I just learned that Chris Meadows, smart writer and one of the most prolific bloggers at e-book site Teleread, was (until very recently) unemployed for sixteen months:
I’ve recently taken on a new full-time job, after sixteen months of life on unemployment, and in the rush of having money again have been considering a number of possible purchases—including an iPhone 4. But some articles I’ve been reading lately have started me thinking about whether I really even need one.
This resonates with me, because I’ve been unemployed and in need of a new laptop since the end of the summer; I cut my cable off and started writing and tweeting like crazy. And it’s no secret that my last big surge in Internet writing happened when I was stuck in the hospital.
What if what’s seemed like a sudden flurry of interest in and great writing about technological devices, much of it coming from no-or-low-revenue producing sites, has been driven by the economic crisis — a torrent of talented writers, information workers, and tech enthusiasts who not only couldn’t find full-time work (freeing up their time and attention to write), but who in most cases couldn’t even afford to buy the devices they were writing about, leaving them nothing to do but sublimate that desire into distanced obsession, and fantasies of unrealized alternatives?
There’s something so moving and human about that to me. Here’s my fictitious (loosely autobiographical) internal monologue:
If only Apple would make a smaller version of the iPad, that made Facetime calls and supported ePub. I have so many good ideas, if only someone will listen to me, and give them a chance. I guess we can’t afford a sitter to go to the movies — I’ll just see what people are saying about the new Blackberry phone. I know where LOST went wrong. Just one more, and everything will be perfect.
It’s the dark side of Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus, where technology and education haven’t just created a new pool of leisure time, but a pool of high-skill knowledge workers devastated by structural unemployment, with nothing to do but create and imagine and argue, struggling to hold on to the lives they imagined for themselves, or used to lead.
Update: Definitely check out the link Saheli posted in the comments to Richard Morgan’s “Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or, How to Make Vitamin Soup.” I’d read it earlier in the week and almost definitely (and unconsciously) had it in the back of my head writing this post. Also see the now-quasi-classic Tina Brown essay “The Gig Economy.” I say “quasi” only because I don’t really know if it’s widely seen as a classic, but Rex built a company based partly on the idea, so, whatever.
Finally, for kicks, read The Gervais Principle and “Lost” and the High Narrative Price of WTF, two smart pieces of pop culture criticism that also try to make sense of how this decade’s economic crisis has already been represented for us.