Malcolm Gladwell is a foolish, foolish man, but he is not as foolish as Wired editor Chris Anderson, it would appear from the critical dicksmack he delivers to the latter’s book Free. In Anderson’s book, as I understand it, the self-positioning visionary trumpets the inevitability of certain digital trends in that tiresome technological triumphalist way (“In the digital realm you can try to keep Free [sic the capital F throughout the book occasionally] at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win”). Basically, new technologies allow stuff that’s “made of ideas” to become cheaper and cheaper; what businesses and people who make things “out of ideas” are supposed to do about this, so that they might continue to make enough of a living to continue to make more things out of ideas — these issues do not, as far as I can tell from the reviews, concern Anderson overmuch.
So Gladwell’s specific point-by-point takedown of the book is satisfying, and I for one always find it edifying when two people I vehemently dislike get into a metaphorical cage match, and I discover myself adamantly backing one of them over the other. (For my sake, I’m hoping a Chris Hitchens vs. Ron Rosenbaum breaks out soon. Although, strangely, every time Armond White goes out of his way to spit on Juno I mostly just feel unclean.) Except at the end there…
The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.
That’s right, you just read the author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers witheringly reduce someone else’s premise to an idea “too obvious to write a book about”. Which… wow. That there is some beer ass chicken. This is precisely the kind of oblivious behavior that Grannie Asch, in her inimitably folksy way, used to characterize as “The pot calling the kettle a piece of kitchenware suitable for boiling water in.”
That Grannie Asch, such a wealth of commonsensical wisdom and flavorful colloquialisms.