Essay: PressPausePlay

Published at the Toronto Standard

Earlier this week I was fielding administrative inanities with my editor at Toronto Standard. This particular exchange was happening via text, because that’s what you do when you and your boss (ed note: “boss”) are the same age and have smoked pot together.

“Morning!” (It was 10 a.m.) “So who exactly is the editor-in-chief over there?”

“There is no EIC. We’re an editing collective. LOL?”

Fresh out of j-school, I’d have been thrown by an ostensibly shapeless organization. According to the tenured professorial logic, a lack of hierarchy would indicate unprofessionalism. Three years later, wizened by working extortionate hours for the standard editorial pittance (and free hair products) and transitioning into double duty nine-to-five plus freelance, that agglomerative approach seems most sensible. (So, young people, do not waste coin on j-school, okay?) Give a bunch of like-minded people with aptitude and passion something to do, and they’ll get it done, and done right – bosses and boardrooms be damned.

The enervation of our parents’ perfunctory, obligatory professionalism – at least for young, creative, professionals – is just one component of what I’m going to call the “economy of everyone.” It’s a burgeoning workface resembling a denatured you-topia where everyone is talented and has the means (and desire) to tell you so. Ideas are the currency, we are each other’s collateral. This is what I took to be the central, perhaps unintended, thesis of the digital era documentary PressPausePlay (we briefly referred you to it a month ago) which speaks with influentials who are super-known (like Seth Godin) and not-as-well-known (Icelandic musician Ólafur Arnalds) about the repercussions of the ‘”digital revolution.”

In a world where great numbers of the emerging workforce have been sold sanguinity and the unburdened leisure of reification, we’ve taken specialization to its extremes and self-taught ourselves a new mode of making it. Does the seed for capitalist destruction lie in the creative class?

Don’t panic, that was mostly a joke. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. At least not for me and my ilk, who’ve of late been labeled ‘Generation Sell’ (by the New York Times), ‘screwed, coddled, self-absorbed’ (New York Magazine) and ‘attention-seeking asteroids’ (by our very own Walrus). The thrust of PressPausePlay’s explorations of free-market expression, enabled by technology dissolving barriers to access, is a reminder that the old way was never anything more than an aberration – just like right now will be five, 10, 50 years from now.

There are some sad truths for those who put a lot of stock in “the industry.” You can’t/won’t buy a CD for $16.99 because all the mystery behind its creation is dissolved. (“’They’ know the secrets now,” shrugs the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee in PressPausePlay’s opening minutes.) Pitchfork runs about 10x the reviews in a year as a music rag would in print. Blockbuster is no longer a Friday night option; it’s Netflix now, it’s barely legal streaming. Bloggers will leap over dues-paid journalists to land in front row seats at fashion weeks around the world.

But as PressPausePlay suggests, that ‘industry,’ the one that pathologically produces art purely for profit, has only been around for roughly 50 years. The hostile, facile, fucking delusional crackdown on filesharing sites like MegaUpload proves it’s not a full-scale dismantling. That’d be a naïve and supremely uneducated assumption on my part (right, economists?) but, like colonial expansion and the industrial revolution and the tech boom, we keep setting our own precedents. Why so reticent to change? This is the future, minus the all ersatz everything.

Here are the sunny truths to this economy of everyone. You don’t need to toil; it can happen fast, overnight even. PressPausePlay’s focus on the new tools of the trade wasn’t just glossy cataloguing; it illustrated the powerful results of eliminating fiscal and educational walls to technology. Cross-collaboration – like an editorial collective, or a musician sourcing fanmade art for her LP sleeve – is as much a means of efficiency as exchange and genuine expression. Everyone has the potential to do everything.

But if we have a generation-specific sense of exceptionalism to thank for anything, it’s that mediocrity is no longer acceptable in the aspirational lexicon. Paraphrasing filmmaker Lena Dunham, here’s the dictum for this new world: what good is an idea if it doesn’t go beyond “I’m a modern person using modern technology?”

Folding these new virtual values into real life practice exposes that the economy of everyone wouldn’t work as a free-for-fall: it is ultimately self-regulating. We will download music and the RIAA will see red, but the in-the-flesh experience of touring – as the immediate Coachella sell-out illustrates – has become more lucrative than ever. If you can’t handle your premature Saturday Night Live appearance, shots will be taken. Posting press releases on your blog is not sustainable. And if you can’t find a collective to redefine success – as marketing agencies and rappers and DJs and journalists are proving – then you’ll have to play by the old rules.