Slaves of the Internet, Unite! – By Tim Kreider

NOT long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint.

People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it. “Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to offer compensation to our contributors…” is how the pertinent line usually starts. But just as often, they simply omit any mention of payment.

A familiar figure in one’s 20s is the club owner or event promoter who explains to your band that they won’t be paying you in money, man, because you’re getting paid in the far more valuable currency of exposure. This same figure reappears over the years, like the devil, in different guises — with shorter hair, a better suit — as the editor of a Web site or magazine, dismissing the issue of payment as an irrelevant quibble and impressing upon you how many hits they get per day, how many eyeballs, what great exposure it’ll offer. “Artist Dies of Exposure” goes the rueful joke.

In fairness, most of the people who ask me to write things for free, with the exception of Arianna Huffington, aren’t the Man; they’re editors of struggling magazines or sites, or school administrators who are probably telling me the truth about their budgets. The economy is still largely in ruins, thanks to the people who “drive the economy” by doing imaginary things on Wall Street, and there just isn’t much money left to spare for people who do actual things anymore.

This is partly a side effect of our information economy, in which “paying for things” is a quaint, discredited old 20th-century custom, like calling people after having sex with them. The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.

Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge. I now contribute to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which I am paid the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989. More recently, I had the essay equivalent of a hit single — endlessly linked to, forwarded and reposted. A friend of mine joked, wistfully, “If you had a dime for every time someone posted that …” Calculating the theoretical sum of those dimes, it didn’t seem all that funny.

I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing. I have to admit my empathetic imagination is failing me here. I suppose people who aren’t artists assume that being one must be fun since, after all, we do choose to do it despite the fact that no one pays us. They figure we must be flattered to have someone ask us to do our little thing we already do.

I will freely admit that writing beats baling hay or going door-to-door for a living, but it’s still shockingly unenjoyable work. I spent 20 years and wrote thousands of pages learning the trivial craft of putting sentences together. My parents blew tens of thousands of 1980s dollars on tuition at a prestigious institution to train me for this job. They also put my sister the pulmonologist through medical school, and as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.

Maybe they’re asking in the collaborative, D.I.Y. spirit that allegedly characterizes the artistic community. I have read Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift,” and participated in a gift economy for 20 years, swapping zines and minicomics with friends and colleagues, contributing to little literary magazines, doing illustrations for bands and events and causes, posting a decade’s worth of cartoons and essays on my Web site free of charge. Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.

Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up.

I know I sound like some middle-aged sourpuss who’s forgotten why he ever wanted to do this in the first place. But I’m secretly not as mercenary as I’m trying to pretend. One of the three people who asked me to do something for nothing that dispiriting week was a graduate student in a social work program asking me if I’d speak to her class. I first sent her my boilerplate demurral, but soon found myself mulling over the topic she’d suggested, involuntarily thinking up things to say. I had gotten interested. Oh, dammit, I thought. I knew then I was going to do the talk. And after all, they were student social workers, who were never going to make much money either because they’d chosen to go into the business, which our society also deems worthless, of trying to help people. Also, she was very pretty.

“Let us not kid ourselves,” Professor Vladimir Nabokov reminds us. “Let us remember that literature is of no practical value whatsoever. … ” But practical value isn’t the only kind of value. Ours is a mixed economy, with the gift economy of the arts existing (if not exactly flourishing) within the inhospitable conditions of a market economy, like the fragile black market in human decency that keeps civilization going despite the pitiless dictates of self-interest.

My field of expertise is complaining, not answers. I know there’s no point in demanding that businesspeople pay artists for their work, any more than there is in politely asking stink bugs or rhinoviruses to quit it already. It’s their job to be rapacious and shameless. But they can get away with paying nothing only for the same reason so many sleazy guys keep trying to pick up women by insulting them: because it keeps working on someone. There is a bottomless supply of ambitious young artists in all media who believe the line about exposure, or who are simply so thrilled at the prospect of publication that they’re happy to do it free of charge.

I STILL remember how this felt: the first piece I ever got nationally published was in a scholarly journal that paid in contributors’ copies, but I’ve never had a happier moment in my career. And it’s not strictly true that you never benefit from exposure — being published in The New York Times helped get me an agent, who got me a book deal, which got me some dates. But let it be noted that The Times also pays in the form of money, albeit in very modest amounts.

So I’m writing this not only in the hope that everyone will cross me off the list of writers to hit up for free content but, more important, to make a plea to my younger colleagues. As an older, more accomplished, equally unsuccessful artist, I beseech you, don’t give it away. As a matter of principle. Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.

Here, for public use, is my very own template for a response to people who offer to let me write something for them for nothing:

Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I’m flattered by your invitation to [do whatever it is they want you to do for nothing]. But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it’s how I make my living, and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.

Feel free to amend as necessary. This I’m willing to give away.

Selling Secrets of Phone Users to Advertisers – by Claire Cain Miller and Somini Sengupta

SAN FRANCISCO — Once, only hairdressers and bartenders knew people’s secrets.

Now, smartphones know everything — where people go, what they search for, what they buy, what they do for fun and when they go to bed. That is why advertisers, and tech companies like Google and Facebook, are finding new, sophisticated ways to track people on their phones and reach them with individualized, hypertargeted ads. And they are doing it without cookies, those tiny bits of code that follow users around the Internet, because cookies don’t work on mobile devices.

Privacy advocates fear that consumers do not realize just how much of their private information is on their phones and how much is made vulnerable simply by downloading and using apps, searching the mobile Web or even just going about daily life with a phone in your pocket. And this new focus on tracking users through their devices and online habits comes against the backdrop of a spirited public debate on privacy and government surveillance.

On Wednesday, the National Security Agency confirmed it had collected data from cellphone towers in 2010 and 2011 to locate Americans’ cellphones, though it said it never used the information.

“People don’t understand tracking, whether it’s on the browser or mobile device, and don’t have any visibility into the practices going on,” said Jennifer King, who studies privacy at the University of California, Berkeley and has advised the Federal Trade Commission on mobile tracking. “Even as a tech professional, it’s often hard to disentangle what’s happening.”

Drawbridge is one of several start-ups that have figured out how to follow people without cookies, and to determine that a cellphone, work computer, home computer and tablet belong to the same person, even if the devices are in no way connected. Before, logging onto a new device presented advertisers with a clean slate.

“We’re observing your behaviors and connecting your profile to mobile devices,” said Eric Rosenblum, chief operating officer at Drawbridge. But don’t call it tracking. “Tracking is a dirty word,” he said.

Drawbridge, founded by a former Google data scientist, says it has matched 1.5 billion devices this way, allowing it to deliver mobile ads based on Web sites the person has visited on a computer. If you research a Hawaiian vacation on your work desktop, you could see a Hawaii ad that night on your personal cellphone.

For advertisers, intimate knowledge of users has long been the promise of mobile phones. But only now are numerous mobile advertising services that most people have never heard of — like Drawbridge, Flurry, Velti and SessionM — exploiting that knowledge, largely based on monitoring the apps we use and the places we go. This makes it ever harder for mobile users to escape the gaze of private companies, whether insurance firms or shoemakers.

Ultimately, the tech giants, whose principal business is selling advertising, stand to gain. Advertisers using the new mobile tracking methods include Ford Motor, American Express, Fidelity, Expedia, Quiznos and Groupon.

“In the old days of ad targeting, we give them a list of sites and we’d say, ‘Women 25 to 45,’ “ said David Katz, the former general manager of mobile at Groupon and now at Fanatics, the sports merchandise online retailer. “In the new age, we basically say, ‘Go get us users.’ “

In those old days — just last year — digital advertisers relied mostly on cookies. But cookies do not attach to apps, which is why they do not work well on mobile phones and tablets. Cookies generally do work on mobile browsers, but do not follow people from a phone browser to a computer browser. The iPhone’s mobile Safari browser blocks third-party cookies altogether.

Even on PCs, cookies have lost much of their usefulness to advertisers, largely because of cookie blockers.

Responding to this problem, the Interactive Advertising Bureau started a group to explore the future of the cookie and alternatives, calling current online advertising “a lose-lose-lose situation for advertisers, consumers, publishers and platforms.” Most recently, Google began considering creating an anonymous identifier tied to its Chrome browser that could help target ads based on user Web browsing history.

For many advertisers, cookies are becoming irrelevant anyway because they want to reach people on their mobile devices.

Yet advertising on phones has its limits.

For example, advertisers have so far had no way to know whether an ad seen on a phone resulted in a visit to a Web site on a computer. They also have been unable to connect user profiles across devices or even on the same device, as users jump from the mobile Web to apps.

Without sophisticated tracking, “running mobile advertising is like throwing money out the window. It’s worse than buying TV advertisements,” said Ravi Kamran, founder and chief executive of Trademob, a mobile app marketing and tracking service.

This is why a service that connects multiple devices with one user is so compelling to marketers.

Drawbridge, which was founded by Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, formerly at AdMob, the Google mobile ad network, has partnerships with various online publishers and ad exchanges. These send partners a notification every time a user visits a Web site or mobile app, which is considered an opportunity to show an ad. Drawbridge watches the notifications for behavioral patterns and uses statistical modeling to determine the probability that several devices have the same owner and to assign that person an anonymous identifier.

So if someone regularly checks a news app on a phone in bed each morning, browses the same news site from a laptop in the kitchen, visits from that laptop at an office an hour later and returns that night on a tablet in the same home, Drawbridge concludes that those devices belong to the same person. And if that person shopped for airplane tickets at work, Drawbridge could show that person an airline ad on the tablet that evening.

Ms. Sivaramakrishnan said its pinpointing was so accurate that it could show spouses different, personalized ads on a tablet they share. Before, she said, “ad targeting was about devices, not users, but it’s more important to understand who the user is.”

Similarly, if you use apps for Google Chrome, Facebook or Amazon on your cellphone, those companies can track what you search for, buy or post across your devices when you are logged in.

Other companies, like Flurry, get to know people by the apps they use.

Flurry embeds its software in 350,000 apps on 1.2 billion devices to help app developers track things like usage. Its tracking software appears on the phone automatically when people download those apps. Flurry recently introduced a real-time ad marketplace to send advertisers an anonymized profile of users the moment they open an app.

Profiles are as detailed as wealthy bookworms who own small businesses or new mothers who travel for business and like to garden. The company has even more specific data about users that it does not yet use because of privacy concerns, said Rahul Bafna, senior director of Flurry.

Wireless carriers know even more about us from our home ZIP codes, like how much time we spend on mobile apps and which sites we visit on mobile browsers. Verizon announced in December that its customers could authorize it to share that information with advertisers in exchange for coupons. AT&T announced this summer that it would start selling aggregated customer data to marketers, while offering a way to opt out.

Neither state nor federal law prohibits the collection or sharing of data by third parties. In California, app developers are required to post a privacy policy and to clearly state what personal information they collect and how they share it. Still, that leaves much mystery for ordinary mobile users.

How to Listen When Your Communication Styles Don’t Match – by Mark Goulston

Why do people who consider themselves good communicators often fail to actually hear each other? Often it’s due to a mismatch of styles: To someone who prefers to vent, someone who prefers to explain seems patronizing; explainers experience venters as volatile.

This is why so many of us see our conversational counterparts as lecturing, belaboring, talking down to us, or even shaming us (if we are venters and they are explainers) or as invasive, out of control, and overly emotional (if we’re an explainer and they’re a venter).

Facing this kind of mismatch, what do you think the chances are for either person actually listening with an open mind?

My answer is… very low.

It is tempting to say “zero,” but since it’s not possible (or even desirable) to work only with people who match your communication style, you need to develop the skill to try to listen around their communication style.

Listening around that style, however, can be incredibly effortful.  When someone is either venting/screaming or explaining/belaboring it triggers a part of your middle emotional brain called the amygdala, which desperately wants to hijack your attentive listening and instead react reflexively with whatever your hardwired reactions are.  And resisting that amygdala hijack is exhausting.

What do to with a venter/screamer

If your conversational counterpart is a venter/screamer, your hardwired survival coping skill might be to tell them to calm down (which will only make them more upset), to shut down and get silent (which will only make them yell longer, because they’ll think you’re not listening), or to try to point out how irrational venting is (which, as noted above, they will perceive as patronizing and belaboring).

Instead, say to yourself, “Okay, here comes another temper tantrum.  Just let them blow.  Try not to take it between the eyes and imagine you’re looking into the calm eye of a hurricane and the storm is going over your shoulder.”

To do this, focus on their left eye. The left eye is connected to the right brain — the emotional brain.  Let them finish. Then say, “I can see you’re really frustrated. To make sure I don’t add to that,  and to make sure I don’t miss something, what was the most important thing I need to do in the long term, what’s the critical thing I need to do in the short term, and what do I need to get done ASAP?” Reframing the conversation this way, after they’ve finished venting, will make sure that your “explainer” self knows what to do – instead of ignoring the venting as another random outburst from “Conan the Barbarian” or “the Wicked Witch of the West.” Chances are, they do have something important they’re trying to tell you – even though they’re not communicating it very well.

After they respond, say to them, “What you just said is way too important for me to have misunderstood a word, so I’m going to say it back to you to make sure I am on the same page with you. Here’s what I heard.” Then repeat exactly, word for word, what they said to you.  After you finish, say to them, “Did I get that right and if not, what did I miss?” Forcing them to listen to what you said they said, “because it was important,” will slow them down, will help you stay centered and in control, and will earn you their and your own respect.

What to do with an explainer/belaborer

If your conversational counterpart is an explainer, your hardwired survival coping skill might be to say to yourself,  “Here they go again, make sure you smile politely even if you want to pull your hair out. Try not to let your impatience and annoyance show.” The problem with this is that even though they may be oblivious to others as they go on and on, at some level they may be aware of your underlying impatience and… that might actually make them talk longer. Yikes.

Realize that the reason they explain and belabor things is probably because their experience is that people don’t pay attention to what they say.  They don’t realize that while that may be true of some truly distracted people, for others, the reason they don’t pay attention is that the speaker is belaboring something that the listener already heard — and doesn’t want to hear over and over again.  Another possibility is that these explainers may not be feeling listened to somewhere else in their life (by their spouse, kids, parents, or boss) and is now  relieved to have you as a captive audience.

When the explainer goes into his explanation/lecture/filibuster, say to yourself, “Okay, this is going to take a while.”  Put a mental bookmark in whatever you were working on. Then look them in their left eye with a look that says, “Okay, take your time, I’m fully listening.” Instead of feeling frustrated and reacting by become impatient and fidgety, remind yourself, “They need to do this. I can be patient.”

Then when they finish then apply a similar response to the venter/screamer with the following minor edit:

“I can see that you really had a lot that you had to say. To make sure I don’t miss something, what was the most important thing I need to do in the long term, what’s the critical thing I need to do in the short term, and what do I need to get done ASAP?” ”

After they respond to that, say to them, “What you just said is way too important for me to have misunderstood a word, so I’m going to say it back to you to make sure I am on the same page with you. Here’s what I heard.” Then repeat exactly, word for word, what they said to you.  After you finish, say to them, “Did I get that right, and if not, what did I miss?”

Your amygdala is probably saying to you and to me, “I don’t want to do either of those things. These people are obnoxious and unreasonable. Why should I kowtow to them?”

Here are several reasons:

  1. They aren’t likely to change. These are deeply ingrained personality traits.
  2. Being more open and inviting them to talk rather than closed and resistant will lessen their need to act this way.  Listening patiently hath charm to soothe the savage (or boring) beast.
  3. You will feel more self-respect and self-esteem. The above approaches will enable you to remain cool, calm, collected, centered and communicative in situation that formerly frustrated you and made you react poorly.

80-mark-goulstonMark Goulston, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a business psychiatrist, executive consultant, keynote speaker and co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership. He is the author of Just Listen and co-author of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In (Amacom, 2013). Contact him here.