or tablets, or computers, and Amazon made a ton of money.
TradPub still thinks that the ebook is a fad, and that readers will eventually get over it and come back to tremendously expensive paperbacks or hard covers. The cost to print those books is nowhere near what you’re paying for them, especially in the massive runs that fill up every B&N in the country, but that’s the only way they make money, because they’re just throwing wet spaghetti at a wall and hoping something sticks.
And they don’t get it, like my friend doesn’t. My paper sales in 2017 represented 0.3% of my overall sales. Not three percent. Three-tenths of one percent. And I sold a metric shit-ton of ebooks. Enough that I retired this year to write full-time, based solely on my ebook sales, which the market keeps seeming to want more and more of.
The World Has Changed.
2007 is going to be one of those points. Like Gutenberg. Like Columbus discovering two new continents on his way to China. Like other things that you might mark as “nothing will ever be the same” moments.
To get back to my friend: he has a flip-phone now, and wants to make money in his art, but doesn’t understand that his view of that industry, as it was in the early 90’s, is not the way it is today, and will never go back to that again.
I look at him and think of that kid getting off a Greyhound bus in West Hollywood with a suitcase in one hand and a dream that he’s “going to make it.” Sure, kid.
And I don’t have the heart to explain to him that he won’t. I just smile and nod. Support him emotionally and ignore those subtle requests to borrow money he’ll never pay back. Grit my teeth and remain silent when I want to say he’s doomed and needs to go out and learn the new things, because it doesn’t work that way.
In our conversation, I compared him to a writer I know circumstantially (friend of a friend kind of thing. He couldn’t identify me in a police lineup). That man’s in his 70’s and was there five years ago.
The World Had Changed, and he had to start over. He did. Is working his ass off to try to get back onto the treadmill and learn a whole new way of thinking and working. He has to indie publish his stuff, because TradPub doesn’t want anyone that isn’t statistically likely to write a epoch-shattering best seller, like J.K. Rowling did.
And he won’t do that. Will never write a mega-level USA Today best seller. But he isn’t trying. He is publishing new novels in his old series, where he gets to keep most of the money, and the House that has the early books keeps selling enough that they won’t revert the rights to him.
He’s kinda screwed, but I would have lost money, betting against his ability to make it this far, so I keep my mouth shut and offer any useful information I might be able to give him, because he wants to learn.
That’s how badly the world has changed. You are going to be learning new ways of doing things for the rest of your life (assuming that the interwebs as we have come to understand them are not destroyed by giving them to the same companies that destroyed cable and network television).
Monopolies in any industry are bad, and lead desperate and creative people to invent new futures. Most of the time, they are good. But they have a downside, and not everyone gets it.
You must keep learning, because the pace of change does not waver. What you knew yesterday might not work tomorrow. Indie Publishing is in the middle of the seventh revolution since Bezos unleashed us.
Let me repeat that: SEVENTH. And I’m working with a group of tea-leaf-readers to try to understand what the EIGHTH is likely to bring us over the next 12-18 months, and what we might want to ask for, in order to kick off the NINTH in around 2020.
“Plus Ça Change, Plus C’est La Même Chose”
“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”
The details will change. The UI will be different. Somebody will invent a better widget, and you’ll have to learn how to use it and master it, or become its servant.
And you must start moving now and never stop, because you will lose ground.
The World Has Changed…