New Part Two - September 4:
James Fallows
Michael Lewis

Part One - August 29:
James Fallows
Michael Lewis



Michael Lewis is the author of several books, including the international bestsellers Liar's Poker and The New New Thing. He has been the American editor of the British weekly The Spectator and a senior editor at The New Republic. Currently a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, he lives in Berkeley with his wife, Tabitha Soren, and their daughter, Quinn.

James Fallows is The Atlantic's national correspondent and the author of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (1996) and of Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel, published this month. To learn about his new book and look through an archive of his recent articles, visit jamesfallows.com.



Previously in Fallows@large:

The Waste Land (June 21, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Alex Kerr, author of Dogs and Demons.

Working Classes (May 2, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed.

The Work of Words (February 21, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Christopher Hitchens, author of Unacknowledged Legislation and would-be prosecutor of Henry Kissinger.

More by James Fallows

More on books

More on technology




Join the conversation in Post & Riposte.


Atlantic Unbound | September 4, 2001
 
fallows@large | Dialogues with James Fallows
 
.....
 
From: James Fallows
To: Michael Lewis
Subject: The (next) Age of the Internet - Part Two

Dear Michael:

Thanks for your answers about the "how" and "why" of your book. I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about the "what" of your argument—and in the process touch on why, in the current climate, Next is seen as a contrarian book.

I'll admit that I have a slight feeling of dread in raising these questions, purely because I know that you're returning from a stint on the book-promo circuit. Going on the hustings for a book is when an author's life most closely resembles a politician's. You are making an essentially similar pitch again and again, while trying to conceal that you're actually just running a tape in your brain. You're hearing essentially similar questions again and again, while trying to conceal the fact that you know perfectly well what the questioner is going to come up with, even as he struggles to get the question formed and asked. But in situations like this you don't often hear politicians say what you do sometimes hear weary writers say: "What you're really trying to ask is..."

What I'm really trying to ask here is, What's the connection between the hilarious, vivid characters you present in much of Next and the "real impact" of the Internet? To reduce your book to a bullet-point list, it tells us about:

So what does this all mean? I should say that it's enjoyable enough that it wouldn't really have to mean anything to be worth it; it's just great portraiture of the time. And one of the things the book "meant" to me is that I really should get the TiVo service. Moving back to D.C. is a reminder of how antique the info-infrastructure of many East Coast cities is, compared at least to Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area where I've been recently. Since the cable TV system is so unimpressive, maybe it's time to try DirectTV and TiVo, which you present as being as radical as the VCR was in its time. (Minor radical implication: letting the user see exactly what he wants when he wants it. Major radicalness: end of the TV-ad business, or at least the evolution of that business.)

But let me ask about the "meaning" in a more general sense. There are a couple of big themes you introduce at the start of the book and then weave through it. That children have unprecedented amounts of style-and-innovation powers, because they're the ones who understand these new systems. That the anonymity and democracy of the Internet are eroding all kinds of traditional barriers—like the quaint old ones that let only lawyers give legal advice. That economic "rents" of various sorts, such as the royalty payments on music, are about to evaporate. The Napster judgment may have slowed this process slightly, but (you're saying) if technology exists to let people get "content" for free, they'll do so.

I don't doubt for a second another of the claims you make at the beginning of the book: that the Internet's impact is just beginning, and that just as it now seems absurd to argue over the "importance" of electricity, so it will seem absurd to argue about network technology a few years from now. But I find myself resisting some of the specific implications that come out of your wonderful portraits—that it really is the age of the kids, or that expertise is once and forever down the toilet. In terms of the kids, perhaps I'm falling victim to a geriatric bias—my own kids are already older than Jonathan Lebed or Marcus Arnold. I may also be over-interpreting the last two years of Internet news, in which companies run by kids generally failed and the boring old managers stepped in.

But in terms of the blurred expertise, haven't we always seen this? Isn't this one of the things that made America great, or at least made it different from England? You've got Mark Twain's bogus royalty, you've got "doctor" Laura Schlessinger giving "expert" advice on the air. Listeners don't really care that Dr. Laura is not a medical doctor, just as Internet users didn't really care when they found out that Marcus wasn't a lawyer.

What I'm asking is: Can you draw out the "rise of the young"/"end of authority" themes you present in the book? Or would it be enough to say those are nice conceits that connect the wonderful stories you've produced, without necessarily representing the law of the future? Hey, it would be enough for me.

[One embarrassing note: Last time, I mentioned that you had returned to "my former home" in Berkeley. At least one reader thought I meant that you and I were swapping houses. If only!]

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