Taking the Internet to Task

Reluctant Blogger

Let’s call a spade a spade. A writer’s promotion of his/her writing is an incredibly narcissistic act because it signals their belief that their opinions are worth merit, worth your time, worth a permanent place in type set into mankind’s artistic chronicle. “I am a delicate snowflake, here is my flurry; you’re welcome” could be the dedication of many books, particularly those of an autobiographical nature. That said, I am a reluctant blogger. As a freelance writer of the 21st-century it’s the best tool to expand my “brand” by showcasing my ability to use words good, defining my artistic eye and promoting my sense of music in conjunction with Twitter and Instagram. However, by expanding my online presence I’ve exposed my unique insights to copyright infringement and plagiarism I’ve not the resources to combat, and unintentionally invited internet creepers to send me emails in which they call me “Little Girlie” and ask to view and share lewd photos (a real thing that really happened). The internet is as disgusting as it is enlightening, as much a resource as is it a source for distraction and is also the ultimate manifestation of narcissism in many ways. Facebook, Foursquare, Google+, Path, Pinterest, SoundCloud, Tumblr, Vine: nobody is interesting enough to create and divide content on that many platforms.

Part of my beef with blogging is the preponderance of uneducated and uncritical posts. To clarify, I don’t use “uncritical” to mean lacking in criticism but rather to pinpoint synthetic contributions to the stream. Generating blank content such as uploading a photograph or inputting a quote without context or discussion only adds to the barrage of unexplained crap on the internet and serves as yet another superficial layer through which one must sift in order to find something worth reading or viewing. Too many sound-bytes, not enough polyphonic sound. Perhaps a more disturbing trend is the democratization of the role of critic. Whereas I’ve clearly benefited from this, I’ve also often said any asshole can have a blog, and in lieu of credentials many bloggers feel the need to savagely attack whatever it is they’re reviewing. Be it music, literature, art or movies, they break their subject down to build themselves up, mistakenly assuming a soap box and an authoritative tone produce the sum of a critique. I ask, for what purpose? I don’t want to read about an album or book that sucks, I want to be turned on to works that will give me chills and send me reeling onto the next thing inspired and engaged.

This opinion was solidified after watching a friend’s band solicit album reviews from music blogs. One such blog (which shall remain nameless) would review any band that paid them with writers who were “hired” merely because they left 100+ comments on the site. This band was given a review that was artless, cruel and untrue–that went through the album song by song to note why each one sucked, and gave no further information on the artist outside of that one album. In addition, the site made no mention that the review had been written in exchange for money. That is not a review, it’s an un-researched 3rd Grade essay without a hypothesis that conceals its ulterior motive. Clearly I’m biased towards and protective of my buddy’s band, but I’ve also reviewed albums semi-professionally and know a farce when I see it. This type of jury-rigged scholarship void of professionalism is described perfectly by Noam Chomsky in his observations on Twitter from the recent book Power Systems: “If you look at [tweets], they have a fairly consistent character. They give the impression of being something that someone just thought of…If you thought for two minutes, or if you had made the slight effort involved in looking up the topic, you wouldn’t have sent it.”

I’ve attempted to counteract (or at least not add to) these problems with this blog in a few ways. First, this site offers no paid content. Just as James Franco recently quantified his own process at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco, I merely attempt to understand certain forms of art through other forms of art–literature as an instrument of music, philosophy as a photographic lens, and so on and so forth–as a holistic approach to understanding my world, offering no answers merely unpaid observations. Second, I’ve added a brief biography in the margins to note an academic background and provide professional footing. While this makes me vulnerable to the aforementioned creeps, content written in anonymity engenders no confidence from the reader. If nothing else, I want my relationship with you, kind reader, to be genuine so the trade-off is worthwhile to me. Third, I do not write negative posts. The blogosphere and more traditional media outlets are already screaming with negativity and I see no need to turn up its volume; instead, I want to change the channel to something that has tickled my fancy and hopefully will do so to yours. At the core of this is the fact that I am neither a musician nor a filmmaker, not a baker, not a painter, and far be it for me to identify flaws in a song or a bundt cake I couldn’t dream of making.

Unchecked content, however, is not my only issue with the internet and its derivatives. In addition to his thoughts on Twitter in Power Systems, Chomsky talks of an “atomization” in today’s society. As we increasingly channel our efforts into online communities, our earth-bound relationships are suffering. We connect better with avatars than we do with the faces that sit beside us on the bus, and we are measured not by what we say in a job interview but by how well our LinkedIn account is formatted. Selfies have seemingly become more relevant and revelatory than the Self outside the computer, which is ironic considering the backbone of online communities is often anonymity as every Tom, Dick and Harry register blogs that thrive on sensationalism and unsupported facts. There’s a name for this: it’s called Yellow Journalism.

These fears are not my sole property.  What technology is doing to us and has done to us is widely studied, and the dearth of reputable, intellectually stimulating content in popular culture is bemoaned by every generation from Lincoln’s time to our own. Perhaps it’s motivated by a fear of change, or maybe just the human tendency to bitch about our present because misery loves company. Whatever the reason, poets and scientists alike are fascinated by the fluctuating intricacies of human interaction–hence the writing of poetry, hence the practice of psychology (which are two sides of the same coin, really). The universality of the fears expressed in this piece became more real to me after reading the poem “Emerging” from Pablo Neruda’s Extravagaria (1974):

“A man says yes without knowing / how to decide even what the question is / and is caught up, and then is carried along / and never again escapes from his cocoon; / and that’s how we are, forever falling / into the deep well of other beings; / and one thread wraps itself around our necks, / another entwines a foot, and then it is impossible, / impossible to move except in the well— / nobody can rescue us from other people.

It seems as if we don’t known how to speak; / it seems as if there are words which escape, / which are missing, which have gone away and left us / to ourselves, tangled up in snares and threads.

And all at once, that’s it; we no longer know / what it’s all about, but we are deep inside it, / and now we will never see with the same eyes / as once we did when we were children playing. / Now these eyes are closed to us, / now our hands emerge from different arms.”

This, I suppose, is why I blog in the face of internet stalkers and the stigma of irresponsible blogging. Obviously, there are a plethora of brilliant bloggers and internet entrepreneurs who have used online tools to great effect, and have bettered the world because of it; thank goodness they were given the opportunities afforded by online marketplaces. This post is not meant to discount them, it is merely an attempt to offer my observations, state some of my fears and start a dialogue. For I fear binary numbers are usurping words, and the sterile future this fact implies is very scary to me. When we devalue the impact of words we shatter the importance of language as it’s used to communicate with members of our community–the one in which we move by day and not the one we fabricate by night while in the privacy of our shuttered homes. Anonymity afforded online breeds nothing good, and avatars with unspecified agendas hold no one accountable and bring nothing new to the table. In this vacuum of accountability, the social contract is subverted and we enter a realm fabricated from haphazardly connected content that does not foster ingenuity, which is the product of shared ideas of merit. Instead, it often leads to bickering fueled by a neoliberal obsession with profit in its most potent forms: fame or fortune. God, who’d want to be, God who’d want to be such an asshole.

So…my name is Nicole Meldahl, this is my blog and I wrote this piece while listening to “Bukowski” by Modest Mouse. Discuss.