The Question of Crowd-Sourcing: Why Kickstarter Troubles me

The Question of Crowd-Sourcing: Why Kickstarter Troubles me May 20, 2013


When Don Miller wanted to make a film of his book, Blue Like Jazz, he directed his fan base to a Kickstarter program and raised $300,000. And, yes, I was a contributor. Something I remembered today as I threw out my signed copy of the Blue Like Jazz poster, one of the “gifts” for those who gave a specific dollar amount. That’s not a commentary on Miller or the movie. I was cleaning the garage out. I also took several of my own book posters to the recycle bin.

I never did see Miller’s movie.

That probably is a commentary.

I didn’t see it because so many of my friends who saw it came away disappointed.

To be fair, I don’t go to very many movies as a rule. I think the last movie I went to see was Hunger Games and I walked out of that one. Too graphic for me.

There are very few movies I like better than the book and I liked Blue Like Jazz the book very much. I didn’t want to lose that affection, so I avoided the movie.

I won’t go to see The Great Gatsby either. Primarily because I saw the Robert Redford version in 1974. It is the only movie I can ever remember watching with my mother in an actual theater. Because of her smoking habit, Mama could not sit through a movie. Besides, let’s face it, Mr. DiCaprio is no Redford.

But back to the point, a whole lot of people have asked me as of late to contribute to their Kickstarter fund. On one hand, I’m delighted to be invited. I like to help people when I can. On the other hand, I’ve come to feel discombobulated by it.

I got into this writing gig back when we used self-addressed-stamped-envelopes and typewriters to query editors. I was still getting rejections letters from editors after my first book was in print. That’s how long the turn-around time could be for such things.

I have three file drawers full of queries I painstakingly typed-out and nearly as many rejections letters that followed, also painstakingly typed out, on real typewriters. I even have a handful of personal hand-written notes from some very lovely editors who sought to encourage me.

Despite popular mythology, I didn’t get into the writing business to get rich. I didn’t even get into this business to have a New York Times bestseller, although I fully expect that will happen one day. (I live by hope, remember?) I got into this writing gig because I believe it is God’s call upon my life. To quote Mr. Miller, it gives my life meaning.

But my life had meaning before I ever knew there was a writer lurking within me.

Don Miller has started Storyline, a company whose focus is to help people find their meaning.

“It’s basically a company that helps people tell better stories with their lives. Through conferences, websites, and individualized training, we create life plans and career paths for people who want to live meaningful lives,” Miller told The Daily Beast.

I’ve been to Miller’s Storyline conference. I didn’t come away with a new or better life plan, but I had a really fun time. I made some new friends, met some old ones.

I agree with Miller. I’m all for people living better stories. I certainly think I’ve lived a pretty fantastic story myself. I’ve had adventures I never counted on. I hope to have a few more. Preacher said today that Pentecost is proof that we serve the God of Surprise. God has certainly surprised the heck out of me, over and over again. I love that about him, don’t you?

Truth is, I loathe living by a prescribed formula of any sort. There are books stuffed into nearly every cranny of my home – they spill out in my office, on my bedside, in my living room and the garage. But among all those books you would be hard-pressed to find any “formula” books. There are no books on how to be a happier person, how to be more successful, how to make more money, or how to build a platform, or how to influence people.

Nearly every book in this house is a about one of three things: history, theology, and/or people.

There might be a formula to marketing.

There might be a formula to amassing more wealth.

There may even be a formula to building a broader platform.

But really, what does any of that matter?

All boiled down life isn’t about any of that stuff.

It’s about the relationships we build with one another.

Relationships are the only things that we will carry forward into eternity with us.

I think that is the thing that bothers me most about Kickstarter. In a very real way, it takes the relationship-building element out of the work we do.

Like with all forms of social media, a person’s virtual circle of friends, is, as virtual suggests, somewhat  artificial. It’ s not that I don’t value the need to raise money for projects, it’s the absence of the personal relationship that bothers me.

If we can solicit all the money necessary to create our art by clicking a button, rather than sending a hand-written note or sitting down to have a face-to-face conversation with someone, then haven’t we in essence taken the relationship-building out of our work?

Sure, Kickstarter is more efficient than the rather intimidating, and, yes, too often humbling way of the past. At it’s core, Kickstarter is a great tool of capitalism and the American way.

I’m just not convinced that it makes for good art.

And, I can’t help but wonder if virtual crowd-sourcing doesn’t take the God of Surprise out of the equation, and thus rob us of some heart-pounding adventures, and the opportunity to completely rely upon God to do his thing.

What say you?




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