The nature of crazytimes change


There’s a really, really good piece by Clay Shirky, the guy who wrote Here Comes Everybody, among other fairly colossal things, that’s been making the rounds lately.

I first heard about it from Merlin Mann at SXSW a week or so ago, then from a bunch of other people; a post by John Gruber, who invariably points to the really good stuff (and whom I also finally met at SXSW after his fine talk with Merlin on Not Being a Dick on the Internet, which title is at least as good as theirs), finally got me to read it. And yes, as I said in the kickoff to this here piece, it really is All That and possibly a bag of chips.

Nominally and in substance, it’s about journalism and newspapers and how the demise of the latter (which even the stubbornest, sandy-headed-est ostrich can no longer deny) does not necessarily mean the end of the former. It’s smart on the topic and smart, period, just a really, really well-written, engaging, well-informed and solid piece of writing. If he’d only written a definitive piece on whassup with the death of newspapers, he’d have done (another) amazing thing.

I think it’s about much more than the death of newspapers, though; I think it’s a thrilling summation of where people’s heads are in general about change, and in particular about the massive and rapid change that we’re undergoing right now as a planet of people.

Consider this quotation from the piece, the one I lifted to accompany my big, fat thumbs-up on StumbleUpon:

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

As I said in my comment, this ain’t just about newspapers; it’s about Elvis leaving the building, genie escaped from the bottle, ship sailing, etc. It’s about the revolution.

I know my conservative friends (and yes, I have some, and yes, I think everyone should) are especially not always so much with the change; there are times (albeit, not many) when I’m in agreement. But there are other times, when the S.S. Poseidon is knocked on its ass by a surprise tidal wave, or when you’re on fire, or when you’re on fire at the bottom (or the top) of the S.S. Poseidon, that it’s good to acknowledge and take action.

Believe me, I know. Because I was basically on fire at the bottom of the S.S. Poseidon (which was really the top, how confusing!) at the nadir of my Crohn’s onset, when my sister had to use trickery to get me to a hospital. And this is living in Los Angeles, a city with some of the best medical care in the world, not to mention no shortage of mirrors, bathroom scales and thermometers. I weighed less than 90 lbs, was having fevers in excess of 104ºF, with an ass functioning like a can of bright red Krylon, and I was still in absolute denial that my physical condition necessitated the care of more than ice baths, acetaminophen and hope. Yeah, right.

Or pick your catastrophe; we all have them. Train-wreck relationship, child clearly on large amounts of drugs and/or alcohol, gambling away the farm. I get why people don’t want to leave their houses in a fire/flood/tornado/hurricane, because I didn’t want to leave mine when my insides were melting. But at some point, you have to sit up and say, “The walls are on fire; maybe we should think about leaving” or “There’s blood shooting out of my backside; how about we call a doctor?”

Or you don’t, and you die.

We are living in more than a time of change; we’re living in crazytimes change, possibly total upheaval. Even the good stuff, like the unprecedented access regular people have to food and information, or the “printing presses” that Shirky talks about in his essay, is being dumped on us faster than we can cope. My grandfather, who was born at the turn of the last century and lived to the tippy-top of it, used to talk about all the stuff that had happened in his lifetime; I think these might have been the times that tipped it for him, where the change was too much too absorb. (Although I think he had an inkling. He was pretty smart about some stuff, was Gramps, when he wasn’t being a blowhard.) Nothing has changed this fast or this furiously since maybe the Industrial Revolution (Shirky talks about that, too, and about how people coped with it, or didn’t, in this piece. It’s kind of Shirky’s Thing right now, this upside-down, S.S. Poseidon, crazytimes change.)

So what do we do? Who knows. As a planet, I mean. As individuals, I guess we all need to do what we can to get grounded and still stay receptive. For the first time in six or so years, I’m thinking I’ll take another stab at sitting meditation. Maybe. My friend Gretchen and I commiserated about how lousy we were at it over coffee and eggs in Austin last week. I know it’s gonna be a bitch (which, yes, I know will only make it more so, THANK YOU), but I feel like I need to do something. Change what I can.

While the world changes as it will.

Stay tuned. Stay steady. But flexible, too.

I think flexibility is going to be more and more important.


Image by Nathan Callahan via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. It’s like we have the same little consciousness cloud from which we’re picking our thoughts. This never ceases to delight me! There is no possible way we aren’t all connected in some energetic way.

    I’m on day four of my renewed commitment to daily meditation (for the eleventy-billionth time). Yes, I’ve known for over 20 years that it’s good for me. Yes, I know I just have to make the time for it. Yes, I know that when I meditate, I feel more grounded, good, productive, yadda, yadda.

    And yet, until now, it’s felt like a little extra thing that would be nice but not necessary. I think you’re right on target when you say that the best thing we can do in the face of all this change is to get grounded and be receptive.

    Now … it feels like it’s bigger than just my own peace of mind; almost like it’s my social/moral responsibility to contribute my own grounded energy to the planet and to stay aware and open to inspiration and ways to be of service to others.

    It’s encouraging to notice this sentiment reflected back by countless others feeling the same way. Coolio!

  2. Yet isn’t it amazing, that radio somehow didn’t drop dead as soon as television came along? In fact, it found its niche—which wasn’t entertainment after all—and flourished.

    As I suggested to you offline, I don’t think opinion-makers have ever really valued newspapers much anyway, they were too busy figuring out ways to game them. It’s really not so bad—when the opinion makers still try to game newspapers, they end up getting gamed themselves, by wasting time and energy.

    I was talking about this to an old ex-Times editor a few weeks ago. We both laughed to observe that there was a brief flash-point in American history when newspaper journalists seemed actually esteem-worthy, redeemable and valuable: around the time of Watergate. Because of the timing of the scandal, it fooled a lot of baby boomers just then entering college into thinking that print journalism was a respectable, legitimate career path. But largely and historically, journos have been easily-manipulated working-class schlubs most interested in protecting their income stream for as long as possible and at any cost.

    Lots of papers I’m afraid are merely getting their just desserts now after long bouts of pandering too much to entertainment and too little to real news. The notorious local one has been one of the most cushy velvet coffins of all, so the journos are blaming everyone in sight, even bloggers with their pea shooters. But most daily newspapers became absolute circuses of situational ethics long ago in explaining their choices, and that’s the real cause of their high morbidity rate today.

    Thanks for the dialog.

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