Not now, but soon, soon.

by John Holbo on December 4, 2013

Folks are linking to it. The Farhad Manjoo profile of Neetzan Zimmerman, the Gawker writer who picks the linkbait stories like no one else, apparently. I do like the idea that after AI’s are better than us at everything else, it might still take a human to figure out whether sloths are in this month.

Donald Barthelme wrote a story about this back in … – turns out it was 1980! “Pepperoni”!

Basically, he envisions a kind of Gawkerization of media. (But without the social media aspect, admittedly.)

A newspaper has found financial success by diversifying its operations. It owns timberlands, mines, pulp and paper operations, and a number of different media, and over-all return on invested capital increases at about 9% a year. But top management is saddened and discouraged, and middle management is drinking too much. Automation has lowered morale in the newsroom. Recently the paper ran the same stock tables every day for a week. No one noticed, no one complained. Some elements of the staff are not depressed. The real estate, food, clothing, and games columns of the paper are thriving. Nevertheless, the Editors’ Caucus has applied to middle management which has implored top management to alter its course. The paper’s editorials have been subcontracted to Texas Instruments and the obituaries to Nabisco. There was an especially lively front page on Tuesday. The No. 1 story was pepperoni – a useful and exhaustive guide. Top management has vowed to stop what it is doing – not now, but soon, soon. A chamber orchestra has been formed among the people in the newsroom, and we play Haydn until the sun comes up.

You can get it in Forty Stories [amazon]. Funny stuff! But the funny thing about the New Yorker summary is that you probably think you are getting a teaser. The first paragraph or something. But it’s actually a condensed version of the whole story. Only, of course, nothing really happens in a Donald Barthelme story. Executive summaries of postmodern literature are weird. I never really noticed that until just now.

UPDATE: Oooh, oooh. Now I’m rereading Forty Stories. From “Conversations With Goethe”:

Critics, Goethe said, are the cracked mirror in the grand ballroom of the creative spirit. No, I said, they were, rather, the extra baggage on the great cabriolet of conceptual progress. “Eckermann,” said Goethe, “shut up.

I forgot how funny this stuff is.