Warning to reader: The following is a jumble of agonized contradictions. The kind you feel when you love something a lot. When you need this something to live. When you can’t imagine it not being part of your life. But deep down you wonder if ultimately it’s good for you.
First, the light. I love the Internet. Without it, I’d be out of work. Actually, I’d be lost. I shudder to remember the monotony of existence before its arrival. I’d have to fill that unbearable chasm between minutes, hours, and days with television or a romp through the latest Zane Grey.
The Internet, my time-dusting savior, is a delightful companion and mesmerizing distraction. After a flurry of hyperlink frolics through Wikipedia, not only am I better-informed, I’m also already dressed for bed. I’ve been singing its praises since we both were young, when I performed my first Web Crawler search for illicit photos of Amy Weber. (I later moseyed to Yahoo!, too shy to ask Jeeves.)
Now, the dark. I hate the Internet. I hate its noise. I hate its anonymity. I hate its ease. But mostly I hate that it’s caused me to question my own feelings about freedom and my once-rigid credo that in a democracy everyone deserves an equal say. Boy, was I wrong. Some people have nothing worthwhile to contribute. Some are out of their minds. Some are scary as hell. But instead of being limited to their sleep cycles and physical surroundings, they’re all here, postulating in this thorny, jagged clamor 24 hours a day.
Yet I love blogging. I love that I have an independent forum for whatever pops into my head. Anything. Marshmallows. Exercise balls. Dust mites. Plastic explosives. Portugese potluck place settings. I can drop it on a Web page with artwork and video and reach an audience immediately. And not just any audience, but a global audience, one whose sensibilities are so varied I don’t have to give a rat’s ass about offending them. (Who are they gonna complain to, anyway?) I’m beyond circulation numbers.
Not only that, but holy shit — I don’t have an editor. No one kills my stories. No one dumps my favorite sentences, or hacks out paragraphs for space, or forces me to submit something I don’t feel is ready. It’s narcissism with a bullhorn. My God, it’s paradise.
Yet I hate blogging. It’s a solitary experience, one I artificially enhance with music, podcasts, or instant messages to replicate the feel of a bustling office. I don’t make any money at it, but still I knock myself out over tone and flow, often at the expense of paying assignments, because my blog is a personal extension of me — or, rather, that aspect of me I choose to share.
And I feel that if I don’t update it regularly, I lose what shaky foothold I already have. Consequently, what was once a lark becomes an unslakeable thirst, a demanding, howling creature. (What’s kinda funny is that the Wrazz enjoyed its biggest day during the month and-a-half I contributed not a syllable, so maybe my fears are unfounded. Perhaps I should worry instead that my blog doesn’t seem to need me!)
Also, since it’s my blog, my rules, I have no editor. No objective third party asking me to elaborate on some point, stop belaboring another, or to better explain what I mean. I wind up frantically editing and trimming live entries for days. This very sentence was probably retooled five or six times.
Despite all this, I love instant publishing. No more wait between the last pecked period and worldwide debut. No reliance on production schedules. No need for a publishing house or the humiliation of a curt, informal rejection. It’s a godsend to novices and professionals looking for exposure.
Despite all this, I hate instant publishing. Aside from its flaws — the irrational flash of anger that isn’t deleted in time and the excitement that overshadows a need to copy-edit or fact-check, just to name a couple — I hate its accessibility. The platforms have become so simple to use that anyone can launch a blog and can call himself a writer, whether he possesses the talent or not. If anyone can do it, how much is it actually worth as a creative act/release? How could anyone make a living at it? When all around us is cacophony competing for attention, where is the individual voice? Where is the truth?
Call me a snob, but I think it devalues the craft. In fact, I would fully support the development of a tyrannical International Blogging Commission. Wanna blog? Pay your dues. Send some clips. And if your prose is determined to be subpar, juvenile, or libelous, you’re rejected. If your entries are little more than swiped amusing videos or pull quotes yanked from other people’s posts, your privileges are revoked. Forever.
The Brave New World espoused by foaming ’Net futurists seems to be at present an amalgamation of plucky Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood bromides (you are special, you are unique, there is no one else like you, you can accomplish anything) and a Utopian delirium.
Sadly, I’m of a different generation. Grew up in a crueler world, I guess. One that went like this: Most of you aren’t special, though some of you are. Some have talent. Some don’t. Some are creative. Some aren’t. Some will succeed. Some will fail. Life will be fair, from time to time. On occasion you will seize its reins. On occasion it will seize your throat. (Some days you eat the b’ar. Some days the b’ar…well…he eats you.) Deal, bitch. C’est la fuckin’ vie.
God bless Google. It understands that information wants — nay, needs — to be free. That notion has certainly made my professional life easier. I don’t need as many reference materials, which is a load off my pocketbook, library card, and available shelf and living space. Pay sites are such a hassle; why can’t you just give me what I want when I want it? It’s not gonna hurt anything. I can use Google to explore on a whim, and it’ll return reputable results, plus the occasional embarrassing photograph, or one I can nick for sudden placement here.
God damn Google. What’s this “information wants to be free” shit? That was never a statement of absolutes. Here it is, in its original context, as delivered by Stewart Brand at the 1984 Hackers’ Conference:
“On the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have those two fighting against each other.”
(How’d I find that? Googled it. You can see my quandary.)
Presently, the argument’s being used to dismantle the latest cause celebre — the newspaper industry — and to reinforce the idea that since the news is information, why should we pay for it, since we’re entitled to it? Bad news for journalists. But no one likes journalists, anyway, so that’s OK. Good riddance.
However, this opens a virtually bottomless can of worms. Journalists disseminate information for an audience. As do teachers. So why pay them? Why even hire them? What purpose do they serve in the new paradigm? And for that matter, why do we need brick-and-mortar schools or universities? Why do we need schools, period? Or a structured grade system? Hey, why should an education cost anything, since, really, what’s an education but the accumulation of information? Shouldn’t everyone just learn what they want, anyway, at their own speed?
It should be said that no one (myself included) is advocating a full-scale teacher holocaust, in part because that’s stupid, and also because the larger culture has a sentimental attachment to them. Theirs is considered a noble profession, whereas journalists are regarded as bin-scraping vermin, although I would wager that most peoples’ perception of the latter trade is informed not by genuine interaction with journalists but by their depiction in media, from the stiff-shouldered anchorman of sonorous puff to the rat-jawed sleazeball stereotype who keeps fucking with the CSI crew while they’re trying to investigate a homicide.
No matter. If you peddle information, whether you’re a journalist, nonfiction author, educator, expert, proselytizer, or consultant, fork that shit over, and go find yourself a real job. Maybe one with a spiffy uniform and matching cap. We’re not entitled to free hamburgers. Yet.
Jeff Jarvis loves Google. As we speak, he’s preparing an entry for his Buzz Machine blog on Googlizing your unborn baby. Scientists are developing a digestible chip for expectant mothers that transforms umbilical cords into patch cords linking the developing fetus to the Internet’s abundance. At nine months the child leaves the womb on his own strength, dresses himself, checks his Facebook account, and reports for work. First word: “Mine,” in seven languages.
Actually, that’s not true. But this is.
This year Jarvis published What Would Google Do?, a 272-page celebration of the empire. I haven’t read it yet. Honestly, after perusing some of the fervid, wild-eyed hosannas left on Amazon by acolytes, I don’t want to. The whole thing smacks of a cult doomed to a tragic end. But I’ll probably pick it up. Because I like Jeff Jarvis. He seems like a nice enough guy with interesting ideas about the future. But I’m not sure how I feel about that future. Despite his call for collaboration, it doesn’t sound all that inclusive. It sounds a little like “If you’re over 25, get out of the way. You are hopeless dead weight and beyond redemption.”
Which is frustrating. But you can’t really fault Jeff. It’s his generation’s last chance at the Hippie Dream, though it kinda sucks that they’re doing it on the backs of mine. The Baby Boom has taken a grandfatherly interest in the under-30s, specifically their relationship with technology and its infinite applications, oblivious to the idea that most of us over-30s have been online just as long (if not longer), grew up around computers as well, and don’t fear the Web at all.
But none of that matters. The emphasis is on “youth” now. Only the “young” can save us. Only the “young” can see. Y’know, it’s funny. Jeff’s generation assured us that 40 wasn’t fatal. Then, once 40 was a speck in their rear-views, they changed their minds. As my age group rapidly approaches that milestone, we’re expected to fade back, so that retiring Boomers may transition smoothly to their hand-picked establishment successors while bypassing their own children. (That’s cutting the timeline close, but my parents were born in 1950 and 1952. My mom’s only two years older than Jarvis.)
Google is the answer.
Google is not the answer.
There is no answer.
The future’s so bright, it’s blindingly bleak.
It’s so inclusive we’re on our own again.
C’est la fuckin’ vie.