Technology: Self-referential, Postmodernist

By Ari Moskowitz

Thaddeus Woodman, Jeremy Thomas, and Adam Gomolin read through the freshly printed publication by Daniel Wallace, “Cat’s Pajamas” at the iconic Vesuvio Cafe. Photo by Ashley Batz.

I found Thad Woodman the way one finds anything in the Bay Area: Craigslist.

This past May, I was searching for a sublet so I could teach creative writing to high schoolers in Berkeley for the summer. Thad happened to be living in a gorgeous rental home in the Berkeley Hills (complete with a Steinway Grand piano)!

Living in the Bay Area, these are the kinds of interactions that have become ho-hum, humdrum, and commonplace. We yawn as we wait for an Uber to pull up, we skim through Yelp ratings of Asian-fusion restaurants, or maybe we check our Tinder account for potential flings. Finding strangers on Craigslist to trade services is old news.

But I’m not totally jaded and maybe you’re not either. Maybe you are still amazed that the technological advancements that have become commonplace in our fair city are still putting us right on the edge.

I liked Thad the moment I met him. I liked him because although he is someone I found through Craigslist (yawn), he still gets excited when it comes to talking about technology. Maybe it’s because he’s only lived in the Bay Area for a year and a half, by way of Brooklyn, but Thad has some really thoughtful things to say when we’re drinking beer and philosophizing about what it all means:

When tech is working, it’s enhancing or facilitating human experiences. It’s not replacing. For example, it’s connecting us with people we wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. It’s showing us a new restaurant we wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s not replacing something that you would otherwise be doing, i.e. video games. That’s bad technology. When it’s good, technology should be connecting us.

How broad?

I was just in Austin, and found this wonderful place called Hamilton Springs. It’s a rock outcropping about 15 minutes outside of Austin; that’s a beautiful place that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The rise of the Internet makes our lives marginally easier in a 1000 ways. We don’t have to unlock a door anywhere, lights turn on when you walk in a room, you can program your thermostat to do all kinds of stuff. I think the world ten years from now will be connected to objects in ways we don’t even imagine right now.

But all of that kind of feels like flair.

The fundamental role of technology is to enhance or facilitate human experience.

Tech is very good at automation. Instead of going to each one of your Facebook friends, you just have a central source that everyone sees.

What progressions are you seeing in the Bay Area?

I feel that technology has entered a self-referential postmodernism. More technologies are making fun of themselves. There are a surprising number of people that are going along for those rides.

Keeping in touch with people that you met at a party or a business conference through Twitter or LinkedIn, or Facebook, I feel that the connections that we make now last longer; we have more of a continuation with relationships because we’re able to passively observe people who we’ve just met. It’s easier to reach out to them again if we end up in their city or at the same conference or whatever.

Thad came to the Bay Area fortuitously:

The two people that I wanted to start a company with happened to be out here. It could have been Des Moines, Iowa, and I would have moved there.

We thought that the Bay Area had the people that would be interested in financing the company that we wanted to start. It was a happy accident.

Do you solve a fundamental problem (your company)? What was the inspiration for Inkshares?

I don’t think it’s too modest to say that we solve a fundamental problem. That’s been a strong point. We’re not trying to create a cooler, different Facebook. We’re fundamentally trying to change the way that a certain industry operates.

The problem that we’re trying to solve is to take away the risk in a traditional publishing model. A traditional publisher has to invest a lot of their own money into new publishing projects. Whereas, we try to fundamentally alter that by distributing the risk to a crowd of people instead of just one entity. And it so happens that when you do that, you get a good signal of market demand as well.

We remove the risk from what is otherwise a pretty sound business.

Can you talk about online publishing vs. print, and where that might be headed?

When Kindle came out, everyone said it would wipe out the print market within five years. And back then that seemed like a conservative investment. Indeed the first two years took a huge chunk out. But in the years following, the rate it’s taking over the market has dramatically slowed. Print books still account for 70 percent, they’re decreasing each year, but at a decreasing rate. So, I think the transformation from print to online has occurred much more glacially then people would have predicted.

That said, it’s hard for me to imagine that kids going to college right now are going to be lugging around huge textbooks. The generation of kids that are wired to use an e-reader to consume all the information they need for school are not going to retain that behavior; I think there’s an inevitable shift. There will always be photography books that people will have on their coffee tables.

People will feel empty without their bookshelves. I think even if someone reads everything on a Kindle, they will still collect books in the same way that they collect art. They will still want to show off their favorite print books to someone they have over for dinner. I can see a world where no one reads print, but they still collect.

I think the economics are inevitable.

We do print, and it’s brutal. It’s such a difficult medium to publish in. You have to raise more money; the turnaround is dramatically longer. You have to deal with older, intransigent middlemen. It’s very difficult.

But worth it.

Thad cofounded Inkshares, a crowdfunded publisher in San Francisco. Thad previously worked as an economic consultant and web developer in Seattle and Brooklyn.

Ari Moskowitz is a writer in San Francisco pursuing his MFA in fiction at SFSU. He’s a former Editor of Fourteen Hills and a mean poker player.


Originally published at blog.humin.com on September 29, 2014.