Welcome to the
Internet Dark Ages
(c)1999-2019 John "Sloop" Biederman
I want credit as the first to declare that we are, indeed, amid an Internet Dark Ages! Okay, at least ONE of the first, with no way of knowing for sure, with the Great Internet Open Mic and all. This is relatively recent--this century, meaning we're on the tip--but if you don't believe we're in a Dark Ages…
This topic has been more fully explored in Daily Limerick proper--more reason for you to become a regular reader, AKA Slapper Yapper Grasshopper, and tiptoe through the Archives. But consider… The sorry, over-merged, understaffed, underfunded state of real news/journalism. The average persons's practice of choosing only news, "news" and fake news that reinforces staunch beliefs (made easier by culled "friend"/"follower" posses of the same bent in selfie media). And the Internet's decreasing usefulness as an information resource. (As a journalist using the resource since the 1990s, trust my assertion--perhaps largely because scientists, scholars and such have pulled content to avoid piracy and put food on the table. And that's without getting into the Net Neutrality problem, revoked as I pen this, but likely a back-and-forth thing now.)

The public is more poorly informed than ever in this so-called "Information Age." In fact, outside of the first Dark Ages, this may be the first time we're seeing Humanity growing LESS informed with time. Granted, this is hard to gauge. Going from a time when most received their news from newspapers--a dozen-plus thriving in a big city like Chicago in the early 1900s--to radio and then to TV, there's certainly an argument that ignorance has been growing for some time. The overall number of legit news publications has been shrinking all along, and the Media Merger Fest beginning in the 1980s-'90s certainly nuked the industry, too. But the Internet's rise unleashed a License to Steal, and a whole Pandora's Box of nails for the Press' coffin, in a flash.

Many cite "bias" as the major problem with news today, but that's just a symptom of the fact that our once great Press is now pathetic. It's not as bad with big national and international stories, but locally, especially outside of large metropolitan areas, the wolves (politicians, One Percenters and Big Tech--oh, my!) are running, unnoticed, through the hen houses--and local governments often have a much more direct effect on our lives. Yes, bias is indeed a problem, but one of its biggest causes is the fact that the industry's decimated--many newsworthy stories just can't be adequately covered with ever shrinking newsrooms so, in having to choose what does get coverage, stories fitting an editor's political philosophy rise to the top.

Anyway, I believe I've made the point that, if nothing else, the Internet has brought a decline in news quality, and public awareness, at an alarming rate never seen before, although one may argue over the seriousness of the situation. To those who'd ho-hum this all off under the rubric of "times change, get used to it," I remind you that the Press has been dubbed the Fourth Estate of government wisely--a free society cannot be maintained without an adequately informed public. And news is not the only cultural front endangered...

Of course, the Internet is a tool. Not wholly good nor bad. And even in these Internet Dark Ages, it has brought some great things to writers and journalists--filing stories quickly via e-mail, a library at your fingertips, etc. But our HANDLING of the Internet Age is what has unleashed havoc. It doesn't help matters that the growth of new technology is rapid, and more so all the time, while our legal and legislative systems are painfully slow. Add these factors to the power wielded by massive corporations in a capitalistic system and (not that I'm against capitalism--all for it, just think we're finding out it needs some asterisks)…

One such corporation, which I refer to as one of the Digital Robber Barons, has effectively usurped the entire book industry (and, apparently, is looking to follow-up by usurping…well, EVERY industry next). Sure, the average reader is blinded to all but the low, low, LOW prices we all now demand but, oh, is there a price! This is not the best forum to relate details as to how and why this corporation has wrought a horrific fate upon writers, literature, information and Free Speech. Outlets and organizations, such as the Authors Guild (to which I belong), have been chronicling this stuff for years now--I recommend that you get educated. (See also Franklin Foer's book "World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech" and Jonathan Taplin's "Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.")

While the Internet transcends national borders in many ways, America is still a leader of, and key player in, the digital landscape. Thus, the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is another major culprit ushering in these Internet Dark Ages. Again, there are better sources going into the detailed shortcomings of the DMCA, but...

The especially villainous provision of the DMCA is what's oft referred to as the "notify and take down" rule. This says that if, say, a site pirates an author's work, the author need only tell the site to remove the work and the site must comply as its sole "penalty." This works, somewhat, with Big Name authors working with Big Name publishers complete with Big Name attorneys but… Yeah, not so well for most. An author without "people" thus spends what little's left of his "writing time," after haunting the likes of selfie media for promotion to rise amid the Indy Author Slush Pile, tracking down offending entities. For all his or her trouble, the DMCA's slap-on-the-wrist to the villains usually translates into the piracy moving to another site and/or, eventually, popping back up in the same place.

Beyond villainous is a provision lacking in the DMCA--piracy accountability for the Internet Service Providers, selfie media and other relevant tech giants. These Digital Robber Barons are constantly at work "convincing" Congress (more unbridled capitalism) to absolve them of a responsibility here, despite their having ample financial and personnel resources to meet such responsibility.

A word now about the Information Wants to Be Free propaganda, a philosophy that has spread like a cancer among the Digital Robber Barons, legislators and society itself. This hits authors hardest in the pocketbook. Not lawyers, bankers, politicians, media conglomerates or insurance tycoons--AUTHORS. Other than from communists, you don't hear Plumbing Wants to Be Free, or Smart Phones Want to Be Free, or even Groceries Want to be Free. But somehow ideas, literature, science--the bedrocks of Free Societies--are undeserving of compensation?

According to a comprehensive survey by the Authors Guild, since the turn of this last century, there are roughly one-third fewer professional (money-making) writers now (many simply threw in the towel) and, of those still at it, they are making, on average, one-third less money. For more experienced writers, such as myself--less willing to take on free/for-peanuts work "for the resume" or to be hired to begin with, thanks to media consolidation penny-pinching and a glut of "indy writers" who will--those one-thirds becomes halves.

I know I'VE thought of throwing in the towel on writing. And, since I have to say so myself, I have an impressive resume I worked my nuts off to build. But those least likely to throw in that towel are the zillions now hopping on the Publishing Open Mic because it's so fuckin' easy, meaning that our overall Literary Culture is now mostly… Ahem.

(Let me pause at moment to stress that I KNOW there are brilliant, non-traditionally educated/experienced, so called "indy authors" out there but… Ever hit an open mic? What, one halfway decent act for every ten, at best?)

Sure Hollywood's lazy and has indulged the easy route of remakes, big screen adaptations of old small screen hits, etc. all along, but do you think the relatively recent barrage is mere coincidence? Or could it have something to do with the fact that the best novelists--Tinseltown's finest idea farm--rightfully expect to make a living from their craft but fewer can, and more are thus calling it quits? The Great Internet Open Mic has generated more books than ever, of course, but "quantity" is not the operative Q-Word in the equation.

Some may point to the sheer quantity of books being published, as well as to the barrage of information (and "information") the Internet has made available, and ask, "I see where there may be a problem here, Sloop, but how can you compare the modern scenario to the Dark Ages' when they're direct opposites--one left the populace in the dark while the other assails the populace with a glut?"

To answer, look to the former Soviet Union as an example, which oppressed the masses by controlling the availability of news, information and culture. That's one way to go about silencing dissent--slapping duct tape over the mouth of the dissenter. But, without going into the possibility of sinister motives behind today's scenario ("possibility"--ha!), is the same means not accomplished by allowing the dissenter to scream, but placing him in a room with a hundred others screaming?

Okay. I can't resist saying SOMETHING about sinister motives--that certain major Digital Robber Baron, to which I previously alluded and which has near monopolized the book industry? Realize they still make no profit off their book sales, meaning their motivation for monopoly here is… Hmmm.

If you're still unconvinced that we're on the cusp of an Internet Dark Ages, I'll loosely summarize a story I read through an Authors Guild Bulletin, published within a few years of this writing (2018). Now, when most think of the Internet's effect on writers' income, they think mostly of we hopeless dreamer novelists. And they likewise assume that, as so-called "dreamers," we'll write our little stories regardless of whether or not it pays. Keep in mind that we dreamers have traditionally pursued these dreams because there's at least a chance of becoming J.K. Rowling rich and famous (or, in cases like mine, able to eek out a modest or even poor living)…

Okay, enough digressin'--back to this Authors Guild Bulletin piece. It was the tale of a medical writer. I believe she was an actual doctor, yet for whatever reasons didn't go into practice, but into medical research. In this role, though, she had advanced the overall medical profession, discovering cures for diseases and such--her writing, rather than playing amid imagination land, was saving lives. Her modus operandi entailed spending a lot of money to write each work--traveling internationally for interviews and to witness the latest studies and techniques, performing research of her own, etc.--and then she'd make all of it back, plus profit, with book sales.

This modus operandi functioned fine until recently. The research for what was likely her last book focused on a specific type of cancer, rare but growing more common. After publication, however, she found its sales numbers far below that of her typical works. Having a solid reputation in her fields, and knowing that many medical professionals were aware of this project and eager for its fruits, she was befuddled, so looked into the matter to find…

Her work had been pirated, all over the Internet, on Facebook, you name it. So severely, in fact, that one pirate--actually, a secondhand pirate who stole her research from an earlier pirate--turned around and accused HER of plagiarizing a new book that used her original research!

This book was so popular among thieves because it was a breakthrough in its field--its research has already saved lives and will continue to do so. But there's now one less cutting-edge, cancer cure researcher out there, retired because, apparently, her hard work "wants to be free." And that's just the tale of one such writer, out of perhaps millions.

You may ask, "So Sloop, what can be done to stave off this Internet Dark Ages?" Well, I'll punt on that one--I'm a pundit, not a scientist, tech wizard, sociologist, etc. But I've touched on some ideas here, such as replacing the DMCA with something that's not worthless.

I'd love to finish this manifesto on an optimistic note, but I can't lie. I don't see the situation getting any better and, if so, certainly not anytime soon. In fact, if forced to bet, I'd gamble that we're just at the tip of this Internet Dark Ages now--prepare for things to only get much, much worse…
By John Sloop Biederman