I know. I owe you some of that free hashtag relatable content. Didn't put up the collection of last week's interesting links. But hey, you're getting this for free, right?
I mean free in that all it costs you is time and mental energy. And if you've been Extremely Online for any length of time, you know that it takes a damn lot of energy. Works those nerves down to the very last dendrite and then looks for more. Yeah, that Howling Pit can be internalized and that's probably the most insidious possible outcome. Then, as Dolores O'Riordian (RIP) said, it's in your head and we all know what the next line is, right?
But that's the trap and the product. It has been for mass media ever since forever. Just look up this little bit from Marshall McLuhann I pulled out of a collection of his work last year:
And that was the fifties, folks. Who knows what he'd have said about Facebook? Heat not light. Yeah. There it is right there. The clicks must flow. That's social media.
Sure. You're tough. You can manage it. You can control it. It's not playing you, you're playing it. You're the boss. I used to think that and now I'm not nearly so sure. In fact, I'm sure I'm not.
Thing is, the neutral click? It's never neutral, right? That engagement that we're all fishing for, hoping for? Going viral, that's the answer to obscurity. Go viral and suddenly the whole goddamn world is Cheers and everybody knows your name. You'll never go without a barstool or a beer again. That's the promise. That's why I kept on coming back.
Think I've told you this story before, how back in the dark and olden days of the Internet, but really before the ascent of social media, I wrote a regular column for a couple of different websites. One of 'em was a for-profit enterprise staffed by volunteers who like me, were hoping that they could catch a wave and turn it into a regular gig. Some of 'em even did. Thing is, it was writing for the churn, not writing work on their own.
That's why I contributed a couple hundred hours of my time and effort over a couple years for someone else to make money off clicks generated by my work. I figured, well, I could be a columnist for awhile, then everyone could see how smart and clever I was and they'd want to read the fiction I wrote. Don't laugh. It's stupid now, but that was a path back then.
Okay, go ahead and laugh. May as well. Beats sobbing. Which I'm not. Merely noting the passage of time and change of perspective. It's not like they got to keep the archives of my work forever (though they did ask to and I told them point blank why they couldn't.) I was able to turn those columns into a handful of book sales. Oh yeah, big stuff. Figure I could buy a couple plates of tacos with the proceeds. But hell, they're mine. They don't belong to that other website, which is still going and still as far as I know not really paying anyone, but you know that someone somewhere is getting paid.
Of course, I turned around and did it again, but this time for a friend who was paying the whole enchilada out of his own pocket. He might even be doing it still. Haven't looked back, really.
And since you're reading this here on a personal website and not in a bestselling book, you can figure that I wasn't able to ride that wave to anything either. Weird, right? Something about repeating a process and expecting a different result. Wild. I know.
However, there was a time that this sort of thing worked. And then it worked on Facebook. And Instagram. And Twitter. Hell, some people are out there printing up Twitter novels and maybe it's even working for them. Maybe they got a five book deal. Good for them. But that's lottery winning right there. That's not a plan. Hell, these days I'm not even sure it's an opportunity.
Sure, you get to dunk on the political party or celebrity of your choice. Man, I sure showed them. I am way, way smarter than those guys.
Oh wait. It was like mist on the Empire State building. Blink and you'd miss it as those little droplets just dissolve into something even less meaningful. Dang. Harsh take right there. And yet, we keep hammering away at them. It's not even Quixotic. I'm not sure what it is other than the screaming that I am indeed alive and I do matter, smash that subscribe button for more relatable content.
What's more, the only stuff that gets traction is, for lack of a better word, mean. You gotta one-up. You gotta one-up the whole world. That's being Extremely Online. And like that story about the gunfighter who is the best in the world and all of a sudden, there's a million challengers? Only it's everyone challenging everyone.
Right. You don't do that on Twitter. I sure as hell did. But you don't. Got it. Maybe you're even right. And being right is the only damn thing that matters. The world could be burning right the fuck down and who says it isn't, but damn, it's good to be a gangster. Who's right.
That short sharp shock you gotta deliver on the regular. Pretty soon that little spoon you've been using to work the soil has been whittled down to something sharper and harder and meaner, able to draw blood if you dig hard enough. Yeah. That's the stuff. You're good now. I was good once.
But if you wanna be that gunfighter? Don't get tired. A tired gunfighter is a dead gunfighter.
I got tired. I am tired. Been that way for a long time.
Anyways, I step back from that forum and I have to wonder how long until I cease to exist? You know publishers (not mine, thankfully) check twitter feeds and follower ratios right? You gotta exist if you're gonna sell books. Writer as product, baby. And what's the best product? Kicking at the pricks, taking on the man, you versus the world, only the world doesn't have to take a break. It's like the zombie horde. And if you don't have a slower friend that you can outpace, then it's just a matter of time.
Hey, I can advertise on tumblr. Keep my presence fresh there.
Or this blog. People still read blogs, right?
We'll figure out this one together folks, but it's gonna take some time. I figure that I can't cut off social media completely (but don't hold your breath on me coming back to Facebook ever) but the rules of engagement are going to have to change utterly, at least on my part. That's fine. That's a challenge I can accept and work with. But yeah, reminding folks I'm alive, much less matter?
Is that something that social media can even do these days? That's the real question.
Heat not light. Smoke not fire. Enough smoke and you can't breathe, dig?
In happier news, I have a new dumb idea which is a lot of fun and probably only works as a comic book. So, anyone know any artists who want to draw broke-down future landscapes and cars and revenge against the entire system stories? It's a good time. I promise.
I know. I oughta be working on VOIDMAW. I will when I'm ready.
Forgot to mention that I'll be at Wonder-Con this week. Probably just Friday and Sunday. In Los Angeles Thursday, returning home Monday. If you know me, hit me up and who knows what will happen next.