Everything At Our Fingertips

by Conor Friedersdorf

Internet superhero Cory Doctorow reflects on the end of scarcity:

When I began writing, I imagined that the central problem of my working life would be figuring out which books to write, and how to produce the best books I could. These problems decompose into a lot of smaller problems: which books and music and movies should I consume to inspire my work? Which experts and artists should I seek out and converse with in order to improve my work?

Once upon a time, the questions of which books, music, experts and experiences you should try were largely answered by circumstance. Which books to read? Which ones can you afford, which ones are on the library's shelf, which ones are in the shop, which ones can you discover? The pool of experts was limited to people who lived nearby or those to whom your immediate circle could introduce you. Half the problem was solved by default – the cost of seeking out a very rare book almost always exceeded the value you'd get from reading it.

My internet problem is the one so many of us struggle with: how do you choose when the constraints of geography, income and circumstance disappear? What goes in a playlist when all the music ever recorded is one click away? Which experts' thought processes should you tap into when tens of millions of them are on Twitter? How do you choose a book from the millions that you can discover with a Google Books search?

The whole piece is worth reading – he goes on to discuss the experience of self-publishing his most recent book, and produced a sentence that dazzled Alan Jacobs: "The former world demanded relentless fixity of purpose and quick-handed snatching at opportunity; the new world demands the kind of self-knowledge that comes from quiet, mindful introspection."