VACLAV SMIL: I saw how the university life goes, both in Europe and then in the US. I was at Penn State, and I was just aghast, because everyone was what I call drillers of deeper wells. These academics sit at the bottom of a deep well and they look up and see a sliver of the sky. They know everything about that little sliver of sky and nothing else. I scan all my horizons.
WIRED: Let’s talk about manufacturing. You say a country that stops doing mass manufacturing falls apart. Why?
VACLAV SMIL: In every society, manufacturing builds the lower middle class. If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots and you get social polarization. The whole lower middle class sinks.
WIRED: You call this Moore’s curse—the idea that if we’re innovative enough, everything can have yearly efficiency gains.
VACLAV SMIL: It’s a categorical mistake. You just cannot increase the efficiency of power plants like that. You have your combustion machines—the best one in the lab now is about 40 percent efficient. In the field they’re about 15 or 20 percent efficient. Well, you can’t quintuple it, because that would be 100 percent efficient. Impossible, right? There are limits. It’s not a microchip.
VACLAV SMIL: The same thing is true in agriculture. You cannot increase the efficiency of photosynthesis. We improve the performance of farms by irrigating them and fertilizing them to provide all these nutrients. But we cannot keep on doubling the yield every two years. Moore’s law doesn’t apply to plants.
I couldn’t face NYC. I remember feeling afraid of the name “Spencer Madsen.” And “Stephen Tully Dierks.” Names like that. People like that. I had read Marie Calloway’s “Jeremy Lin” piece and couldn’t stop thinking about the part in which she’s at Jeremy Lin’s apartment after her reading and somehow ends up on his laptop, reading his g-chat with some other New York person and how they were saying she wasn’t as pretty as they thought she’d be, or as good a reader. It terrified me, the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of jaded, New York City hipsters, thinking of their post-reading g-chats, what they would say about me.
Chuck Klosterman (first book Fargo Rock City): I got a job at the Akron Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, in 1998. That was the first time I was ever able to afford a home computer, so that was a big reason why I decided to start writing a book then. I also moved to a city where I didn’t know one person so I had no friends. That improves your likelihood of completing a book.
Junot Díaz (first book Drown): I was in my MFA program and I had two part-time jobs. You’re in a program, so the telos of the program is you’re supposed to generate a body of work. I’d also been on a pretty strict reading schedule. For the last three or four years or so, I was trying to read a book every other day and I would write the book down and what I as a reader took away from it — I still have the notebook. What happened was, after a couple hundred books I began to have an organic inspiration about how I might create a book.
George Saunders: One thing I might have said to myself — a lot of my student writers think this — I thought that if you write one book you’re all set. That’s not true. I didn’t realize that books can vanish. I think that’s why I worked hard to make the book strange or unusual. Better to wait on the first book, make sure it’s special, because you never has much collateral as you do in that moment before that first books come out.
Why am I like this? Not only why am I a music collector, but why am I the kind of music collector that I am? I might as well ask why I breathe the way I do. It comes from my being an only child. Not a lonely child, but a child who knew intuitively how to keep himself entertained. A child who always loved being in control of his physical and imaginative space. Equally, it comes from my growing up in a suburban house where life tended to be pleasant and uneventful. Music opened worlds. Records were a route to ecstasy, exoticism, challenge, and fun. So I’m playing—playing at collecting, then playing what I collect.
This bubbling discontent is reassuring. It might even help bury some of the myths spun by Silicon Valley. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, told that Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” we would finally read between the lines and discover its true meaning: “to monetize all of the world’s information and make it universally inaccessible and profitable”? With this act of subversive interpretation, we might eventually hit upon the greatest emancipatory insight of all: Letting Google organize all of the world’s information makes as much sense as letting Halliburton organize all of the world’s oil.
Yeah, ok article. Loses me in the second half.