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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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July 25, 2004

Department of Pretentious Bullshit

Posted by Ernest Miller

ChangeThis is a going to be (it launches mid-August) an online magazine that will publish long-form articles that make a non-partisan case about particular issues.

My normal response to such an effort would be: "Cool. More power to you. It's going to be tough; garnering attention isn't easy. However, if you publish quality material (also not easy), eventually you will grow an audience and, maybe, even a community (at least that's what I tell my ego when I spend inordinate amounts of time blogging). The New Republic had to start somewhere too. Good luck."

My actual response to this particular online magazine is "what a bunch of pretentious, condescending idiots." You see, this isn't simply an online magazine. Oh no, that would be too mundane. It turns out that all other media is a wasteland, but a handful of interns have figured out how to provide the public with the rich, deep, fact-based lectures that we, the people, are so desperately denied.

The initial "manifesto" (article is such a mundane word) claims that (ChangeThis Manifesto):

Sometimes it seems as though our disagreements over everything—from politics to business to the designated hitter rule—are more serious and more divisive than ever before. People are making emotional, knee-jerk decisions, then standing by them, sometimes fighting to the death to defend their position.
To the death! Somehow I must have missed the bloodshed over the designated hitter rule. Anyway, who knew that the solution to this rising trend of violence-laden arguments was an online magazine that publishes landscape-formatted PDFs? With pull-quotes!

I'd fisk the thing, but why bother? Read the initial manifesto yourself. It's only 9 pages with lots (and lots) of off-white whitespace. Through it you will: learn how the internet has reduced your ability to make rational decisions; be made aware that human beings are susceptible to charismatic leadership; have explained that a persuasive argument can change minds; and, most importantly, be enlightened about the fact that the problems in modern discourse are the media's fault. Heck, it practically fisks itself.

For more fun with the "manifesto," feel free to check out Clay Shirky's pre-launch vivisection (Change This) or Jeff Jarvis pointing out that ChangeThis seems determined to change media to an older model (Change for the sake of ChangeThis). Oh, yeah, ChangeThis has a blog that posts the newest entries at the bottom of the page (Read and Pass).

In related pretentious news, the Washington Post (annoying reg. req.) Outlook section has a yet another article bemoaning the fact that Americans are not reading "serious" literature and instead waste our time with television, movies, and trashy bestsellers (As I Live And Read). The author, a book reviewer, points his finger at youth: "Who among the young aspires to be cultivated and learned, which takes discipline, rather than breezily provocative, wise-crackingly 'edgy'?"

Strangely, however, the author engages in some breezily provocative wise-cracking himself. Great books leave us "shaken and stirred." Like James Bond's favorite vodka martini? The relationship between book and reader is too "often a wrestling match. No pain, no gain." Wraslin' - now that's sumthin' Amuricans'll unnerstand. And poetry is like a Spaghetti Western hero: "poetry stands quietly in the dusty street, as cool and self-contained as a lone gunfighter with his serape flapping in the wind." Make my day.

Here's an idea. Instead of telling us what a tragedy it is that we're not reading good literature. Why don't you pick a piece of good literature and explain why we should engage with it. This essay is about as useful and relevant to people reading good literature as those leatherbound classics you can buy in bulk.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | Culture


1. lofi-rev on July 25, 2004 09:51 AM writes...

After a little googling, it looks like this is a project from a marketing type of guy. From the whois record we get Red Maxwell (and his apparent home address and phone number) and after googling we come to find he seems to be generally ready to sell crap to people. Doing "ideavirus" marketing for a book -, - by Seth Godin, who helped him create - a shady seeming fundraising plan where fundraisers win thousands of dollars in mysterious prize money (don't know if it means anything, but the name of the winner of one of the contests and Red Maxwell's name appear in the thank you's of this guide by Seth Godin.

Overall he just seems to like buzzwords and ugly webdesign (

But most telling seems to be on - "That means we’re not spending our time looking for people who want to listen, we’re looking for ideas for our readers....Ideas spread best from person-to-person and the more the manifesto spreads, the more the idea takes root, and the more books are sold." Is this just the precursor to more blog based marketing to come?

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2. lofi-rev on July 25, 2004 10:12 AM writes...

Looks like I was a little off - more the work of Seth Godin for sure -
"Essentially ChangeThis is an idea that will allow authors to rapidly publish their works in such a way as to turn their works into instant ideaviruses; much the same way that Seth distributed his book entitled 'Unleashing the Ideavirus.'" from this blog. Also telling is and this.

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