Internet Writing – Fishing for Truth in the Virtual Gyre
“All occupations have hazards. An occupational hazard of the Internet columnist, for instance, is that he becomes the sort of person who says whatever he thinks will get him the most attention rather than what he thinks is true, so often that he forgets the difference.” Michael Lewis, Bloomberg View, September 24 2014.
Well said, Michael. The author of Moneyball and Flash Boys knows what he’s talking about, I reckon.
You could say that this blog is an internet column of sorts, so do his words apply to me? I like to think not, for a number of reasons.
First because I don’t write for money. Most people who write for money, directly or indirectly, end up being in thrall to the people who give them money. If they make money from advertising, they need to make sure that their focus is tuned to the supposed needs of their audience. That limits what they can write about, unless they happen to be Mary Beard or Jeremy Clarkson, who can write about more or less anything and still get an audience. If someone pays them to write a column, they’re subject to editing, deadlines, self-censorship and all that stuff that comes with the shilling. Novelists tend to stick to their knitting, their favoured formula, because that’s what sells, even if the tiny minority of literary giants go where their fancy takes them.
Second because I’m not into blogging to persuade, to influence, to sell, to educate or to manipulate. Only to make people think. Not think my way. Just think. Oh, and laugh occasionally.
Third because I really don’t care that much about how many people this blog reaches. Yes of course I like it when lots of people read my stuff. That’s a pay-off. And I’d be lying if I denied an element of vanity behind my motivation. But if one or two people discover something here that they might not have found elsewhere, that’s good enough for me.
Fourth because I prefer to have the freedom to write what I want, on any subject that takes my fancy, when I want and where I want. I wrote the last three posts about Scotland, for example, while on holiday in Southern France, sitting in a farmhouse looking out at rolling hills and orchards. There was no TV, so I couldn’t watch 24-hour coverage of the referendum even if I wanted to. Only a rather shaky internet connection that worked if I sat outside, and then not always.
Perhaps my attitude to writing comes with age. I’ve been writing stuff for most of my adult life. Marketing stuff, proposals, boring technical stuff, policies, procedures, tender documents and of course hundreds of thousands of emails. I still do. I can write these things at the drop of the hat. My brain is full of structures, templates, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs that I can churn out without ever having to adapt previous versions.
Have I written stuff that I don’t believe is true? Of course. Anyone who has ever written a commercial proposal who tells you that he or she has never accentuated the positive beyond the bounds of truth, or omitted something that contributes to a pattern of truth, is a liar.
But fortunately I don’t have to write much of that kind of crap any more. And in this blog, there is no reason why I should be gilding any lilies or being economical with anyone’s version of the truth for commercial gain or for any other purpose.
Which is a good job, because it’s so fiendishly difficult to make a living from writing. I’m amazed at how many books get published these days. And for every book that makes it into print, there must be a hundred or more that end up as vanity e-books or word files that never leave the frustrated creator’s desktop. Then there are the journalists who scrape a living reporting car accidents, council meetings and the unlikely antics of celebrity footballers. And finally bloggers. Millions of them, showing their photos, writing about their holidays, publishing their poems, fomenting jihad, grinding their axes and producing tomes telling other bloggers how to make money out of blogging.
All of this released into the vast ocean of the internet. So much hot air. No wonder the northern icecaps are melting.
Still, I hope I will be still be writing a blog or something similar when I move into my dotage because this is an exercise in forcing oneself to take a view on things that might otherwise float away unnoticed in the internet’s equivalent of the Pacific Gyre. Also, it beats the hell out of Sudoku as an antidote to Alzheimer’s. I have friends who have spent much of their lives trying to make money out of music. These days, I suspect that for many of them the joys of creation and performance are far more important than the money. That’s how it often is when you’ve been around for a while. As it is for me.
So in 59steps, you can rely on getting my version of the truth, even if it doesn’t happen to coincide with yours. And if you’re wading through the mucky waters of the internet looking for truth, make sure you follow the money, the motive or both before you select the truth of your choice.