Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Encounter 3/9


By Yehuda Berlinger. Copyright 2005, Yehuda Berlinger. All rights reserved.

(Chapter 2 is here.)

Chapter 3: Seeker

In her backyard, Sarah lay curled up on the faded tan wooden bench of her parent's backyard deck wrapped in a green and gray tartan blanket. The Millers were deep in conversation with her parents, over and around the gas barbeque, and her brother was playing croquet across the spotlighted lawn with the Miller's two boys.

She watched her brother swing his short wooden mallet. With a loud ‘tok’, the ball went straight toward one of the white hoops, but owing to the angle of the hill on which the hoop was set, the ball curved left and rolled past the hoop. Her brother shouted about the unfairness of the course while the other boys answered that it was his backyard, he was the one who had set the course, and he would have to lie in it, so to speak. The sounds of argument and laughter drifted around her head like the barbeque smoke.

As the smoke shifted, she imagined her head tethered to her other selves with tendrils of glistening spider webs through the smoke. This was the first time she had been physically away from Sarah for more than two days. Her heart went out to her … self in Jerusalem. Herself? Her friend? ‘What must she feel like?’ she thought. Six years since the separation and she had never asked this question; she had always thought she knew what it felt like. Her own separation was different than she had expected. She looked down at her arm and felt her own skin with an awareness she had not experienced since childhood.

Her brother, roaring like Tarzan, chased the other boys with his mallet over his head while they loudly and wildly ran around the yard. Her mother yelled something about stopping before someone gets hurt. Her mother’s eyes surreptitiously glanced at Sarah every once in a while. Sarah knew that she was worried about her being outside.

“I don’t think you’re being fair. Not fair at all,” said Mitchell, smiling towards dark-suited Sarah on his left. His plate was clean, stray smears of meat juice having been soaked up by fresh rounds of Italian bread and consumed. His glass was halfway drained for the second time. “If I am a writer, I should expect to be able to control my writing. That is what copyright is all about. What incentives do I have to publish if I will not be making any money from publishing? As a writer, copying my works damages me. As the public, copying my work damages you, since writers will just lock up their ideas and stay home.”

Across from him sat red-headed Sarah, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. On his left was Queens Sarah, blonde and curly hair highlighted from the lights behind her, her denim backpack draped across the back of the elegant chair. The NetMind on Mitchell’s left ear winked rapidly.

A message. From Mitchell. "When, how, and why did Sarah get started?"

A bemused look passed over all of Sarah's faces.

Sarah was lying in bed with her eyes closed, and her finger paused on the way to thumbing her NetMind to fuzz. Her comp, abandoned earlier in the evening, was nowhere near completion. She vaguely recalled writing something about “Immigrant Madonnas in a Confused System”. Although on her way to sleep, she held her finger, waiting.

Sarah drew back into the corner of the deck, drew her legs up under her blanket, and sent, “I’ll take it.”

“You’re basing your argument on false premises,” said Sarah on his left, taking the Merlot and pouring herself another third of a glass. “The printing press is only five hundred years old. Nobody made a living as a writer back then. The ‘I’ll write a book, publish it, and make money off of the copies’ business model is a relatively new business model, based on the twin difficulties of publishing and distribution. These difficulties don’t exist anymore, and that business model doesn’t exist anymore, except in the minds of conglomerate publishing houses that refuse to admit that their emperor has no clothes. Not that I blame them; that’s a natural reaction when you suddenly have no reason to exist.”

She messaged back: "I … we were six years old going to the same first grade. We were incredibly tight. My father, father of Sarah from West Hempstead, helped develop the real-time messaging system that we use. I apparently had some learning and concentration difficulties, but only when I was away from my friends. So did Sarah (on your right) and Sarah (in Jerusalem). Of course, we all had NetMinds, but that wasn't the same as really being together. My father thought that running this software might help. The other parents didn't see any harm in experimenting, so we tried it out.

On his right, Sarah was eating her third breadstick. She swallowed and added, “Also, what does this business model really give to the public? People who published books were the ones who really needed to express themselves. They produced works that were worth reading. What do we have today? Lots of garbage. And the reason we have all of this garbage is that people buy books with pretty covers without knowing what’s inside of them.” She ended abruptly, seemingly in the middle of a thought, looking at the other two Sarah’s as if seeking to gain support for her statements.

"It helped instantly. I know it sounds like we would be even more distracted - with five brains, five pairs of eyes and ears. But with five pairs of eyes and ears, I always remembered what I was doing and where I was walking. By the time I was seven, we … each of us … began to act as if we were one person. The NetMinds are always on, and so is the software. The least our connection gets is 'fuzzed'.

On the other side of the table, Sarah met the eyes of her other self on Mitchell’s right and then looked back at Mitchell. “Who really wants to buy books, anyway?” she asked, her pale blue eyes twinkling across the candles. "Except for reference books, we read a book, and then we’re done with it. It is not copying that is destroying the publishing industry; it’s the global marketplace. You used to need a large number of books, say, a million, available for the number of people who wanted to read it. Now fifty thousand copies are enough for everyone, since we can just read them and dump them on eBay. We are a swapping society now, and we are growing to appreciate getting things used, now that the supply is so readily available.” While she spoke, she sliced the remains of her steak into pieces, spearing each piece into her small bowl of chimchuri.

"The voices in my head always encouraged me. They were honest about what I could do, and what I couldn't do. I was never threatened or stifled by what the others could do; each of us has our own talents. Like parts of a whole, but the whole is stronger than any one of us individually. At seven we created an identity called Sarah; it was more natural to think of myself, and identify, as one person. I couldn't really answer to my own names anymore."

Sarah spoke with authority as if she had been speaking at a podium. The three lengthy narratives of her speech contrasted with his own simple statements. If he were the sort of person to be overwhelmed, he would be a little fearful of the brash and sure presence of three women who could casually eat, cogently argue, and skillfully message simultaneously. As it was, he found the entire experience fascinating and amusing.

“Anyway,” resumed Sarah on his left, “There is no way to win the copying argument, so rather then give up in defeat, the big publishers are infringing on our remaining rights.”

“No way to win the copying argument?” Mitchell asked. “What about the constitution?”

Message from Mitchell: "Five girls? Twelve years? No fights? None of you ever got mad at one another? None of you ever wanted to leave and live a ‘normal’ life, to be a whole person just by yourself?"

Sarah was lying in bed with her eyes closed. Sleep was weighing on her, but she sent first, "Mine."

“Look. If you’re talking copying, the defense is first-sale. If I have an eBook, I’m not copying it if I finish reading it and then give it to someone else to read. No copying there. And just like I can send a piece of a book, page by page to someone else, I can send pieces of an eBook page by page to someone else, allowing us both to read at the same time, as long as we are both not reading the same page. Wait … let me finish. Two hundred people can read one copy of a book at the same time if they are all reading different pages. Estimate how many people will be reading the same page or paragraph at one time, buy that many copies, set it up on a server, and you can have a million people reading ten or a hundred copies of a book without any copyright violations. You can’t win. The only way to stop this is by violating my first-sale rights or introducing other new laws that violate my rights. And for what? To protect an industry that doesn’t have a reason to exist.”

She messaged: "Yes, I get mad at myself, sometimes, and sometimes I disagree. Just like you can get mad at yourself and have internal conflicts. But you don't throw your arm away. And as for being a whole person, we are each, and together, a whole person. At this point, separating mentally would be traumatic, to say the least. Imagine losing a fifth, or four-fifths of your thoughts. At the beginning, of course, I had occasional thoughts of leaving. But I haven’t had any thoughts like that for a long time, now."

“Look,” Mitchell added. “Just because copyright originally didn’t treat an author as ‘owner’ of a published work doesn’t mean that in our time, with new relationships to our own intellectual selves, that this new understanding can be casually dismissed. I want to own my own creation, published or not. What is wrong with that?”

Sarah’s looked at her skin, feeling flushed and warm. She got up from the deck and headed for the door. Her mother immediately looked over at her.

“Honey, are you feeling well? Why don’t you go inside and lie down?”

No, she didn’t feel well. Was it her sick body, or her state of mind? Surely if she could live for six years in Jerusalem, hew own separation from Sarah shouldn’t have this sort of effect on her. She opened the doors, walked inside, and sat down at the kitchen table. Her elbows on the table, she lay her head down on her hands. ‘I’m sick,’ she thought, ‘that’s all. It’s a flu.’ After a moment, she got up again, and walked to the staircase, her knees trembling.

“Does anyone really own their own thoughts?” Sarah asked from his right. Mitchell turned his head and regarded her. She seemed to him to be alternating layers of confidence and hesitancy. He couldn’t tell which was at the core.

“Sure, we create,” she continued. “But everything we create is a small part of a reworking of what others have created. Our ideas, our frameworks, our tools, my brushes, this food. Our ideas use other people’s ideas so strongly that you can’t even separate them into parts. All of it is part of the human consciousness. If you want to keep your ideas to yourself, keep them to yourself. You can’t morally expect to be paid by the world for an idea that is interwoven with ideas you got from the world to begin with. Once you express your idea, it belongs to the world. Anyway, it’s the publishers who want to make the money from publishing; artists don’t need publishers.”

Mitchell laughed, his eyes returning to Sarah on his left. “Leaving aside the benefits of selection, editing, and advertising that publishers provide, tell me: how will you provide incentives for authors to give their works to the world instead of keeping them for themselves?” Mitchell asked, leaning back, swirling his wineglass. His eyes remained on his classmate Sarah.

Mitchell: "What about marriage? And … privacy?"

His Sarah looked back at him, seeming not to hear his spoken question. On his right, Sarah blushed and waited, apparently hesitating lest she should say something that would not please the other four.

Four Sarahs paused, their thoughts their own. They all knew who had to answer this question.

Sarah across the table said, "First of all, not having a better solution doesn't invalidate what I’m saying. Let the whole industry collapse. Let them all go on strike. Wait and see what comes out of those ashes. Look at all of the people writing on the net for free. As you said yourself, the real talent is editing and selecting the worthwhile from the crap. Build a business model around that. Or try something else. People are always willing to pay to be the first to receive a book. People used to sponsor art. Sell merchandise based on the book. Who knows?"

Sarah, his classmate, began slowly. "I don’t think that marriage is a problem. I manage fine doing all the usual tasks each day, every day. I prefer to think that I don't bring to the possibility of marriage any more baggage than anyone else; in fact, I hope that my unique perspective gives me a fortitude that could serve me well in a marriage.

Sarah was focused again, and smiling. "We're not going to find out as long as the publishers are trying to create laws to force people into buying what they don't need," she added, taking the napkin off of her lap.

"As for privacy, I spoke of fuzzing. I'm sure that you don't remember much of what you see in a locker room or bathroom. When I am fuzzed, the fuzziness acts like a psychological barrier similar to that sort of experience.

On his right, Sarah stood up and pulled on her coat. "Or maybe we should just forget about making money for writing. Maybe the whole idea is just bad to begin with. Real artists will just have to go back to having day jobs."

"But that is a rather personal question from someone who hasn't told me much about himself, yet. Tell me Alice: who are you?"

Mitchell also stood up with his coat in his hands, followed by the others. "What you say is very interesting. I will have to think about it." He smiled, and added, "Tell me more about this game club."


Peter said...

Excellent, I enjoyed that. It's starting to draw me in.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Does it need colorizing?

Coldfoot said...

No colorizing needed. This one flows and starts to pull the ends together. I like the twist thrown in at the end.

Coldfoot said...

Color? ????? Yehuda Hitchcock does his best work in black and white.

Ted Turner ruined many a classic movie with colorization. Don't go down that path.

Coldfoot said...

Should have added;

Leave color to Grog. The rest of us are all just posers when it comes to color blogging.