I’ve gotten cautious, man.
I recently found an old blog that I *swore* I’d taken down from the internet and… I had a zany sense of humor! What happened?
I think what happened is that I moved from private blogging for close friends… to writing for an amorphous and unknown audience. Even without my name written here, bosses, colleagues, prospective employers, and distant relatives can all find links to my blog.
It puts a damper on things, to say the least.
And it’s made me much more careful. If this unnamed blog is a public display, what exactly can I say about myself?
I have a job. I don’t have tenure. I keep it impersonal.
I don’t really post intimate or dark humor anymore.
But I like to read it. Some writers (Hyperbole and a Half, Annoyed Librarian) are hilarious precisely because they’re anonymous and can tell it like they see it. Others have some kind of job protection (Librarian Burnout) or work from home (Bunmi Laditan), presumably with a partner or independent wealth to supplement their income.
I don’t think this is coincidental. Irreverent commentary works best when:
- a) you’re so poor and marginal that, what can anyone do to you? (my prime advantage in my early 20s)
- b) you have tenure, personal wealth, or a spouse to maintain your access to a living wage, and/or
- c) you work for yourself and build a career precisely on your irreverence.
Most confessional writing with a real name attached seems to be authored by someone who isn’t beholden to the unequal relationship that we call at-will employment.
I regard the internet with caution.
Although I don’t share it widely, I love hosting and writing for my own blog.
I know I could amass more readers or followers on content platforms like Medium, Facebook, HuffPo, or Tumblr.
Yet I also know that’s an imbalanced trade: writers get attention (cf. the Sad Economics of Internet Fame) in return for handing platform companies cash in the form of user data and ad revenues. Skilled writers and video producers still don’t make a living (cf. Pay the Fucking Writers), nor are they really just sharing with friends—because someone’s making a cut off the top.
This is a growing concern for me as most of us get our daily dose of social + news on Facebook, and as researchers, journalists, and writers are swallowed up by aggregator platforms.
(I get that many people don’t want to pay for news sites; I suspect if they offered affordable family and friend memberships, more people would go in together on a Boston Globe or NYT subscription and discuss the results together.)
Things you can do: use an RSS feed, like Feedly. This lets you get all the posts by your favorite writers—not just the links that Facebook’s algorithm decides will keep you most active in viewing their ads and supplying them with user data.
Given all this, I wrestle with how to share my thoughts.
I also wrestle with how to share what I’m reading. I read *a lot,* moving from subject to subject, absorbing different views of the world. My annotations on many web articles are public at Diigo, if you want to know what I encounter in my Facebook and RSS feeds.
I also read a lot of books. I don’t post reviews here, because the person searching for commentary is unlikely to see it.
Yet I’m hesitant to submit reviews to Amazon.com or Goodreads, as both sites are owned by Amazon–yet the review authors who give the sites much of their value don’t benefit from website revenues!
I mean, I’m not down on big platforms! What I’m down on is companies that encourage people to engage in creative labor and then share work for free, while passing on the profit to stockholders. They could choose to give micropayments to the writers, videographers, and photographers who supply the eyeballs, data, and content–but they don’t.
(I was thinking about that when writing this post: I’d be glad to give 50 or 75 cents to a photographer every time I reuse their creative commons photo, as above. With enough uses they’d be well paid–but how do I get them an instant tip?)
In other words, I don’t need to find my writing voice. I got that. What I’d love to find are lively communities of conversation where the value of academic and public writing is actually compensated–or at least not going to benefit others at our expense.
Otherwise, what are we writing for?