But what about a different kind of book? You know—a serious book. I just got in the mail a newly published book by an old friend of mine, Gordon Goldstein. It's called Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, and it' s likely to reopen still-unresolved debates about why we did what we did and the way we did it. It is, to put it mildly, no less deserving of attention than Coelho's 100-million-seller. Will publishers pay writers to write serious books like this and then give them away for free?
If Jarvis values books (and I can't help think that despite all the digital bluster, he's an intelligent guy who likes reading), do we just listen to the market and focus-group what we should print and give away, which is likely to result in all Coelho, all the time, with maybe a little bit of Jarvis thrown in?
But Jarvis doesn't seem to recognize distinctions of value. Or to have heard of Gresham's law. (Trash drives out value.) Listen to his blog reaction to the recent bailout/economic meltdown:
Why wasn't the government better at listening to the market? Did it ever ask what it should do? That's not the way government thinks, but it's the way it should learn to think.
Wait, did I get that right? The government should have "listened to the market," the same market that created this debacle and came close to destroying the economy? It's an example of his blind allegiance to the wisdom of the consumer, to quantity over quality and expertise. Everything else is elitism. He's the Sarah Palin of gurus. The crowd is always right.
But what makes him wined, dined, and comped by Dubai to fly to self-proclaimed summits all over the world? It's not just that corporations are dumb enough to waste what's left of stockholders' money to pay for someone to tell them to "listen to the market." No, it's Jarvis' pretensions to guru-hood, his gnomic "laws" and pronouncements. Firing people on the writing side because of the incompetence of the business side is a long tradition in the media business, and Jarvis gives management a New Age fig leaf with which to shift the blame from their own incompetence.
He offers chestnuts like, "The link changes everything," "Stuff sucks" ("Nobody wants to be in the business of stuff anymore. … Google's economy is more appealing"), "Atoms are a drag," and—yes, his contribution to the "X is the new Y" genre—"Small is the new big."
Yeah, down with stuff! Let them eat fake. Sleep in buildings not made with atoms. Everyone should be a new-media consultant, and then we won't need any media at all.
Look, there's nothing wrong with Jarvis doing all this thinking and decreeing. He's said some savvy, if unoriginal, things about journalism (advocating looking at the article as an ongoing process, not a product, for instance). He's among the most rational of the new thinkers. But it's the callous contempt for working journalists that grates. It's a contempt for the beautiful losers who actually made journalism an honorable profession for a brief shining moment—well, longer than that—before it became a platform for "reverse engineering."
Correction, Nov. 12, 2008: This piece originally stated that Jeff Jarvis was living near Ground Zero on 9/11. In fact, he was on a PATH train near Ground Zero that morning. (Return to the corrected sentence.) It also stated that Jarvis heared the Paulo Coelho speech he later wrote about on his blog. In fact, he read about the speech before posting on it. (Return to the corrected sentence.)