So you know Kyle MacDonald, the enterprising young Canadian who set up a blog with the goal of bartering his way from a red paper clip all the way to a house and, with the help of BoingBoing, actually managed it? This weekend, thanks to Auntie Joyce Wadler at the Times, we learned that the house that is the fruit of the former layabout and girlfriend moocher-offer's bloggy efforts is actually only worth about $8,000. HA! Well, "ha." Because, of course, the dude still got a book deal and a movie deal out of the whole shebang. The book (One Red Paperclip: Or How an Ordinary Man Achieved His Dream with the Help of a Simple Office Supply) comes out in paperback original this week. ("With plenty of irreverent and insightful anecdotes and practical tips on how you can find your own paperclip and realize your dreams, he proves it's possible to succeed in life and achieve your dreams on your own terms.") Uh, why is it that this benign Canadian's success fills us with actual bloodlust? Maybe it's that he's a living embodiment of the potential of the Internet. TO SUCK.
Seriously: It shouldn't be possible for an idea this stupid to become dispersed as widely as this one was. True, the American suckers born every minute have always fallen for gimmicks. Auntie Joyce cites a famous example from the 60s, when "a New York publicist received front-page newspaper coverage in the 1960s by having a showgirl sit on an ostrich egg in an attempt to hatch it." That's kind of cool, actually! So, see? Back before the Internet, gimmicks actually had to be ... good? Ish? At least sort of compelling?
Today, gimmicks only have to be able to divert our attention for a fraction of a second, a glimpse, a click.
Kyle MacDonald got a book and a movie deal based on the fact that, on one particular day, a blog editor had a post quota to fill, and then a few hundred thousand people saw a link and went, "Huh, okay." Then, when they got to his blog, they found that it was full of unremarkable, insipid, insight-free prose. Didn't matter: Kyle's paperclip journey had begun.
So maybe that's the true meaning of "find your own paperclip": Find your own stupid idea that will make a million bored office workers perk up for a second, so that for the rest of your life you can be "that [gimmick] guy" and we'll all have to hear about it for a couple of months, thinking every time we do of all the ideas that take more than a minute to explain. You know, the ideas that no one will ever read about.