Every generation has a work of journalism that explains everything to everyone about the way we live now. Think of Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" or Tom Wolfe's "Radical Chic." Now there's a new entrant to that canon, but it's not from The New Yorker or Harper's. Fittingly, it's from Cracked.com, the Demand Media-owned web afterlife of the old Mad magazine knockoff. David Wong's "5 Reasons the Future Will Be Ruled by B.S." is part media and cultural critique, part economic treatise that perfectly sums up the go-nowhere economy that America is now enduring. At the essay's center, is Mr. Wong's notion of FARTS, a Cracked-appropriate acronym for Forced Artificial Scarcity.
The future is going to hang on whether or not businesses will be able to convince you to pay money for things you can otherwise get for free. Some of you think I'm about to talk about file sharing and DRM and the evil record labels. But that's just a teaser of what's coming. The world has changed. All the rules we were trained to believe about society from birth until now are about to go out the window.
Futurists and sci-fi writers talk about a "post-scarcity" society, meaning it's like Star Trek, where matter replicators and fusion reactors have ended all shortages. On one hand, that now looks like a ridiculous pipe dream, but in a lot of areas of our life, we're already there. Think about the porn. There's more porn than air now. Literally -- air is limited, but we have machines that can convert energy into .jpegs of titties from now until the heat death of the universe. Titties are post-scarcity.
Remember Chris Albrecht, the HBO genius in a suit who brought us "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under" and other high-end water-cooler fodder before his career was dashed amid allegations of roughing up his girlfriend? Me neither, until I read Amy Wallace's profile of Mr. Albrecht, who has reappeared on the TV scene as the head of Starz. Mr. Albrecht denies he was drunk during that moment of his undoing, yet references to "Irish wine" and regular wine flow through the profile.
"After years of reflection and working with specialists, I have recognized that alcohol is not an issue in my life," he tells Ms. Wallace. "What I really needed to get at the heart of was my complicated and often very difficult love relationships with women." As you might imagine, there's plenty of affluent sad sack behavior as well, namely the revelation that this arbiter of taste is fond of possibly the worst song ever:
Oh, and he's met someone new. Her name is Montana Schillo-Coady. She's 25 years old. (His daughter Kate is 27.) In May, he gave her a 7.5 carat engagement ring. "I feel," he says, beaming, "totally and completely in love." I flash back to dinner the night before at the Pig's Ear, when Albrecht suddenly broke into song. "Forever young. I wanna be forever young," he crooned softly, a blissed-out look on his face. When I looked perplexed, he said he was singing the Jay -Z mash-up of the 1984 hit. "That's going to be the song at my wedding," he said.
Slate's Farhad Manjoo looked at how blogs and magazine websites are trading places in terms of design. For example, the venerable Atlantic's digital home is adapting the reverse chronological publishing format made popular by blogs, while big blogs, like those owned by Gawker Media, are giving their own home pages a more curated feel. Far from just a design issue, how content is displayed has ramifications for how a news outlet is understood by readers and its staffers.
The design shifts -- with blogs looking more like magazines and magazines looking more like blogs -- aren't just superficial. These changes in presentation are collapsing all distinctions between "blog posts" and "articles." Over the last few days I contacted various bloggers and editors at big sites around the web to ask how they define each term. The answers I got were surprisingly diverse -- while each of these organizations has its own rules for what it calls a "blog post" and an "article," the rules aren't at all consistent across newsrooms. What's more, the lines are blurring -- blog posts are looking more like articles, and articles are looking more like blog posts.
Next is a short meditation on online advertising and privacy by the venture capitalist Chris Dixon, who brings a welcome bit of reason to a debate that often lacks it.
The good news is that the things users want to keep secret are almost always the least important things to online advertisers. It turns out that knowing people are trying to buy new washing machines or plane tickets to Hawaii is vastly more monetizeable than their names, who they were dating or the dumb things they did in college. Thus, there are probably a set of policies that allow ad targeting to succeed while also letting users control what is associated with their real identities. Hopefully, we can have an informed and nuanced debate about what these policies might be. The stakes are high.
We end with a great piece I missed earlier this month. The Guardian took a deep look at the question of why there are so few reissues of classic hip-hop albums. There are manifold reasons, from legal to the personal, as writer Angus Batey explains. Here he quotes rap great KRS-One on the reissue of "Criminal Minded" from his Boogie Down Productions:
"I thought they did a really great job," he says, with evident enthusiasm for Traffic's new reissue. "It's beautiful, it's wonderful, the booklet was great -- but no one consulted me about anything. As a matter of fact, I bought my copy of the box set at a Barnes & Noble in New York while I was doing a book signing. I'm not saying that I was ripped off, or that Traffic has no right to the material. When we first came to B-Boy Records, we had an arrangement: It was a fucked-up arrangement, it was exploitative, but we understood that's what it was. Now, when you transfer the powers of that relationship on to another label, the only way you can sell that record is by further exploiting KRS-One."