This is not a post about writing. It is actually a post about epistemological uncertainty. Put down the dictionary. Do not throw it at my head. It’s early, I haven’t had coffee and before I’m fully awake I talk almost exclusively in jaw breaking words. This is not a brag. It’s a logical result of my background. Mothers don’t let your daughters be brought up in Latin languages.
Hold the line a moment. I’m going to get coffee or this could yet become tedious. (Become?- Ed. Shut up wretch – Sarah)
However, what started it was Dave Freer’s post yesterday, comparing a writing career to a muddy river (we always knew there was a load of … er… mud in this profession) and describing the changing scene as the floods of ebooks come down from the mountains.
I commented with what Dan has told me before: right now writing reminds him of computers in the seventies. Nobody knows anything and anyone who tells you he does is lying. We’re living on the wild frontier and as yet there’s no data, only anecdote.
No one knows why some books take off on Amazon and some are left behind – Not even Amazon who IS trying to figure it out.
In what is going on in writing, right now, this is understandable. The field is being hit by catastrophic change, so everything is moving very fast, in all directions. In October the years before last, I went to Oregon and took a course on how to put up books. Things have already changed so much, in terms of format, software, covers, as well as pricing, that I’m running to catch up and people whom I told how to do this who are still following my instructions are certainly doing it wrong.
As is, I’m lagging behind on things like getting on Kobo or – for the relevant stories – All Romance. I simply have no time, between the traditional career, new writing, doing covers for the back list (was fighting to get the backlist back!) and then getting hit by a series of bugs since… October? (Actually mid September.) to keep up with the fast pace of changes. I dip by my writing blogs when I can, but I should be doing it everyday. And just keeping up with the changes in writing would be a full time job, let alone writing and all the other administrivia.
(Now I should confess I’m never very good at administrivia. Even in the old model, I had the times I was writing, and the times I was sending out/keeping records. The two never seem to happen in my mind at once.)
THAT however is neither here nor there. Even the people who are plugged in 24/7 don’t know much, because there is no systematic collecting of data that presents a coherent picture. Even Amazon can’t give us a coherent picture, and they’re sitting on the firehose of data. Because… everything is changing, very fast. Before the blind men can assemble the data and describe the elephant it’s turned into an emu.
In this environment you get a lot of spinners. What is your clue that you’re being spun and that things are not what they say they are? They often keep repeating things, and moreso they repeat them without any seeming awareness that they’ve said this before and it turned out not to be true. So we get the repeated, screamed “Amazon is really going down, this time sweartagad it’s true, and paper books are coming back, and we’ll have full control of the distribution again” over and over and over again from the traditional publishers. And then they say it again.
The other thing is misuse of numbers. How misuse? Oh, stuff like telling you that the growth in sales of ebooks has slowed down but spinning it so you think that fewer ebooks are being sold, instead of the logical and inevitable development that the PERCENTAGE of ebooks being sold can’t keep doubling forever. (No? Well, imagine it grows by 50% one year, and it was 50% of all ebooks sold. In the next year it will stop growing, inevitably. Why? Because it’s now 100% of the market. Does this mean ebooks are done? Well, no. It can’t be. They’re a 100% of the market in this scenario.)
Most people don’t understand numbers and shut down their brain when numbers are mentioned. Also, they have a firm faith in mathemagics, which means “math says so, so it’s true.”
If by now you’re going “but I’ve seen those signs on the economy at large” — this is why I told you this wasn’t a post about publishing. It’s not a post about publishing because the same thing is going on in the economy and society at large.
I’m getting very tired of starting to read articles, even in reputable investors’ journals that start with “The US economy is improving markedly, but will the world’s economy drag it down?”
Is the US economy improving markedly? Who knows? As in publishing, nobody knows not’ing.
Yes, I have my opinions. Yep, the stores are boarded, every other one, in our city, but then again, you know, our city is making such stellar management decisions (Art on the streets, but no money for lighting crossstreets, for instance. Or jacking the price of parking downtown up so much – and making the period you can park for only half an hour in some areas. This is the work of people who don’t understand the experience of shopping downtown and think people drive down, go to a shop, drive to the next one – that only bars and nightclubs survive because they’re open after parking meters shut down.) that it could easily be a localized thing. Of course, I have friends all over the country, and yep, a few have lost their jobs, and found other jobs. But then again, my friends tend to be not only college educated but also the sort of strivers who can turn their hands to a hundred different things.
The children of friends and neighbors have come home because they can’t find jobs/got laid off, but of course this, dire though it is, is not universal. Some have jobs.
I do know the Hoyt household is pinching very badly. As in, we’re holding on by our fingernails, and the fingernails are starting to bleed at the edges. But then, we have two sons in college, and even though we’re doing the thing on the cheap, with them living at home, no one said the thing was cheap, after all. And last year we were hit by a series of disasters that cost us about 30k in savings, which means we’re about to be very broke, and the taxes due.
I have sort of a sense this is normally not as a bad, that we’ve recovered from bigger expenses in the past sooner.
Most of all, I KNOW – and yep, it’s a know – that regardless of the claims that there is no inflation, our grocery bills have doubled, and that we’re not eating twice as much. I also know (or suspect) inflation hasn’t doubled the prices of things, just the things we buy specifically. (Meat, veggies, cleaners.)
I also know that hanging by the fingernails though we are, we’re relatively well off compared to other people, even other employed people. (Having no debt except the mortgage does help. Even if that means you have to drive ancient cars and pay for the repairs.)
And I know that in the same way, the rest of the world is hurting more than the US. How much of this is their misguided policies, and how much the fact that when the US sneezes the rest of the world catches pneumonia, I can’t tell you. I can only tell you that since the US is the main consumer, the tightening of purse strings here hurts everyone.
And I can tell you that no one I know is making big, extravagant purchases. Everyone I know is going “one more year on the car, hopefully.” And “One more winter on this coat” and…
In the case of the economy of course people have the data. To an extent. But are the data they’re looking at the relevant data? For instance, finding that unemployment has stopped growing… is it true? Well, no, they drop the long term unemployed. So, as with ebooks, eventually, if they lay off everyone and wait long enough we’ll have 0% unemployment. But no one will be working.
The problem is that the people who have the data, the people who analyze the data and the people who report the data are not even close to the same people. If someone tells you something about their field, you believe them because you assume they know more than you do. But what they say might not be what you hear.
What I’m saying is that even without ideological intrusion, it’s perfectly possible that journalists are lying to us without meaning to. They’re not good with numbers, that’s why they didn’t take STEM degrees. And they might not get what they’re being told.
Do I think this is true? Well, no I don’t. I think there’s a rich and yeasty combination of ignorance and malice. Why?
Because as with the publishing houses, we see the hysterical repeated screaming and the seeming ignorance that they said this before and their predictions failed to come true. So we get “Summer of recovery” and “Son of Summer of recovery” and “Son of Summer of Recovery, Enter the dragon” each one peddled with the wide-eyed credulity of someone who thinks we’re all stupid.
We also get the “Things are getting better” and “This time they’re really getting better” and “Happy times are here again,” even though truthfully there is no sign of anything better for us or anyone we know.
At the same time, other things have totally vanished from the headlines. For instance, how many of you know that Egypt is sliding into dangerous radical Islam? Well, on this blog probably a lot of people. Out there? Bah. The man on the street will tell you “Arab Spring” and have a vague idea this means they’ve gone all democratic and that the veils have come off. Or something. The camels are dancing with the sphinx and it’s a miracle of Ramadan. Or something.
And the average journalist would go along with them. Not just because it suits their ideology, but because they think it’s true. Then there’s the ideological skew, which, yes, is there. When 98% of journalists sign on to the “progressive” agenda (and we won’t go on how it’s partly because the humanities have been taken over by the Beasts of Marxism, or this post will never end) they’re going to try to push it, of course they are.
And in that sense, it can’t be said we have a free press. Not when progressives are in charge.
Oh, look, yeah, no journalist is going to get thrown in jail for saying something the administration doesn’t like. But he’s going to get crucified by the other journalists, have his reputation trashed – even if he’s a legend of reporting – and probably “never work in this town again.”
This is why in fields like journalism, where the “progressives” have taken the commanding heights of being able to hire and fire (and they always hire and fire by ideology. Unlike the rest of us who look for other attributes) people like me stay in the closet or risk limiting or losing their career. (You don’t see that on the other side, btw.)
When your entire news is coming through people who, if they tell something that is unpalatable to the people currently in power, might lose their ability to make a living – how good do you think that information is?
And we can’t, of course, any of us, know everything.
In fact, it might have come to the point that we can’t, any of us, know much of anything. The firehose of information is full on and despite the dreams of those who thought 1984 was a manual, that doesn’t mean people can control everything or have a full picture of how you’re supposed to vote if they just hit you on the diaper issue, because you bought diapers last week. No, what that vast amount of information means is that nobody knows not’ing.
When we get the direct data, we get too much and a lot of it contradicts itself. When we get it filtered, we get it according to what the media mavens want us to see. (Look, as a writer I know this. I’ve mentioned before – I can take the same character and present it in a way you see him as a hero or a villain. Take Kit Marlowe: working class boy, made good, indications he was in favor of freedom of expression – yay. But then take double agent, weirdly heretic (and I mean weirdly, and often ignorantly), possible pedophile (there’s some doubt if boys is really boys or in the sense of “dancing boys” who are usually men), almost certainly a sadist, at least in his dreams – ew. And then add: Possible secret Catholic? False coiner? Work-for-hire writer? What?)
Ideologically bent information was what kept the USSR quiescent so long. They knew they were hurting, but they thought the rest of the world was worse. How could they know it wasn’t? Most of them couldn’t travel abroad. All they had was the reports of a press who wanted them to believe things a certain way. Which meant they believed what they heard, and they thought bad as things were it was inevitable, and a free market would be worse.
The people here are told, in the same way, that what we have is a free market, and that’s collapsing from being free (not from over regulation.) And then, of course, they think socialism must be better. But even those who see behind that, can’t get the relevant data to know what’s happening in other areas, particularly areas they’re not experts in.
We’re all low information voters. Worse, it’s highly possible the government is a low information government, something more terrifying than their drinking their own ink, even if they’re also doing that.
This is a problem because the idiocy of the government can affect the recovery (which I don’t believe exists) or make the recession (do I hear depression?) worse all without their knowing what they’re doing, and without any clue of which direction they should be headed in.
Like a skier caught in an avalanche things are changing too fast and neither us nor those in charge have any clue which way is up, even though we’re all p*ssing ourselves.
Just knowing how the writing field is changing is insane enough a job. Knowing how the entire economy, all the tech, etc. is changing requires a brilliant mind and more time than any of us has.
I go on general principles and what I know has worked from history: for a country this side, I support less regulation, more freedom and more regional solutions (on the principle that those closer to the problem see it better.)
But do I KNOW for a fact how things are changing? Not on your life.
Which of course means that those who favor centralized government must prove to me why they know more than the rest of us and why they think they have the information to run everything.
Once more we come to malice or incompetence and the answer is “yes”. They are malicious because they favor power for themselves and their cronies, which necessitates central-control which is hampered by ignorance and makes everyone worse off. Which brings us to malice again.
Nobody knows not’ing and I’m tired of their pretending they know everything.
Brief update for the Sarah Spotters: I was at No Pasaran on March 8, but got sick, didn’t read blogs and wasn’t aware of it. Also, I’ll be at PJM lifestyle with the writing thing this afternoon, and of course I’m being a fraction of insty (where mostly I do the late night posting.)
And apologies on being so late. We have a furnace-fixing person in the house.