November 8, 2007
Joel Turnipseed recently sat down to chat with Cory Doctorow, noted information liberator, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, actress, internet imagineer, and all-around hot chick. The original interview was edited for content in order to appease Kottke’s advertisers. What follows is the original interview in its entirety.
JT: Let’s talk about the ‘Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry’ discussion in the sci-fi community this summer. I thought it was sort of ironic that—
JLH: You’re opening with Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry? [Turns to Doctorow.] He’s opening with Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry.
CD: I have no idea what that is.
JLH: Honestly, no one’s interested.
CD: Not even the Technopeasants.
JLH: Why don’t you just ask a question and we’ll take as read the part where you convince us that you know as much about the internet as we do.
JT: …Right, OK. [Fumbles with notes.] What’s the deal with giving away your stuff for free?
JLH: You should not give away your stuff for free.
JLH: [Shakes head.]
CD: There are three reasons why it makes sense to give away books online. The first is that publishing has always been in this kind of churn and flux—who gets published, how they get paid, what the economic structure is of the publishers, where the publishers are, all of that stuff has changed all of the time. And it’s just hubris that makes us think that this particular change—the computer change—is the one that’s going to destroy publishing and that it must be prevented at all costs. We’ll adapt. If we need to adapt, we’ll adapt. And today, the way that we adapt is by giving away e-books and selling p-books.
CD: …So that’s the economic reason.
JLH: Wait, that wasn’t a reason.
CD: Yes it was.
JLH: You said some stuff about change in the publishing industry and some unnamed entity being worried that computers will destroy publishing. I don’t think we’re ready to bring this to the Central High debate team, Martin Luther.
CD: So then there is the artistic reason: we live in a century in which copying is only going to get easier. It’s the 21st century, there’s not going to be a year in which it’s harder to copy than this year; there’s not going to be a day in which it’s harder to copy than this day; from now on. Right?
JLH: [Shakes head.]
JLH: You’re talking about music, not books.
CD: I’m talking about books.
JLH: Who copies a book? It’s hard. It’s as hard now as it was in 1440. [Mouths the word “Gutenberg” to Turnipseed.]
CD: And so, if your business model and your aesthetic effect in your literature and your work is intended not to be copied, you’re fundamentally not making art for the 21st century.
JLH: FYI, as King of the Internet, Cory gets to decide what’s art. They voted on Fark or something. Was it Fark?
CD: …It was Slashdot. And you knew that.
JLH: Slashdot then.
CD: So that’s the artistic reason. Finally, there’s the ethical reason. And the ethical reason is that the alternative is that we chide, criminalize, sue, damn our readers for doing what readers have always done, which is sharing books they love—only now they’re doing it electronically. So telling the audience for art, telling 70 million American file-sharers that they’re all crooks, and none of them have the right to due process, none of them have the right to privacy, we need to wire-tap all of them, we need to shut down their network connections without notice in order to preserve the anti-copying business model: that’s a deeply unethical position. It puts us in a world in which we are criminalizing average people for participating in their culture.
JT: Jen? Comment?
JLH: Cory’s a little Sturm und Drang when he’s got his polemic hat on, but he’s not wrong. [Reaches out to tussle Cory’s hair.]
CD: Thank you.
CD: [Patting down his hair.] What.
JLH: Again, you’re talking about music, not books. No one’s sharing books electronically. People don’t even read long blog posts. No offense, Nottke, you’re doing a great job. But no one reads a book online and goes OMG BEST BOOK EVAR before YSI’ing it to all their friends. This is a counter-argument where there’s no argument.
JT: What was it that the philosopher J. L. Austin said? “Things–
JT: J.L. Austin.
JLH: There’s no such person.
JT: He’s in Wikipedia.
JLH: I wrote that entry. I just wanted to see how long they’d leave it up.
CD: Why did you start that sentence with “What was it that the philosopher J.L. Austin said?” You have what he said written right in front of you. Just say “The philosopher J.L. Austin—”
JLH: No such person.
CD: “—said blah blah whatever.”
JT: He said: “Things are getting meta and meta all the time.”
JLH: I believe that quote is actually from the Roman philosopher, Yourus Momicus. I’ll edit the entry when I get home.
JT: Almost of necessity, because if you don’t have meta-level discussions and filters (and we have MetaFilter), bloggers like kottke and boing boing—in academia I’m going to Arts & Letters Daily and Crooked Timber—you’d never be able to fire through all the cool things to which we now have access. By making use of a small number of editorial nodes, we can cover lot more of the network. But it’s more interesting—
JLH: [Whispers to Doctorow.] Hey I will literally kick your ass in Guitar Hero.
CD: You’re clearly mentally retarded, which will somewhat dampen my spirits upon mopping the floor with you. [They leave.]
JT: —than simple efficiencies, isn’t it? I interviewed Douglas Wolk earlier this week and he said something pretty profound: “Each blogger is a gravitational center, great or small, but there’s no sun they’re all orbiting around.” Yochai Benkler, too, with his idea of the bow-tie model, talks about how, because of shallow paths and the small world effects of the Internet, this idea that there are these multiple centers of gravity mean it’s not like there’s one giant “culture” that’s omnipresent, along which there’s this Power Law distribution that drowns everything out. Instead, there are tons of these smaller gravitational centers, each with their own orbits; each with their own authors, interests, inclinations to reach outward and bring other things in… it pretty well vanquishes certain notions of centrality, the cry that says, “Holy shit: I’m not in The New York Times! Nobody in our culture will ever find me!” That’s nonsense. You can have an audience of millions, maybe none of whom have ever read The New York Times.
[JLH and CD return, carrying bags from Taco Bell.]
JLH: Sorry, loser had to buy. [Tilts head to indicate Doctorow.] We’re tried texting you to see if you wanted anything. Anyways. Continue.
JT: In another interview I did, the one with Ted Genoways—
CD: Oh yeah, that one.
JT: —He said something that I hope a lot of people pick up on, because I think it’s incredibly important to this discussion. What Ted said was that, after doing their big South America in the 21st Century issue—for which they got a lot of good press: authors on NPR, segments on PBS—they got a small amount of traffic from mainstream media. But then Jason posted a small link and they got 25,000 visits that week from kottke.org.
CD: I think the most important thing about that anecdote isn’t the amount of influence that kottke.org wields, although that’s an interesting component of it, but how cheap it is to become kottke.org—to maintain Kottke Enterprises, Ltd. It’s so cheap it’s the rounding error in the coffee budget of the smallest department of one of the main publishing conglomerates. That’s all it costs Jason to run his website.
JLH: Uh, yeah. He has spent just about all day every day for the last ten years running it. Not exactly low-cost. Ask his wife.
CD: So, a lot of bloggers can wield tremendous influence, and become disruptive forces in the media marketplace, very cheaply. If you have someone who’s enthusiastic and compelling and that person is very close to the purchase decision—you know, it probably drops off with the square of the distance, right? So you can have a person like Oprah, who’s so compelling that the fact that she’s extremely distant from a book she’s pitching is not wildly important, because she sends such a strong signal that even though it attenuates quickly that signal is still very strong. Who was the President who popularized the James Bond novels? Kennedy? He mentioned it and he turned James Bond into a phenomenon. The corollary of this is that a weak signal heard close in is also an extremely powerful way to sell books. So, we’ve historically relied on strong signals at great distances, but the other way to do this is weak signals close in. And we have new ways to get close: with things like Amazon links, the signals don’t have to be very strong at all.
JLH: God damn it, Cory, when this interview gets posted I’m going to sit you down and force you to read out loud what the fuck you just said. Jason Kottke, Oprah Winfrey, President Kennedy and Amazon.com as examples of why it benefits you to post free copies of your music. I mean books.
CD: This is also an essential component of the value of the free electronic copy. The microcosm for that is “here’s a free electronic copy… talk about it in IRC with two other people.” And that gets you the same thing. You don’t even have to send out a physical review copy & those people, if they like your book, will start sending the book to their friends.
JT: Yeah, that happens.
JLH: Good one, Nottke! [They high-five.]
JT: OK, if a publisher started selling a book written by “Frank Smith,” but that contained only your words—isn’t that a danger to giving your stuff away electronically, for free?
CD: I guess it depends on the kind of profit and how they’re profiting by it. I don’t get upset if a carpenter sells a bookcase to someone and makes money because that person needs somewhere to put my book. Even though that carpenter is benefiting from my labor.
JLH: You did not just say that. Cory honey, if you want to change people’s mind about something, you have to use examples from this planet to illustrate your point.
CD: I’m just saying I think reasonable people can agree that there are categories of use that you have no right to recoup from. And that’s not the same thing as objecting when a reader reproduces my work. I think that we’ve always had a different set of rules for what non-commercial actors do than for what commercial actors do. What commercial users of a work do is industrial—that’s copyright; what non-commercial users of a work do is just culture, and culture and copyright have never had the same rules, although according to the law books they do. But the costs of enforcing them culturally—against the person who sings in the shower—those enforcement costs are so high that historically we’ve treated that activity as though it weren’t an infringement, when in some meaningful sense it is. So, the fact that the Internet makes it possible to enforce against certain cultural users I don’t think means that we should enforce against cultural users, or start pretending that schoolchildren should be taught copyright so they can understand it better and not violate it. If things that schoolchildren do in the course of being schoolchildren violate copyright, the problem is with copyright—not with the schoolchildren. [Looks around, sees he’s the only one in the room.] Hey. Where is everyone.
JLH: [Pokes head around corner.] Nottke’s in here, getting his ass handed to him in Team Fortress 2. I tried to warn him, Cory. I told him he was unprepared for the devastation, but he just insisted. There…there was nothing I could do.
JT: [Shouting from other room.] Cory get in here, I have no idea what I’m doing and I owe Jen $200.
CD: I’ll just stay in here, I’d like to talk about this some more.
JLH: OK you have fun, sweetie.
CD: OK where was I. Right, violating schoolchildren. So—
July 29, 2007
The name “Hewitt” has been in the industry news a lot this past week, thanks to Joe Hewitt, one of the founders of Parakey, a web-OS start-up which was recently purchased by Facebook. As I mentioned on Twitter, Joe Hewitt is sadly of no relation to Jennifer Love Hewitt, although that would have made a great story. Actually, most people don’t know this, but Hewitt isn’t Jen’s real last name. It was just picked at random, finger in a phone book kind of thing, before she set off to make her way in film, music, and later, the internet. Her actual surname is Coudal.
Years ago, before she was famous, her father Jim was a bigshot on the Chicago ad scene. A leftover from the old days of J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett. He’d struck out on his own, setting up a small shop to do marketing, branding, print ads, business cards. Traditional stuff, strictly print media.
Jim was fine with Jen pursuing acting. Didn’t love it —had harbored hopes of her taking over the shop when he retired— but hey, kids and dreams, what can you do. She’d go on a few auditions, realize how hard that life was, and come running back. He’d have her Quadra 650 warmed up and waiting for her. But she got a few commercials, that singing show, and suddenly she was a big star on Party of Five. It was clear she wouldn’t be coming back home soon, but still, he was happy for her. How could he not be? Who doesn’t want to see their kids succeed?
But then she started getting hooked in with a different crowd. She started spending more and more time up in San Francisco. Suddenly it was internet this and internet that. It was the new wave, it was going to change everything. She was a completely different person, almost like she was on drugs or something. Just on and on about how he needed to get more involved “on line,” whatever the hell. Telling him he needed to start learning about web design and browsers and 90 other things he’d never heard of. Telling him how to run his business. Every phone call ended in an argument, until finally they weren’t speaking anymore.
One day, months later, he got a computer disc in the mail, something called “AOL.” He threw it out. A week later he got another. And then another. He was livid. Was this some kind of joke? Jen was doing this? She couldn’t just leave it alone, she was going to keep sending these discs as some kind of message? To hell with her. But then he got another. And another. And another. And slowly he realized: Jen wasn’t sending these discs; everyone was getting them. But maybe they were a sign. Maybe, in some strange way, they were from her.
He got an account and started exploring the web. It hit him almost immediately: she’d been right. God damn it, she’d been right about everything. He found a tutorial online and started learning HTML. He read about FTP and jpgs and the web-safe color palette. He had so many questions, so many things he wanted to ask her. But the things they’d said to each other. They things he’d said to her. It was all so long ago. It was too late. There was nothing more to be done about it—he’d lost her. But he bought a URL and put a small website up at Coudal.com, with his email address and a little animated image of a guy digging a hole, so that everyone would know he wasn’t done working on the site yet.
One day he was at his desk, creating a banner ad when he thought to himself: This can’t be it. There has to be a better way. And just then he noticed he had an email. It was from Jen.
Cool web site, she’d written. I’m proud of you. PS You need to declare a bgcolor.
He replied immediately: SWEETIE, I’M SO SORY. YOU WERE RIGHT…. I’M TRYING TO GET MORE BUSINESS ONLINE BUT IT’S SLOW GOING AND THE ADVERTISING MODEL SEEMS ARCHAIC…. THERE’S GOT TO BE A LESS ANNOYING WAY TO ADVERSITE ONLINE??? LOVE YOU SO MUCH…. DAD
I’m developing something, she wrote. It’s called AdWords, I think you’re going to like it. I’ve also got an idea for how you can generate more page hits and start building some buzz for your company. I call it Photoshop Tennis.
I DON’T UNDERSTAND, he wrote. YOU CAN PLAY TENNIS??? ON THE INTERNET???? LOVE YOU!!!
He almost couldn’t read her reply, for the tears it caused. It’ll be huge. I’ll show you this weekend. I booked a flight home.
She was right. It was huge.
July 8, 2007
Jennifer Love Hewitt was in her kitchen, reading about iPhones and drinking water out of a pint glass she had stolen from a pub in London many years ago. A lifetime ago, back when she was still dating Will. They took a quick vacation while she was on break from PO5, and had spent one intensely sunny afternoon sitting outside a pub off Tottenham Court Road. Jen confessed that she wanted to steal her pint glass as a souvenir; Will smiled and kicked her bag over to her, under the table.
She wasn’t sure it would survive the trip back to the hotel, but it did. She wasn’t sure it would survive the trip back to the States in her carry-on, but it did. Every time she drank from it, she wondered if this would be the last time. If she would trip on her way back to the kitchen and it would fly from her hand. Or if the force from the dishwasher would nudge another glass against it, cracking it. Or if some friend would grab it out of her cupboard at a party and treat it carelessly, not knowing the history behind it. But it never broke. She kept envisioning bad things happening to the glass, but she’d been using it at least once a week for 10 years now.
A friend of hers died earlier this year. A really close friend, from the internet, from the early days. Theirs hadn’t been a smooth relationship; they’d fought pretty regularly and about a wide range of things over the years. But they’d always worked it out, and Jen knew that they fought because they cared about each other, and that her friend was never afraid to say what she really thought, because she felt Jen deserved that.
So Jen was reading about iPhones and thinking about what’s important to people and missing her friend and realizing how fucking stupid it was that you could steal a glass and wonder every time you use it when it would break, but never once, in a relationship with a good friend, wonder if this would be the last time they fought, if this would be the last time they talked on the phone, if this would be the last time they sent birthday presents to each other, if this would be the last time they emailed.
Jen closed her laptop and had the strongest desire to just let the glass go; throw it or let it fall and smash itself across the floor. It would be over, and she wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. Wouldn’t have to wonder or think about it anymore, it would just be done, and in the past, with no more questions about it.
But she didn’t. She just put it back in the sink with the other glasses.
Jennifer Love Hewitt called Merlin’s cellphone last night. It was late, but she knew he’d be up.
He was laughing as he answered the phone– he recognized the number and knew exactly why she was calling.
JLH: Catch the late edition?
MM: Yeah, skimmed the headlines.
JLH: Interesting little item below the fold there.
MM: Oh yeah what was that.
JLH: “No One On Internet Has Learned Anything, Ever.”
JLH: And then you saw Paul not posting anything and re-cringed.
MM: Whose side are you taking in all this? Because you go way back with basically the whole masthead, right?
JLH: Yeah I’m sitting this one waaay out.
MM: You introduced Derek and Heather, aye-aye-arr-cee.
JLH: Yeah but I know all of them, so.
MM: And that Derek sure knows communities.
JLH: He sure knows how to stir them up, but that’s all I’ll say about that.
MM: And moderating communities and running a company are not the same thing, but that’s all I’ll say about that.
JLH: The community is the company, man!
MM: Oh right. Of course. Yes, let’s give the piranhas the keys to the corporate bidet.
JLH: “You changed the background color on Metafilter, why are you raping my baby?!?!”
MM: “You’re forcing me to log on to Flickr with my Yahoo email instead of my Gmail? Are we in Darfur?!?!”
JLH: Ugh! Awful. Is the same shit just going to keep happening over and over again? Make it stop, please make it stop.
JLH: What are you doing. I hear typing.
MM: I’m totally blogging this. No. I’m putting something on Kung Fu, go look.
JLH: See? Yes. Thank you.
MM: Hey, come be on my show. Couple beers, old times. Do I have to call your agent or can we just set that up.
JLH: Sure, we can use that to launch my plans for a mandatory internet log-on screen that says “You are accessing the intarwebs. You will be interacting with other human beings, please act accordingly.”
MM: Yes. I’ll mock that up. I’m thinking Silkscreen would look nice.
JLH: How’d we get to be so much smarter than everyone else?
MM: Fiber I guess. Maybe vitamins. Hey congrats on your little TV show getting picked up for another season.
JLH: Why thank you.
MM: So I guess that’s working out pretty well for you, the Hollywood thing.
JLH: Yeah, seems to be, for now.
MM: Let me know if that falls through, I know a place with an opening for a Community Moderator.
JLH: Hmmm! Let me just call my agent and see if I can get out of my contract.
MM: Yeah let me know.
JLH: Night, Merlin.
MM: Night, Love.
April 25, 2007
April 20, 2007
Jennifer Love Hewitt is definitely not returning Dennis Crowley’s phone calls. Not this week. Probably not ever. This was the most recent:
Hey it’s me again. Pick up, I know you’re there. Just wanted to thank you again for pressuring me into the worst decision I ever made and basically being the reason my life has completely sucked for the past two years! Call me when you get a chance! Love you, buh-bye!
Whatever. As if. You want to talk about bad decisions, they dated for what, an afternoon? And she’s still paying for it with shit like this. Jesus.
They met in New York City. Spring 2005. She had a day off from filming Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber, so she went to visit a friend, a professor at ITP who had consulted on The Tuxedo. Dennis was one of his students. They hit it off, hung out a bit while she was in town, whatever. He showed her how Dodgeball worked. A few of the commands seemed overly complicated, she offered a little advice. He said he had concerns about scalability, she gave him a few insights from projects she’d worked on. He mentioned Google had been sniffing around. Did she pressure him? No. Did she encourage him? Sure, a little. And so what if she did? This was back when everyone thought Google was benevolent. Did she hold his hand and outline his signature on the paperwork? Yeah right. By then she was back in L.A., dating whoever the fuck she was dating two boyfriends later.
Ugh. UGH! She should call Alex, they could always share a laugh when Dennis got like this. Or fuck it, whatever, just let it go. It’s good. It’s an excellent reminder. Even if Ghost Whisperer occasionally feels like a drag, and even if she’s going to be fighting LonelyGirl or iJustine or whatever hot little hairball YouTube coughs up next for roles in summer blockbusters, she’s happier where she is than she would be if she dove back into the vaseline and chlamydia hot tub called Web 2.0.
February 2, 2007
Caterina still sends Jennifer Love Hewitt an email every so often. She doesn’t watch a lot of TV (doesn’t even own one, in fact), but occasionally she’ll catch an episode of Ghost Whisperer at a hotel or whatever and send off a quick note to Jen. Hey, saw the episode where you have to talk to the guy in the coma, really great stuff! What else are you up to these days? Stewart and I are going to be in Santa Monica next month for DigiWeb07 if you want to hang out. She knows that Jen won’t respond–it’s been almost 3 years since they last spoke–but still, and to her credit, Caterina keeps trying.
Even today it stings, the friendship that was lost. Especially during weeks like this, when it seems like nothing is going right. Jen would see how stressed and sad Caterina is about everything, and try to cheer her up with that terrible Michel Houellebecq impression. But that’s all gone now. How many friendships were altered or irrevocably shattered when Ludicorp decided to suspend development of Game Neverending? How many more will be broken when Flickr forces its Old Skool users to switch over to their Yahoo IDs? Will it ever not hurt? Do you ever stop paying for the decisions you make?
Things used to be so much simpler, before Yahoo, before Flickr. She and Jen were inseparable; two girls in love with literature, design, and the promise of the web. They had an idea for a new kind of online community, disguised as an online game.
They were going to change the world together.
Caterina will never forget the look of betrayal on Jen’s face, the day Ludicorp decided to pull the plug on GNE and focus on Flickr. She thinks about that moment every time she logs into her bank account and sees that Yahoo has deposited her biweekly installment of Flickr blood money. At what cost, success? Someone famous must have said a good quote about it at some point. Jennifer Love Hewitt would know.