– Mark E. Smith

Here are a few facts about my “business.”

  1. The ostensible beneficiaries of my work do not give a damn about it.

    • Deaf people seem perfectly satisfied with piss-poor captioning, while blind people will put up with any kind of description whatsoever.

    • When you get right down to it, because browsers and screen readers have been custom-engineered to handle the real Web of tag soup and missing alt texts, nobody gives two shits about inaccessible Web sites, let alone the more abstract concepts of Web standards and semantic coding.

  2. If that weren’t bad enough, try explaining to people that typefaces have functional performance characteristics and are not mere decoration. (To use one example, even after I got paid to prove that to my detractors’ satisfaction, nothing came of it; years later they’re still using Helvetica.)

  3. There are cases where I am one of the few people who really does know anything about a topic. In some uncommon cases I am the only person in Canada who knows. While both of these facts adduce endemic Canadian mediocrity, it means I end up correcting people all the time.

    My corrections are correct; I know more than they do and I can back up everything I say. Nonetheless, it makes me seem like an amalgam of activist, gadfly, and nag. I do not think of myself that way, but I am placed in that structural position.

    Given a choice between totally solving their problems and doing everything the right way from stem to stern or doing absolutely nothing because the alternative involves hiring me, too many organizations prefer to do nothing.

  4. I have tons of friends in the Web-development field. I have to move friends to sit down. However, my friends are never in a position to hire and pay me.

  5. I have tons of opponents in every field I work in, even typography. Many of them are, in fact, in a position to hire and pay me. Typically they don’t. And I’m sure they’d be happy to venture a reason.

  6. In fact, from a time almost before living memory, people have felt fully empowered to tell me exactly what they think of me. Now that we have the Web and the capacity to write under the nom de plume of Anonymous Coward, they also feel empowerd to tell everyone else how they feel about me.

    There is a perennial failure to appreciate the distinction between “business” and “personal.” I seem to be OK with that distinction, regularly recommending people for jobs with whom I’ve quarreled over the years; I understand the principle of hiring the most qualified person, whereas they seem to understand only the peevish reflex of hiring anyone but me or no one at all if I am the sole alternative.

  7. I get tired of technical guys, some of them professional engineers, completely ignoring what I tell them to their faces because there’s no way in hell they’re gonna let a gay guy tell them what to do. I assure you this happens, though I assume their internal monologues use some term other than “gay guy.” In improbable fact, sometimes I get that whole spiel from women. An attitude of “I don’t have to listen to somebody like you” is alive and well in one of the few countries on earth with actual legislated equality.

  8. Nobody, but nobody has as much trouble as I do getting paid. When was the last time you went five months without a significant paycheque? (Was it the five months before your very first paycheque?) Well, that’s the kind of thing I put up with.

  9. You would not believe how many times I have been accused of working in socially-beneficial fields like accessibility solely for the money. The accusers are invariably sinecurists with tidy reliable salaries. I would offer to compare bank accounts, but that would merely reinforce their related presumption that I am marginal and they’re the real thing. They get paid more but I know more, and that is the problem.

To sum up, then, I am undercompensated, underappreciated, and frequently disparaged. I have decided to take countermeasures.

  • I’m seriously cutting back on any kind of free work. From reviews of research reports to original articles, I’m gonna be very selective from now on.

    Will this not affect my currency in the Internet gift economy, you wonder? According to the mythology, does one’s business not expand in proportion to the amount one gives away? Well, maybe yours does, but mine hasn’t. That experiment has concluded. I already have a vast array of free material; I see no marginal benefit to continuing to churn it out. I’ll do it here and there, just not very often.

    (What’s the worst that can happen? People will hire my competitors, or, in the fields where there are none, they simply won’t hire anybody? How is that different from today?)

  • No freebie speeches. It was actually perceptive and accurate of an Anonymous Coward to write that I earn a good chunk of change speaking at conferences. (That Coward, an apparent insider, ought to channel those talents for good rather than evil.) I just don’t want to do it for free anymore.

    I get paid to speak most of the time. Even though I carefully mete out my effort to avoid losing money, too often I do. So it’s gonna be full freight all the way from now on. At the prima-donna level, I don’t want to have to have another argument about whether or not I should cross an ocean in steerage class or business; at the practical level, I don’t want to have to put up with a fivethree-month delay – separate from the one I mentioned before – in getting my airport taxi rides paid for. (I mean, would you put up with that?)

I do not have a solution yet to the dilemma of unique expert knowledge. I can prove that offline captioning in Canada is terrible; in fact, I have an entire research project underway to solve that problem and several others. But the amount of effort involved in researching and mounting complaints is astronomical. But the adversarial and defensive complaint system is itself a problem, and broadcasters’ past and future employers and employees at the CRTC can and do simply pretend my evidence doesn’t exist. I do not exactly know how to handle that problem.

However, I have come to the conclusion that all those other problems need to be handled. And the way I’m doing that is announcing, for permanent archival and reference, that my old ways of doing business yield results that are ignored by my intended beneficiaries and simply don’t earn back enough enough money.

Papa needs a new pair of pumps. You want me, you pay me.

UPDATE (2005.12.18): I don’t need anybody writing in with heartfelt descriptions of what’s really wrong with me, which amounts to flat-out endorsement of my detractors and their claims and methods under the guise of friendship. Really: Keep it to yourselves. The belief seems to be that it is always fair to subject me to unbidden armchair psychoanalysis and character deconstruction, which I not only need but deserve. (I also need and deserve to be brought down a peg, the feeling goes.) All that bullshit is the problem, so knock if off, please. Also, GuyWeb, summing up this post as “Joe Clark needs cash” not only is incorrect but shows a serious misreading.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.12.13 00:14. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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