By Jay Stringer
I'm on my digital soapbox again. Some of this may sound like something I've said before. I guess it's because it's a thought I keep coming back to, honing it each time. And I may need to wash my mouth out with soap after this one.
The internet whispers in our ears. It tells us that we have to be on it all the time. It tells us that if something is worth discussing, it's worth discussing on the internet. As writers in the current climate, we let the internet tell us all sorts of things about building platforms and selling points. But is it just a big distraction? The emperor's new website.
We all think we need to be plugged in all the time. A culture that now derives achievement from being able to figure out the latest illegal download, or from telling the world that they've just taken a shit that looked like Elvis. We simply keep boiling our lives down and down, reducing our thoughts and our beliefs and passions until they can be fit into a little box for people to like or poke.
And then there's twitter. Oh, twitter. Believe me, I've spent hours defending twitter to people who I would say just didn't get it. They didn't get the greatness of the networking, or the social interaction, or the freedom of speech. I would point to Trafigura and to Iran. Because, you know, making your picture green on a social networking site is totally like standing in front of a tank.
For any of us who've gotten on a soapbox and defended twitter on the grounds of all the great things it does for freedom of speech, well, the jokes on us. We've seen the real face of social media. All of twitter wants the right to go crazy with snide jokes about peoples personal lives. It wants to be able to broadcast the name of a footballer who's had an affair, and sees no responsibility in its actions. And it's not even over any kind of principle, it's simply done because we can. Because everybody is online, and everybody wants to be the star of the show.
Everybody wants to be the clever one.
The funny one.
The sassy one.
Twitter was ablaze with people shouting about freedom of speech. But these days, it seems to me, that concept now simply means that anonymous people have the right to know whatever they want, about whoever they want, and to say anything they want. I say there is something even more basic and vital than freedom of speech. And that is responsibility.
And I really can't say I see much of that being used online. Before the net it was simple. Everybody lived in a big messy world that was governed by cause and effect. Actions would be followed by consequences. A lot of people tried not to be dicks, and a lot of other people didn't. And those that didn't were assholes. Now I go on message boards for comics, for films, for music and for football, and what i see is shouting and snark and bitching. Everybody wants to be the star and nobody wants to be responsible.
Twitter is a micro blogging site. Is that really what we need? Is there any issue so simple that it needs to be micro blogged? It simply reduces us. In 140 characters what can you do, other than snark or be passive-aggressive? As I logged onto this here website to write this post, I spelled my name wrong, and my first reaction was hey that's funny, I'll tell twitter. Looking at all of the things I really like to talk about -writing, reading, films, comics football, music, social issues- I can't think of one that can be done justice in 140 characters.
And the sense of entitlement out there on the net is mind-blowing. A world full of people who think they are owed shit by other people. George Lucas making a few shitty movies becomes, George Lucas raped my childhood. Really? Raped? That's the word you want to be going with there? Firstly, I notice that the people using that phrase tend more often to be male. Secondly, I notice that there must have been a lot of geeks with seriously shitty childhoods if they can be ruined by a film made 20 years later.
This one is directly to you people- George Lucas doesn't owe you shit.
He made some films you like and some films you didn't like. Any obligation he had to you is fulfilled the minute he creates something that you like. Same for musicians. Am I going to hate Ryan Adams for the fact he hasn't made an album that I liked in about 7 years? Or am I going to feel grateful that, in Whiskeytown and his first few solo years, he made some music that I continue to find amazing? He paid any obligation he had to me the minute he created that music. But still, we go on, and we bitch and we moan about all these things that we think we're entitled to.
Here's my thing- The internet is a tool. And a tool is only as good as the person using it. The internet isn't the problem. We are. A generation who've forgotten how to talk without being passive-aggressive, who've forgotten how to be constructive, who have to be experts on everything but panic if they can't find the tin opener.
And me, you, us, creative types, we're the worst. We all obsess over creating a platform. We need to be seen. We need to be heard. Our voices matter because we have so many intelligent things to say.
I didn't have much of a web presence until a few years back. When I realised I wanted to get known as a writer, get my work out there, get an agent, get published, yadda yadda. We all go racing online to create a platform and a selling point. You get a blog. Then two. Then a third one creeps in. Then you;re guesting on others, and popping up on podcasts, and living on twitter. Then you're spending more time blogging, chatting, and getting in twitter arguments than you are writing any fiction.
And regardless of any of our discussions about pricing and format - you can't sell it if you don't write it.
I'd had some contact with my agent on twitter prior to her taking me on, but it was my work that got us working together. She liked my prose and my ideas. Likewise, when I got nominated for that award last year, it wasn't "best comment about pooh on twitter," or, "most insightful opinion about publishing." It was for one of my short stories.
What I really want to speak for me is my work. The stories that I write, shorts, novellas, novels. These are what I want people to know me for. Arguments, debates, or crappy jokes on the internet? No thanks.
I had a rethink over the weekend. I logged off twitter and sat back from the laptop. I realised that so much thought was going into creating a web presence and a platform that I was starting to forget why I was doing it all in the first place. I'm pretty sure my agent will have more success selling work from a productive writer who only shows his face in a couple of places online, rather than an unproductive writer who's all over the net getting into discussions and arguments.
One of my favourite British writers has often pointed out to me that folks like George Pelecanos don't feel the need to maintain a huge presence. Winslow? Don't see him very much. Richard Price?
Now, I'm no fool. I'm not sat here thinking that the only thing stopping me from being as good as those guys is my internet connection. There's the small matter of talent and practice. But I'm pretty sure that my presence on the web isn't going to improve my chances.
So I'm pulling back to basics. I figure the web only needs to see my ugly face once a week. Twice at most. And I'm sure twitter can live without hearing my opinions on everything, all the time.
How about you? Do you get caught up in the trap? Do you find yourself falling down that rabbit hole?