Willing to Pay, by Steve Safran

What do we still value enough to spend real dollars to acquire? What do we assume we can get for free? Stevie explores knowledge as a commodity in our Google-able world.


 “Irony: Telling me $10 is too much to pay for something I worked a year on, while drinking a $5 coffee the barrister spent 30 seconds making.”

Tweet, James S.A. Corey, author, “Cibola Burn”

My God, that’s about the most wonderful quote I’ve ever read about the frustration of being in the creativity business. We’re living in an age when it’s reasonable to slap a 99-cent price tag on an app that, in the very recent past, would have required a calculator, legal pad, un-refoldable map, $15, and hours of your time. People today think it’s a matter of principle that they will not pay for music. A t-shirt featuring my favorite band? Sure, I’ll buy that. Their songs? Screw that.

A good chunk of my career has been spent in the advice business. This is known as “consulting,” or as a Freudian typo I once made and came to embrace, “consluting.” The problem with knowledge being your product is that people are loath to pay for it. Drs. Britt and Bernie surely know this. No, it doesn’t cost me anything to tell you what I think about social media or how it might affect your company. No, it doesn’t cost Britt or Bernie to give you a medical opinion. But if you added up the price of all of that schooling, overnights at work, lost time at home, relationship stresses, ramen noodle meals, missed birthdays, and student loan interest… that sort of advice might be worth a bit more than 99 cents? But, I just have one, super-quick question. We’re friends, after all, right?

Argh. Sure. I’m all ears. I’m also a sucker… and want people to like me.

The Internet has changed expectations. I think it comes down to this: “I paid for this computer. Whatever shows up on it– that should be included.”

The stories of the Internet billionaires that everyone likes to cite?  They’re the outliers. Looking at them and deciding that it’s a good idea to start a website is like looking at a lottery winner and deciding to invest your money in scratch tickets.

Now, I’m not an Internet crank. Not at all. I like that it has changed the equation for so many. I like that it has given platforms whereby the previously voiceless can speak up. I love that new talents have emerged, that record labels no longer decide who should be famous (and then take all their money), that a few newspapers and TV stations get all the ad money and that we don’t need to kneel at the altar of the phone company to communicate with each other. I love that. Even as it put me, a journalist, kind of out of business.

So I’ve adapted. I recently became a partner in a video production company. I decided to get back to what I know best. There’s still a need for good storytelling done well by professionals. There’s a big demand for video online. People crave high-quality information they can receive quickly…

… and for free.

Lucy knew her value...

Even Lucy knew the value of her advice resided partly in the payment…

Big Shot Jerk Face (or, how I met my husband)

It’s the first day of my surgery rotation, third year of medical school. I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, so I focus on the easy stuff: looking pretty and being on time. Boosting my first impression seems important since I cannot remember where the electrolytes belong on those stick figure scaffolds or any of the branches off of the mesenteric artery. Only a few weeks prior, I became Dr. Stockton, defending my PhD dissertation in front of my parents, an entire Immunology department, devoted friends who will endure 79 slides about a cell surface molecule, and a (recently ex-) boyfriend. I was A Smart Girl, searchable on PubMed, and could talk to the field experts without hair flipping or reproach. But there were two years of clinical rotations to complete before gradation; and after a four-year hiatus of mouse murdering and futile, ring-less dating, I was rusty.

I set the alarm for 4:30am, blew out my hair, and channeled my best Bond Girl Goes to Medical School. One could reasonably assume that this getup was enduring an extended tour from an evening of bad decisions, but that didn’t occur to mid-twenties me. I looked good. Also, I needed the confidence of little dress/tall boots to endure impossible questions–a sort of medical hazing known as “pimping”– from a group of doctors who had only ever been described to me as assholes. Surgeons have a reputation (especially among the nerdy, PhD set) for being jerks: over-confident-frat-boy-cowboy-old-school-chauvinistic jerks. I had been warned, and I’ll admit to the disappointed sighs of my feminist sisters that I dressed to appeal to that demographic. It was still dark when I located the right floor and found a sleepy intern to tell me what to do. An hour later, I had collected the overnight vital signs of every patient on the service.

The Chief Resident arrived at 6am with a few other blue-pajammied underlings in tow. They were a sniggering bunch of inside joke-swappers; their swagger intimidated and annoyed me. Blech. I’d never catch up with these gunner medical students who could spew correct answers like the names of their own children. I had forgotten everything I’d learned five years ago in Gross Anatomy, and I had no desire to memorize minutia to impress physicians in a specialty I certainly never intended to join. Clutching my notecards with their teeny documentation of temperatures and urine outputs, I braced myself for the upcoming twelve weeks of sleep-deprived grunt work and public mockery.

The third year resident appeared to be in charge of rounds, and led the gaggle of us into each dark room to awaken the post-surgical patients, barking orders at the intern for dressing changes, scans, labs, or discharge plans. Occasionally he’d regard the medical students with distracted disdain, and assign us mundane tasks with subtle assurances that somehow we’d fuck it up. The Chief filed in behind us in his unstained white coat, paying more attention to his coffee than the plans for the day. He spoke quietly and infrequently, but his offhand remarks elicited smirks from the residents within earshot. I didn’t actually hear him speak until it was my turn to present a patient.

He didn’t interrupt me right away. I thought I was doing a bang up job, yammering away about temperature spikes and heart rates and drain outputs just like the students before me had done outside their patients’ doors. But he stopped me mid-sentence…

“Stand up straight when you’re presenting a patient to me.”

I was leaning against the wall. I was also desperately trying to finish my little speech about the overnight events of a patient I had never met so I could disappear again from their notice and questions. But Big Shot Jerk Face made me re-start my presentation from the beginning to the smug delight and grateful relief of my fellow classmates. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl, I thought. I had committed a grave error in sartorial judgment. Pants-with-clogs ponytail girl got through her morning report with absolutely no hassle at all.

Later that day, Big Shot Jerk Face sat down across from me in the cafeteria. The other medical students had already raced off to compete for space at the carotid artery aneurysm repair, but Big Shot Jerk Face implied that there was no rush and started being nice to me, explaining his reaction to my wall-leaning insolence was a common prank on Day 1 of a rotation. I was relieved that such a blatant example of asshole-ry was only a joke, less happy to be the butt of it. Big Shot insisted I follow him into the next case, and then his next one, where I began to notice that the attending surgeon was letting Big Shot do all of the sewing, and the nurses were happy to see him (if not blatantly flirting with him). Suddenly, surgery seemed interesting.

How many of you fell in love during medical school?

How many of you fell in love during medical school?