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A Diversion About the Loss of Magic

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Forgive this, it’s going to get rambly.

I’m listening to Beck’s Modern Guilt right now. For maybe the fourth time since I bought it, a month after it came out. Modern Guilt was one of those albums that made music geeks’ brains explode because it paired OMG BECK with OMG DANGER MOUSE, who I’d only just heard about because of that one song that you couldn’t fucking get rid of during the summer of 2006 that I’d only just paid attention to in early 2008. (For the people that don’t feel like trying to parse that sentence over and over til it makes sense: Gnarls Barkley recorded “Crazy” and released it in 2006 and I hated it because I couldn’t avoid it. Then I actually listened to it later, and I kinda liked it.)

But aside from what I’m listening to, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Gillen/Mckelvie’s Phonogram Vol.2: The Singles Club, and my brain’s been shoved into a tangent. First, I get into things way, way too late. It’s like my life is a constant running Jim Gaffigan gag (“Heat? That came out six years ago.” “Yeah, but I wanna talk about it now.”) Second, and this is the important bit, I don’t seem to enjoy things I used to nearly as much… especially in the music world.

The thing about Phonogram is that it uses magic as a very interesting metaphor for the sheer love of music. I mean, other people have drawn the music = magic parallel before, but Phonogram does it in a really interesting way by tying it to ritual magic. But the magic bit is a device to run that same bit of pop culture dissection that Hornby and Klosterman (terrible as he may be) and any other music critic has done in a different way. Instead of running through the same shitty buzzwords that print journalists use, Gillen and Mckelvie can show their readers what they mean. Such is the strength of comics.

But what does all that have to do with me liking music less? Well, not much, I guess, aside from maybe enlightening me to the fact that used to do the same dissection of minutia. I used to consume music by the metric tonne. I used to absorb it and internalize it and make it who I was. Maybe part of this came from the desire to be a professional musician myself. But I think most of it comes from that period in your life when you define yourself by what you consume. When I was seventeen, all I listened to was Metallica. (“No shit?” you’re probably saying sarcastically. “No shit,” I reply, while glaring at you with the eyes of somebody that actually liked Load because it was good, even if it wasn’t what people expected from Metallica.) By the time I hit college, I had expanded to nu-metal. And you know what? I still like the old Drowning Pool records, and Limp Bizkit’s first two albums were listenable for being misogynistic frat-boy shit. I’m even slowly coming to terms with the fact that I might actually like Deftones.

But somewhere in the past few years, I stopped really devouring new stuff, while at the same time somehow broadening my horizons. I like music now that varies wildly, from The Smiths to Amanda Palmer[*] to Mastodon[**] to Gary Numan. But the thing is, my music stopped identifying and shaping me, rather, I shaped my music. I can’t say “I love Nine Inch Nails” with the same vigor as the goth kids in 1995 did.

So my question in all of this is “When does our culture stop defining us, and when do we start defining our culture?” And, as a corollary, “Is it a bad thing when that tradeoff occurs?”

I made a point the other day on a different internet forum that I haven’t read a book that’s really rewired my brain in a long time. The same goes for music, and to a much, much more obvious extent, movies. I’ve simply stopped consuming the massive quantities of brain drippings that I used to. Now, this doesn’t necessarily make me feel guilty, but it makes me feel like there’s something amiss. I used to eat and breathe music. Now it’s just… something I have on in the car. Something that drowns out the sound of traffic outside my house. And on the same side of the quarter, playing music is something that I derive much less joy from. Writing a song is more like work than it ever has been.

I’m loathe to say that it’s because I’m not listening to enough stuff; I hardly think that’s the case. I think it’s more that I’m just no impacted by it as much as I used to be… and I’m trying to figure out why I don’t obsess about the gear Johnny Greenwood used on Kid A to get Sound X like I used to.

I’d like to say it’s because I’m growing up or maturing or some shit like that, but I refuse to accept that. I’m only 28. If anything, I feel like it’s because all the other bullshit life has to offer[***] is getting in the way. I’m now pulled in so many directions that it seems like sometimes the best plan is to just wait the whole thing out and let the valuable stuff come to me through time. And while it’s a good strategy for getting “safe” stuff, it’s not particularly fulfilling.

Going back to Phonogram (sort of), the main goal of magic is affecting the world around you. But at the same time, part of most magical traditions is understanding the world around you and how it affects you. So maybe that’s the problem? Maybe I’ve let the world affect me for too long? Maybe it’s time to start internalizing my surroundings so I can bend them to my will. Or maybe it’s all just twentysomethings-from-the-1990s wankery. Because sometimes I feel like my whole generation is a generation of wankers.

In any case, it still doesn’t answer why something that used to mean so much to me doesn’t anymore. At least, it’s not the same. Have I built up a tolerance to the things I used to enjoy? Do I just keep needing more and stronger music injections?

I mean, I don’t want to sound all middle-age crisis-y (again, the 28 years old argument), but I kinda miss the person I was ten years ago. Or at least, the one aspect of me that wasn’t an asshole. Back when it felt like I meant something, when the world around me felt like it meant something.

Ugh. This is getting entirely too emo. I’m going to stop before I actually say “I hope I die before I get old.” Because I think that’s when I jump the shark in my own brain.

Oh, and if you’re actually interested in what I’m listening to these days, I’m listening to a lot of She. Combine chiptunes and traditional dance hall electronic, and you get She. It’s really fucking good. But I’m not going to go learn Japanese to understand the (occasional) lyrics.

[*]Amusing Amanda Palmer anecdote: I can distinctly remember finding a Dresden Dolls CD in my friend’s binder in 2003 or so, when he was buying, without question, everything Roadrunner put out. I asked what it was like, and he said something to the effect of “It’s okay, but not metal at all,” at which point I completely disregarded it. Just last week, I bought the Dresden Dolls DVD Paradise because I’ve fallen entirely in love with all things Amanda Palmer. Oh, how times change.

[**]Amusing Mastodon anecdote: My first exposure to Mastodon was a few years back on a trip to (I think) Wheaton, MN, to run sound for some friends of mine. I came back from that trip and immediately bought Remission, and have purchased everything they’ve released since. “March of the Fire Ants” is still their best song.

[***]Cliff Burton: “When I started, I decided to devote my life to it and not get sidetracked by all the other bullshit life has to offer.” Also possibly relevant: “You don’t burn out from going too fast. You burn out from going too slow and getting bored.”

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Content Creation for the Web and For Reals (Part 2)

September 16, 2008 Leave a comment

NOTE: Okay. So. I’m a liar. In that “You said you’d post and then you didn’t!” sense. But a few things in “real life” intervened, so now here I am. In all honesty part of getting this done is so I can get to my review of Metallica’s Death Magnetic, so you have that to look forward to later this week/early next week.

But that’s next week. This week is part two of Content Creation for the Web and For Reals. (Part one is available here.)This one is longer, as I have a lot of material to cover this time around. So let’s dive in.

First, though, some re-introductions:
Zac Echola, an online content producer for Forum Communications, blogger, and co-founder of WiredJournalists.com.

Adam Carico, web developer for Ecliptic Technologies, and musician.

Ben Templesmith, comic writer and illustrator, Eisner award nominee and winner, creator of Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, and artist for Fell (written by Warren Ellis), 30 Days of Night (written by Steve Niles), and Dead Space.

Brian Clevinger, creator of webcomic 8-Bit Theatre and the Eisner-nominated Atomic Robo.

I originally thought that the main thrust of all this would be something along the lines of “How to Make Money on the Internet”, but that has since changed.

Certainly, there are ways to do it: posting advertising banners, selling merchandise, and using Paypal (or similar) subscriptions. Of course, there are some caveats here. Zac Echola sums it up in this: “I don’t think a transaction model, whereby I pay you for the pleasure of looking at a webpage, will ever truly work on the web outside of porn.” There’s a simple reason for this line of thinking. It adds complexity to the insanely simple-to-use internet. Now, it may not seem like much to add another page before the content that says “Before you read this you need to pay me for it.” But that extra step is akin to having a brick-and-mortar store in a good location with big windows and then boarding up the windows and saying “If you want to look you have to pay me to come in.” No one that wanders by your website through a search engine (for example) will want to pay for a snippet of information unless they’re really interested. And chances are they’re probably not that interested. Unless you’re hosting porn.

There are, of course, different models. For example, Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theatre, when in need of hosting revenue, etc., started out using Paypal donations. Not subscriptions, donations. The content on 8-Bit has been, and I suspect always will be, free. However, says Clevinger:

Donations aren’t really a big part of the income these days. I only include the PayPal button because some people complain when I take it down. I suppose it’s a convenient option for folks who want to support an independent artist but who don’t have any particular interest or need for any of the merchandise.

Merchandising is another model for an artist on the web, but for a writer, that may be difficult. I mean, could I really sell a Rarely Important t-shirt? (Well, I suppose I could if I had a clever logo, but chances are still slim.) I have a feeling this will likely only work for visual artists or musicians with a very visual aspect to them.

The most ubiquitous model, though, seems to be the advertising banner. In the evolution of 8-Bit Theatre, Clevinger has moved from donations to banners. “Ad revenue used to be a nice bonus,” he says, “but these days it provides a solid chunk of the site’s income.” And really, banners and things like Google Ads can provide a significant pile of money to sites with a high amount of traffic. If anything it keeps things efficient and economic. Echola sums it up nicely:

It’s fairly simple economics on the Web. As long as the cost of bandwidth, processing and storage drops and the use of the Internet increases, it will always make sense to trade “free stuff” for increased market share. It costs pennies to serve up a page, so if you make a few pennies more in advertising on that page, you’re doing well.

Producing something new (like content) costs something. Be it time or money or sweat and tears, it bears a heavy cost… Good content or good filtering of content to a targeted group of people will almost certainly make you SOME money. But I don’t think any content creator should expect huge success.

So, really, does it pay to be a creator? Well, no. It never really has. I think that’s the crux of it, too. Sure, it’s easier to get your work out there now, but your chances of getting rich these days are probably just as good as they were twenty years ago.

It also takes some marketing and networking skills. Ben Templesmith puts it in a nice little soundbite (like a good interviewee does) by saying “Don’t give up, take crit, … and network network network. Believe it or not, people skills (online or in real life) will get you places your work alone will not.” Templesmith, while being relatively established in the comics industry–he’s recently taken up residence at IDW Publishing, is still constantly working to improve his contacts and his fan base. “I’m lucky enough to have a small amount of name recognition,” he says, “so you really have to run with that to keep your head above water. Initially, my name was mud… though now I have quite a few who will buy things at first because my name is on it, which is a lucky place to be.”

Of course, there’s a flipside to actively marketing yourself, both in print and online. “On one hand, yes it is shameless whoring,” says Echola. “On the other hand, it’s networking, community building. You can make robots link to you in a variety of ways, but I think people see through that and even if it increases your page rank at Google, … you aren’t going to build a community that will essentially act as a free marketing department for you.”

Adam Carico agrees, in saying “Being able to get your music out to more people [with the internet] is most certainly a benefit. I still believe that word of mouth is the most potent catalyst for the ability of a musician or band to effectively garner any sort of following.”

Templesmith has a similar opinion. “I feel bad sometimes actively pimping some things, but it’s the nature of the beast to make sure people are aware an actual book is coming out.” He adds, “[B]ut just showing art off or discussing things about projects I’m doing is something I enjoy.”

The main thing that we’re going through, now, is a transition in the way business is done. Not in an operational sense, the sense that the nuts-and-bolts exchange of ideas, or the actual act of writing, but in an institutional sense. The issue is that the old distribution model has changed. Not is changing, but has changed. Selling ads in a paper isn’t the same as throwing some code onto a page for a third-party ad farm like Google Ads, where companies seek out the distribution channel that runs in perpetuity rather than someone selling an individual ad at a contracted price to run a certain length of time.

The problem is people trying to leverage an old model onto a new system. “Traditional media were quick to see the value of the Web initially, but have been incredibly slow to understand,” says Echola. “They’ve seen bloggers and YouTubers as competition.”

And what that leads to is a transition into a new media model. That transition is something that was the “unspoken” thread throughout all the e-mail interviews I conducted. The connection between the creator and their audience is now much more intimate than it has been in the past. Carico hinted at it when he said “I think [marketing] is part of what sites like Myspace can provide, but I don’t believe that it’s as simple as a marketing tool.” The community-building aspects of Myspace, Facebook, and the comments feature of most blogs imply an interaction that can’t be built by traditional means. “When you treat your site as simply mass media as we currently know it, you’re missing out on a huge value proposition,” says Echola, “that one-on-one interaction with individuals. I don’t think we should simply put a generic ad or piece of news in front of 100 people when we could use the same technology to engage those people on an individual basis.”

Of course, that changes the relationship between the creator and the audience to a point that the creator is directly beholden to his audience, right? Well, probably not. Templesmith says, “I don’t let the audience guide my work particularly. The only time they really have is when I created a small bit character that people demanded more of. Feral Leprechauns proved popular so I had to do more on the little buggers.”*

So, now that the various publishing industries have changed, there isn’t going to be much change for a while, right? Of course not! Our various interviewees had some opinions on where things are going for creative types.

  • Templesmith: The next step is to go all-digital [comics], but that will probably change the very nature of comics and after a point, I will refuse to call them “comics” anymore. They will be a slightly different medium. Not really comics anymore.**
  • Carico: I think that the best way for any musician/artist to make money is to create really good music and form their own label. Be your own boss. I believe that eventually, the old way of doing things will be purged from the system and artists will gain back more of the control of their business that they should rightfully have anyway. Do away with the old … formula that labels have been using to suck the life from artists.
  • Echola: As for print, I’d avoid it. I would still buy newspaper companies, but not for their printing presses. I’d buy them for their archives of information and their efficient ability to create new information. At the end of the day, it’s just the fucking internet. You’ll notice that neither of my blogs have ads on them. Not even Google ads. They never will have ads, either. It’s about the ideas. The web legitimizes the First Amendment in ways the traditional media couldn’t. If some people can make a buck off that, great. If not, I hope that doesn’t discourage them from communicating.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? I mean, I wouldn’t have started my blog if I didn’t think I had things to say to the public at large. Writers don’t write novels unless they think they have a story to tell. Photographers don’t take pictures unless they see something they want others to see. Painters don’t paint unless they have something they need to express. If I wanted to make money I could be a technical writer or actual print journalist and churn out per-word articles. Chances are, though, the best way is to freelance in whatever you do. Create the content that you want and then sell what you feel like. Take your time, and don’t stress out about it. This is supposed to be fun, right? We all choose creative jobs because we don’t want “real” jobs, right?

“So really, Rick,” you’re probably saying, “What does this all mean?” Just get out there and do it. If you’re worried about how to make money with whatever it is you want to do creatively, just do it and worry about making money with it later. If it won’t sell, if it won’t make you money, is it the end of the world? No. Everything is in a constant state of flux and what doesn’t work now might work in the future. And you don’t want to be caught unawares by the future, do you?

*The Leprechauns of which he speaks can be found in Templesmith’s Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse.
**For a more in-depth look at “what comics are” I direct you to Scott McCloud’s excellent Understanding Comics

POSTSCRIPT
I would like to thank my interviewees first, for letting me pick their brains on all manner of subjects, some of which didn’t get covered here. I’d also like to personally thank Lib Walkup and Erik Wohlrabe, two writer friends of mine whose replies came in as I was in the process of writing this article, so I, unfortunately, could not get their opinions in on this post.

I’ll be posting one more point from Brian Clevinger and Ben Templesmith in the near future, as I couldn’t really get it worked into the flow of this post. I’ll likely number it Part 2.5, so keep your eyes open for that.

For an excellent example of creator/audience interaction, I suggest looking at Warren Ellis’ Whitechapel Forum. Here he builds a community with his readers, and also fosters communication among individuals.

As a final note, if anyone is interested in the original interviews, I may post them if there’s sufficient interest. Let me know in the comments.

Content Creation on the Web and For Reals (Part 1)

August 8, 2008 Leave a comment

Note: I was intending on posting this all as one massive post, but this is nearly 1200 words on its own and next week’s might be bigger. So I’ve broken it in two. Part two is available here.

So, now that we’ve finally come around to getting (most) everyone’s replies in, I can try to tackle this beast. Diving in.

My original intent in all of this was to figure out where one could build up some revenue from an online blog (or other avenues) without whoring yourself out and turning into a bland, formless word machine. While most of the e-mail interviews I conducted had some of that slant, I also tried to get some information about how some people came into their presence in their respective fields, their opinions on print vs. online work, their content creation, how they generate income, marketing, and finally some miscellaneous tidbits. I will work with the first three sections in this post, and go after the last three in my next post.

First, though, some introductions:
Zac Echola, an online content producer for Forum Communications, blogger, and co-founder of WiredJournalists.com.

Adam Carico, web developer for Ecliptic Technologies, and musician.

Ben Templesmith, comic writer and illustrator, Eisner award nominee and winner, creator of Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, and artist for Fell (written by Warren Ellis), 30 Days of Night (written by Steve Niles), and Dead Space.

Brian Clevinger, creator of webcomic 8-Bit Theatre and the Eisner-nominated Atomic Robo.

I included two of my friends, and two up-and-coming/established writers and creators. I figure that this will lend itself well to a variety of opinions and therefore help get a slightly more accurate picture of the current state of things.

Note: So y’all don’t think I’m some misogynist bastard, I tried getting some female opinions, but they either weren’t interested or didn’t return my e-mails after they said they were interested. No one can fault me for not trying. End note.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks.

The first thing I’d like to tackle is breaking into an established industry. It goes without saying that blogging is fairly well settled into its own, and comics, newspapers, and magazines have been around forever. But how exactly does one crack into any of those content generation endeavors? The first step is creation. Does it matter where it comes from or whether it has a definite destination for publishing? Hardly. The one common statement among the established creators I interviewed was that it just sort of… happened. Says Clevinger: “I fell into online comics without meaning to and tripped into print comics by accident.” Templesmith says the same about breaking into print. “No, they just sort of happened,” he says, “[It takes] lots of luck, by being in the right place at the right time, but at the same time, you make your own luck.” Echola goes a little more in depth:

I never really tried to build a large network. It just sort of happened. Blogs tend to be short posts about random things happening in a given area … I started blogging to write longer, more cerebral pieces that I thought needed to be addressed but didn’t quite fit well in the comments of other people’s blogs. As I posted more and read more it just grew.

So what’s new here? Nothing, really. But the main thing I take out of this is to just work and don’t be worried about having a place to publish it initially.

So after you’ve come up with something, what to do with it? There’s tons of places to post something, be it Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, or even just Twitter. What are the differences between print and online publishing? Clevinger puts it this way:

The only limitation of print that I’ve run into is availability. Anyone who wants to access my online comics can do so easily, at their leisure, without restrictions. In the print world, you have to depend upon retailers being willing to stock or order your material. And they have to depend on Diamond to get your comics into their stores. And they can only order your comic during a short window several months in advance. These can be huge barriers to getting your comic to its audience… It boils down to the fact that these are people who make money by selling comics. Webcomics make money be giving comics away.

Echola agrees: “Print operations, particularly local newspapers, need to realize that the Web has destroyed their geographic monopolies.”

In short, the benefit of selling a physical product comes at the expense of availability. If you want to get your name, your work, out there, you’re likely better off on the web with any physical material that can feasibly be put on it. Text/writing, video, audio, photography, any of that sort of creation and art can be distributed on the web at a much wider scale than traditional print media. The problem is that it’s difficult to make money in such a manner, but that is a topic for the next post. Of course, if you’re coming here you probably already realize these things. But I think it’s important to let people know this from the mouths (or fingers, in this case) of people that have done it and are doing it.

As a side note, Clevinger feels that the most rewarding part of his print work is the people he works with: the artists, the printers, publishers, and distribution people. That sort of teamwork is one that is rarely seen in online work, where most creators work solo.

So now that we’ve come past the initial intent to create, and the method of delivery, we come to the meat of it: content.

I was hoping I wouldn’t get the same ol’ “just do something original” response, but unfortunately, I did. But I got that response in phrasing I wasn’t expecting, and that’s why I’m actually writing about the point. The general consensus, as I’ve said, is to create something original. “I can tell you one big thing that separates me from most of the other ‘artists’ in comics,” says Templesmith, “is that I do practically everything myself, rather than rely on a single person to draw, then another to ink, and yet another to color the art. It’s all me. I am certainly not the typical “comic book” style, that’s for sure.” Clevinger adds, “Do what you do better than anyone else. That way they have to come to you to get it.”

From an institutional standpoint, it’s a good thing to remember that ultimately, you are the creator. In any company situation (that is, a publisher or record label situation), remember that. “The artists make the money flow,” says Carico, “not the labels.” Your content makes the whole deal work, so make sure it’s original and done well.

That’s all for this half of the post. The next one will deal with creating income and money, marketing, and some miscellaneous issues. I could say the next post will be the nuts-and-bolts part of content creation and income in the current paradigm, whereas this is more of the basis, the reasoning for creation in general. More from our interviewees, as well!

Oh, Is That All? (Part One)

July 10, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m lucky in that I can call a very creative group of people my friends. I know two web developers (one of which is a particularly lucid writer), a novelist that’s working in television, a theater technician, poets, and countless musicians. All of them have big hopes of becoming something Important. What I’m wondering, though, is what will ultimately push them over the edge into profitability and/or notoriety? And for that matter, what about any other random blogger in the world?

One problem with being a producer of a creative piece of work, be it fine art, writing, blogging, music, whatever, is that, ultimately, you’re trying to sell something to someone. Unfortunately, most of the time, that something is information. Images, ideas, or expressions that aren’t easily wrangled or tangibly owned the way, say, your couch is. Without being able to extract some sort of easy monetary benefit out of a product like a blog post, being creative is generally a pretty piss poor way of making a real living. So how do we fund ourselves, as bloggers, or writers, or photographers, as creators? Advertising.

Not our own, of course. Not advertising our own product with our product, but advertising someone else’s product with our product.

There’s countless websites out there telling you how to create traffic and therefore generate revenue for yourself through your blog. Most of them make the claim that the best way to create traffic is to have good content, and the rest will come naturally. But will it really? Most of these sites say that, in order to have good content that you need to do a few things to really get people to notice, most notably specialization and personal branding. Selling yourself to sell certain ads to certain people, essentially.

While I agree that there are advantages to specialization, what happens if you’re one of those people who simply can’t keep tied down to one subject type or beat? What happens if you have a really good idea that you just have to write about? Do you put it on the shelf for later, or for someone else to publish for you? Do you start multiple blogs and spread out your workload? I contend that you shouldn’t have to. Sure, market saturation and trends will tell you that that should get more people to your site, but will it really?

This is where my real point begins. In all that specialization, and pandering to your audience and advertisers, what’s to guarantee that you’ll get any traffic at all? Sure, there are people that blog or write or take pictures or paint solely for the joy of it, but anyone trying to make a living though creative arts generally have to jump through so many hoops just to get noticed that it’s enough to make any self-respecting writer jump ship and work as a day laborer for the rest of their lives (or until their bodies give out.)

Should we just write, put it out there, and hope to get noticed? You’ll be waiting a long time for that to happen, I think. You could pimp the hell out of your work to your friends and anyone that has an internet connection, but I still don’t think that will guarantee any staying power. Look at the webcomic industry. Is there really any rhyme or reason as to which comics are popular and profitable versus the flashes in the pan? What is it that makes Drudge one of the most popular websites in the world when all he does 90% of the time is simply repost stories, like just about any other schlub could do?

For an answer to questions like these, I’ll be using one of those generic “Get Traffic Quick” strategies. I’ll be sending out an e-mail interview/questionairre to some of my aforementioned creative people and see what is important to them in a blog, what gets them to come back, and finally, what they are doing to further their creative presence on the web. Hopefully I’ll have the project completed within the next couple weeks, so keep your eyes on this space.

Ant Wheels: When Ideas Change

May 20, 2008 Leave a comment

I was originally going to write this about Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip. And then I read the newest Rolling Stone, and lo and behold, there’s a big, fat review of the album. I’ve read a dozen or more reviews of the album at Warren Ellis’ Whitechapel Forums. So what this leads me to is how do I, the casual blogger, really get a good, timely, post out there? Well, up here. Anyway.

I think the short answer is that I don’t. Nearly all the posts I’ve made in this blog have been months or weeks out of date. Maybe I don’t rely on my feeds enough. Maybe I rely on them too much. I don’t think I’ve hit that magic spot where I’m reading enough yet not reading too much.

The unfortunate thing about the internet, that I’ve found, anyway, is that what you’re trying to say has probably already been said. Political commentary is being parroted by half a dozen news stations, innumerable websites, TV news, radio news, and the hundreds, nay, thousands of bloggers* just itching to complain or canonize some snippet of news. I am not an investigative journalist. Not often, anyway.

All I can do is give my opinion, which 90% of the time is made up of 80% uninformed bitching and 15% lies (that’s not true) in an attempt to up the word count of my post to keep some sorry bastard (you?) keep reading.

And if I’m doing that somewhere between once and four times a month, what about the people that do it every day?

I can’t maintain a link blog. I find it an indulgence anyway. Yet I use Twitter for the sole purpose of feeling important. Is that what all of us in Web 2.0 are doing? Is this creating a shit-ton of content that really doesn’t mean anything? I submit that it is. That’s not to say there’s no real content out there, but I think someone needs to figure out a way to dig into my brain and find what I want to say when I want to say it, as well as parse the entire internet into a digestible portion that I’m interested in. I’m slowly integrating bits of information intake organization; I’ve started using Google’s applications to organize my RSS, and its Calendar application so I know what the hell I’m doing and when I’m doing it (so long as there’s internet access where I happen to be at any given moment.)

I realize at this point that my whole post is a product of the mindless blather that is the internet. It’s some sort of self-perpetuating cycle. “Add something that readers would have an interest in.” “Bring something new to the table.” It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But is it really?

Take, for example, the New York Times. There’s this really neat thing that they use called RSS, but their various feeds run the same stories. Does this make sense? Do they run the same stories in different sections in the physical newspaper? I bet they don’t, because that would make the paper weight a thousand pounds apiece and drive the costs through the roof, not to mention that it would be an unwieldy beast to read. So why do they make you see the same headlines four times in four “different” feeds? Is that economical for anyone involved? Wouldn’t I save time only looking at one headline? Wouldn’t the NYT save time by only running a headline once? Wouldn’t the webteam* accomplish more if they weren’t adding the same stories to half a dozen feeds?

This, I think, is the whole point of this post… everyone is trying to get as much junk out there as they can, trying to get their voice heard. “The internet has given everyone a voice, and apparently everyone wants to bitch about movies,” I think, is a paraphrase from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I’m quoting from a mildly successful Kevin Smith movie, I realize, but there’s a lot of truth in that. But it’s more than just movies. Everyone gets together to bitch about… everything. I mean, you’re reading my bitching about other people’s bitching? How fucking inbred is that? This whole post is cyclical and parasitic.

Sorta like the internet, and media in general.

I read in a Magic: The Gathering article by Patrick Chapin about an idea called information cascade. One person reads something from a source they trust and simply assume that, since it comes from a trustworthy person, the information is true. Then someone else hears from the new person, and so on, until nearly everyone simply assumes something to be true. Chapin puts it this way:

“The information cascade is a chain reaction of decision-making where almost everyone involved is basing their decision on the decisions of others, who in turn base their decisions on others, regardless of personal information. Now, often these cascades carry a useful message to everyone quickly (such as when you are at a street corner and everyone starts crossing. Even if you can’t see the walk sign, it is a fairly safe bet that the crowd knows what it is doing). However, if the first couple of people were in error, the cascade can send a harmful signal to all (everyone panicking and trying to run out of a movie theater when someone yells “Fire”). “

The old example is the “ant wheel,” wherein ants simply follow the ant in front of them, and if the front of the line finds a new ant, they follow that ant… which may very well be the rear ant in the line that he himself is leading. It’s the ant equivallent of staring at your own bellybutton. I think that any system that relies on others and their leadership can run into this sort of thing.

So media, in a way, is just everyone repeating what someone else has already said about something. And that’s how I got here. I can’t seem to write a review of Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip without saying something someone already said, or might have already said. And then someone reads this and (well, hopefully) assumes I’m right, and they tell someone what I said, and everything goes cyclical.

I’m not doing that. I refuse to. I’m not bringing down the internet. And neither, Mr. Bloggerpants, should you.

*I find it ironic that Firefox claims that “bloggers” is not a word, and thus underlines it to tell me so. As well as “doesn’t.” Interestingally, “webteam” is a word.