Drowning in The Long Tail?

February 5, 2008

Despite my liking to think I am a political progressive, I am, on a personal level, resistant to change and a fan of tradition.  There is one restaurant back home at which I have, at each visit since 1988, ordered exactly the same thing.  I use the same alarm clock now that woke me up at 7 AM each morning for my duties as an elementary school AAA Safety.  I am determined to keep my 1999 Dodge Neon until it explodes (even if I bought a Saab 9-3 in 2007).  In a world in which 100 years of certain ways of life have been swept away in the past 10, I believe there is comfort and reassurance to be found in a burger that survived Reagan, an alarm clock that survived Bush I and a Detroit-built economy car that still runs.    

Still, to (badly) paraphrase the great scholar Madonna, we are living in a lazy world and I am a lazy boy.  During my time in law school, when my writing professor said the class would have to do an assignment utilizing print rather than electronic resources, I almost had a heart attack.  I did, in fact, later respond to an exam question which asked how I would research a situation using print resources, “I have no idea, because I would never do that.”  I very much enjoy having the entire world inside a portable box I can take anywhere and I did get a kick out of researching Supreme Court decisions in my underwear (which, surprisingly, you CANNOT do in a law library).       

There is no doubt that “the long tail” has done much to improve many of our lives, even if I’ve only had less-than profound experiences of which to speak.  As an undergraduate student I worked at Borders for two years and couldn’t possibly count the number of times I directed customers to Amazon when I couldn’t locate a book in the store’s database.  As big box stores and corporate merger become the norm, the “real world” is increasingly designed for fans of Oprah’s Book Club, and the “virtual world” is increasingly the habitat of the proverbial hipster record store clerk (and nice they have a habitat, since they no longer have a job).

Still, everything has a price, and I wonder if we’re not trading the ability to find obscure books or movies for less human interaction?  As our lives grow more dependent on electronic means, will we eventually end up at a point where we shop but never leave the house?  Will friendships be defined by Facebook and AIM?  Will romance become inextricably linked to Match.com or eHarmony (or craigslist, if you’re really, really out of the mainstream)?  Slippery slope arguments usually drive me insane, as they’re often built around insights such as “if we let gays marry, then next people can marry their dog.”  In this case, though, what direction does our already deep personal involvement with the wired world, combined with a likely increased dependence on the new model of commerce suggested by Chris Anderson, have us hurtling in?

On what must seem a rather unrelated note at this point in my entry, I chose to listen to a Sarah Vowell podcast.  As many probably know, she’s a contributor to “This American Life” on NPR and wrote one of my favorite books, “Assassination Vacation.”  While I’m not quite as interested in presidential death tourism as Sarah, we do share the same odd, unexplainable, unfortunate affection for John Wilkes Booth (which should maybe be an entirely separate blog entry).  I laughed my ass off reading the portion of the book she reenacts in the podcast, but hearing it in her own expressive voice made me laugh even harder.  For anyone interested, here is the link:






3 Responses to “Drowning in The Long Tail?”

  1. Katie said

    And then people might want to start marrying TWO dogs. And buying their wedding rings/collars online. While listening to podcasts about JWB.

  2. mintymusings said

    I heart Sarah Vowell… from her writing to her quirky voice and her spot-on insights. If you haven’t caught her “Vowellet” video on the extras section of “The Incredibles” DVD, you’re missing out (check it out on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FRb3bH3iB0)!

  3. […] 10, 2008 In my very first post I wrote about my fondness for “This American Life” contributor Sarah Vowell.  […]

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