The Anxiety of Twitter Influence

plus both ends of Amazon and a cute steelworker guy

On Sunday afternoon, I took out my phone, tapped the adorable Down Dog button, and did an hour of yin yoga, which is all about deep stretching. Like an idiot, after I finished, lying there in shavanasa, deeply relaxed, I pushed the twitter button on my phone. Glenn Greenwald had tweeted about my newsletter from last week, and the “disregard for truth” from “these people” (me) it contained. I responded, temperately, but was having panic attack systems, impressive after an hour of deep breathing!. He responded again, saying some more nasty things about me; I responded, again, with my truly infuriating instinct to mollify the anger of men. This exchange continued for a bit, and then a few of his his 1.6 million followers piled on. Then I did a smart thing I rarely do: I locked my account and took a walk. I haven’t been on twitter since.

There are many more things I could say about Greenwald, his followers, and last week’s post, but for now I’m going to leave it at—well, that really sucked!— and move on.

Another contrast, similar to that deeply relaxed to deeply panicked shift on Sunday, also occurred in my reading life. Last week I read James Marcus’ Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot Com Juggernaut, about his experiences as an editor in the books department in Amazon’s earliest days. It’s utterly fascinating to read about that time just twenty years (a world) later. Marcus was employee 55, and the book recounts the early rises and falls of the company, how he worked with publishers back when Amazon was committed to having an editorial voice and original content. He describes how, each holiday season then, all employees had to help out at the warehouse, with Marcus himself doing fulfillment, from picking titles for orders to manning an assembly line of packages. I followed Amazonia with Fulfillment, Alec MacGillis’ just-released book, which looks at American inequality through the lens of Amazon. I’m still early in the book, but so far finding it very strong, and the opening is an impressive overview of a country riven by winning and losing cities and a landscape altered by gigantic Amazon warehouses.

These two books describe America only twenty years apart. Early oughts; early 20s; deep breathing; deep anxiety. The difference is vertiginous. I have been a news-reading, mortgage-paying, loser-region-living adult during these years; I’ve watched it play out—lived it— in real time, as I drove about doing errands, ordered packages, raised a child, read books, told anyone who asked “I can’t afford it” about moving to a city that would be a better fit for me & my work, started a business, and watched economic prosperity pass over and leave my city alone, as if our houses were marked in blood, reversed, over and over again. I’m not unique: many of you have lived, heavily and unknowingly, world-too-much-with-us, during these years. We knew, but we didn’t know, how it has changed, and how fast.

To read about the origins and current consequences of this shift, all occurring while I was out getting and spending, so starkly rendered, displayed in the same ereader ink, over the course of a few days? It takes my breath away, to belabor this week’s. metaphor.

Another strange overlap: MacGillis mentions that many paper mills have shifted to cardboard, or “corrugated,” over the past few years. There’s huge demand for cardboard boxes these days (guess why!). So too did Jane Friedman mention this in a recent Hot Sheet (which you really should read if you like the very inside-publishing stuff I write about here).

The book printing situation in America right now is just weird, crazy, strange. As Friedman puts it:

(Apologies to Jane for screenshooting, and I do hope some of you subscribe, so I won’t feel guilty)

All of this has led me to consider a crazy cool probably dumb idea: why not buy a digital printer and print our books in-house? First, I should make clear that we ADORE the printers we use, who are all in our region: McNaughton & Gunn, Versa, and Black Classic Press. And we would never not work with them. But what if we could print some of our titles, or some copies of some titles, ourselves? It would help make our cute new mascot, that steelworker making books, and our cute new motto, all the more true. Not to mention, printing is Belt’s single largest expense, by leaps and bounds, after labor costs. What if we owned the means of our own (re)production?

I often look into economic development/distressed city/opportunity zone programs for my small business in my loser city (where Amazon fulfills orders but does not create wealth). They all assume what you need are machines. Or space. But we haven’t needed machines, just smarts, and we can do our mind-work hunched over a laptop. So we’re never eligible for these grants (and, of course: non-profits and philanthropy power much of Cleveland’s economy, and we don’t qualify for those funds, either, as we are an LLC.)

But what if we got a really big machine? Could we get it financed? Would it be a very cool thing or a massive headache (don’t say both; that’s obvious)? That’s going to be the topic of some thinking/dreaming for the new few weeks. I have time for that now that I’m off twitter! And, given my new memory of what happens after savasnava, yoga!

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