Ned Ludd: Satanic Machine Weavers Despoil The English Countryside

Remember the last time you read Harpers magazine?  You know, the magazine that had the lists of interesting statistics, that your friends in college quoted when they wanted you to know that four years after the speech 36% of George Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" were unemployed, or that for the cost of Bill Clinton's state dinner for Boris Yeltsin three million Russian babies could have been given a year's supply of infant formula.

Of course you don't remember the last time you read Harpers.  That's because it's behind a paywall.

It's behind a paywall because, according to Harpers publisher John R. MacArthur, no one in the history of the internet has ever made money by "giving away" words and ideas in return for advertising.  It's because the very act of displaying words on a monitor cheapens them, and cheapens the writer, transforming talented journalists and opinion leaders into monkeys desperately tap-tap-tapping away at disease-ridden keyboards with vile, feces-encrusted paws.

In fact, as MacArthur recently lectured students at the Columbia Journalism School, the internet has all but destroyed their once noble profession.  Even Harpers is infected by the rot: it's behind a paywall.  According to MacArthur, the one way to save writing of quality is to unplug the internet entirely, and to return to selling magazines on paper only, as God intended them to be read and as the droll wits behind MacArthur's favorite journal of sophisticated French humour have done, much to their profit!

As for the notion that the internet democratizes opinion, MacArthur wishes it known that this is a myth, because people who use the internet have no opinions worth reading.  No doubt if called to speak at a flight school, MacArthur would agree with his kindred spirit Sideshow Bob:

Aaah for the days when aviation was a gentleman's pursuit — back before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to … Raleigh-Durham.

I recommend every word of MacArthur's lecture, for its comedic value alone.  In many respects it reads as a parody of Luddism until one reflects that MacArthur admits, quite openly, that his magazine cannot earn a red cent through the internet.

And don't get him started on the evils of Xerox Machines!


Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. Linus says

    That article is amazing. The most emotionally-masturbatory, self-congratulatory, smug-for-bizarre-reasons, triumphantly ignorant thing I have ever read. And my grandfather made buggy whips, so I know what I'm talking about.

  2. Dave says

    Wow, I thought you were joking about the Xerox machines. And then, just a few pretentious paragraphs from whining about Xerox, he praises Smazidat which did basically the same thing. Even more than his fear and ignorance of technology, I get the impression that this guy absolutely hates the idea that everyone can be a writer now. Mr. blueblood author would probably enjoy a return to the days of illiterate peasants.

  3. Christopher says

    It's very discombobulating to be living in a time when we've basically invented the replicators from Star Trek.

    For a fairly small investment (In terms of both money and environmental damage) pretty much the entirety of human knowledge can be made available nearly for free for gargantuan swathes of the Earth's population.

    I don't fully understand the mind that looks at that fact and thinks that that's a problem that needs to be solved.

    Yeah, people got to get paid, but I don't think the solution is to just throw up our hands, say "the poor will always be with us" and charge an arm and a leg so that the riff raff don't get their hands on our precious knowledge.

  4. C. S. P. Schofield says

    This reminds me a bit of the essay "My Three Stooges" from Tom Wolfe's book HOOKING UP. The essay was (among other things) about the degree to which the Literati had isolated themselves from people who actually like to read.

  5. AlphaCentauri says

    If websites aren't making money, it's because they've gotten too greedy. Put up pop up ads, and people get pop up blockers. Put up animated flash ads, and people use Noscript or AdBlock Plus on your site. Let every scummy scammer on the internet put their content on your servers, and people will learn to only allow javascript temporarily when they visit and to log out when they leave your site, so your advertising partners can't abuse their access when people visit other websites. Eliminate your advertising department and rely on third party companies to place ads for you, and your site is cheapened by the appearance of some of ads they carry.

  6. says

    It's very discombobulating to be living in a time when we've basically invented the replicators from Star Trek.

    For the love of all that is good: don't show Mr. MacArthur how trivial it is (or soon will be) for just anyone to make their own firearm.

  7. says

    Ironically, I imagine that he may well be right on the basic claim that it's difficult to run a profitable internet-only magazine, even though most of his proposed solutions are junk.

    But the real problem is a phrase that doesn't make it into the whole piece, namely 'barriers to entry'. The internet massively reduced them for publishing, because lots of bloggers will write interesting stuff for nothing.

    It was inevitable that this increase in (largely free) competition was going to reduce the payoffs to professional writers. You can fiddle around with paywalls or online advertising, but it's not going to change the basic fact.

  8. Corporal Lint says

    It's very discombobulating to be living in a time when we've basically invented the replicators from Star Trek.

    We've invented the communicators from Star Trek, as well as early versions of the tricorder, and you'll also notice that Picards has an iPad. However, we have not invented replicators. When I can say "Give me a pad thai and a synthohol" and have them appear out of thin air, then we will have invented replicators.

    If a man can't be pedantic about Star Trek, when can he be pedantic?

  9. twency says

    However, we have not invented replicators.

    True, but don't neglect the weasel-word (I mean that in a good way) "basically" in what you quoted.

    I'm guessing the commenter may have been referring to 3D printers, which while certainly not replicator technology (otherwise I'd be printing Earl Gray, hot all day) are nonetheless nearly indistinguishable from magic.