Double Trouble Returns
THE DYNAMIC DUO OF DUMPING-ON-EVERYTHING IS BACK … EDGIER THAN EVER…
PHIL: Well, Jimbo, it’s been a while since the last He Said He Said. About four months, to be exact.
For the most part, we’ve both been busy chasing paying work and trying, I think, to figure out what the winds of change in social media are blowing our way.
You’ve additionally been carrying on a single-minded, solo-staffed reality blitz against the guy whose name rhymes with “chump” and who masquerades as the U.S. President. And me, I’ve been working to help get a new professional networking platform off the ground.
But here’s the thing. I’ve really missed our verbal sparring sessions — and the edge they generally left me with. So, here I am again, ready to poke the bear in the eye...
Maybe it’s just me, but when I look around these days at publishing on social media, I see the playing field shifting. The Zuck is taking a beating for being essentially a government quisling. Arianna Huffington has been reduced to hawking self-improvement pap. Medium is, well, falling on its face after Ev Williams banked on the judgment of his post-Millennial Valley-Kinder staff to exercise editorial “judgment.” And, of course, there are the heart-throb superstar entrepreneurs of affinity networking, referred to by some of us as the “J-Twins”. They seem to have all but abandoned beBee in favor of chasing to the end of the rainbow for the proverbial pot of … crapto-currency.
None of which is to mention the Linkedaholics, including me, who at one time swore off drinking the algorithmic-Koolaid, but are now returning to LI at an accelerating rate.
So, my question is fairly simple: What is going on? Is publishing on social media going to hell in a handbasket? Or are the tectonic shifts I’m seeing part of some global realignment? Moreover, what do you think the near future is going to bring to writing and self-publishing on social media?
JIM: It’s funny that you should present me with this topic, as I had been noodling that very idea for a couple of days now. And I too have missed this back and forth.
There are actually two answers, IMHO, to the question of what’s going on. One is the personal answer. And the other is the philosophical one.
On the personal level, I have grown bored with trying to cut an idiot a new asshole. I have come to the conclusion that you guys, (Yanks) collectively, are smart enough and grown up enough to use your votes to put a cork in his pie hole. If you don’t, then you are well and truly fucked and you might as well just go out and get yourself a supply of Tiki torches, because you, my friend, and all the other thinking beings in America will soon become, officially, an endangered species.
Having said that, I just stopped the posts, the memes, the reposts. Anything overtly political. I am sick to death of it. I have also, and this relates directly to what’s going on philosophically, revived my old Couch Potato Chronicles column, but because of the fatally fractured attention span of the populace these days, I am doing it in terms of meme instead of long format posts.
To segue into #2, I am doing this because a big part of what I believe is happening is that people are just worn out from looking for needles in haystacks.
The overall quality of writing on sites like beBee and Medium has grown worse instead of better. Most of the stuff worth reading on LinkedIn is all reportage as opposed to op/ed. And to quote my man, Dylan… “I used to care, but things have changed”.
There’s only so much bullshit you can put up with. I’ve been on a search for honesty, and I have to tell you, it’s one ton of uphill work. I think the net effect of how the world has changed, and not for the better, is discouraging a lot of people from writing hopeful stuff.
I would rather be warm and comfy and writing about things like TV shows and movies and sports right now than I would be being nose to nose with the rest of the world in the life and death struggle to eradicate fake news and alternative facts.
And I believe, my brother, that there are a lot of people feeling the same way.
It’s not about getting old of being tired or having deliberately stepped outside of the mainstream, which I actually have. It’s about beating your head against the wall, which I, and I suspect many of us, have stopped doing. Just to find a little peace and quiet.
Today Heather and I spent the afternoon on the outside in the 16-degree warmth planting plants, raking leaves, filling up leaf bags, and generally not thinking too much about anything. It was very pleasant.
Tonight we’ll watch a couple hours of something and I’ll write a tiny column and post it and people will like it, but they won’t have much to say about and that’s OK.
I think the world is on a coffee break, trying to figure out how it’s going to get rid of all these assholes that seem to be slithering everywhere these days.
This may be a little broader a response than you hoped for. But what the fuck, eh?
Over to you, Boat Boy.
PHIL: That’s Mister Boat Boy to you, JimmyBob.
You can correct me if I’m wrong, but from what you say, I think we agree that the quality of writing and expression of thought on social media — especially on beBee — is declining rapidly.
It seemed to me, for a while, it was actually improving. I was reading more stimulating pieces than a decade ago, fewer kitten memes and vacuous “inspirational” missives, and instead some good philosophy and science, as well as many interesting perspectives in business, engineering, and ethics. It almost makes me gag to put it this way, but for a while, I felt there was a real “buzz” on.
Then… poof! The glow was gone, the light extinguished, the exuberance dissipated.
I could just be speaking autobiographically, but I don’t really think so. I believe the decline is real, due in large measure to disillusion — including the spreading come-to-religion realization that the moguls of social media are not our friends or benefactors, but instead play Morlocks to our Eloi.
After all, what does it say that a significant number of online writers and publishers are returning to LinkedIn as their central platform? I guess that the grass which looked so much greener on the other side of the fence has actually turned to muck once we started grazing on it. Which is what’s motivated me to become involved in helping to launch a new not-for-profit, member-driven networking platform for writing, self-publishing, and groups.
JIM: Agreed, agreed, and agreed. But as I was reading the above, a thought occurred to me. And it’s not really a new thought. It was one that I had a while ago, and that is simply that the game is rigged.
A while ago I wrote a piece on digital marketing based on the hypothesis that it was all bullshit. It was all designed to create a system where you had to so much work to make any sort of impact that, eventually out of frustration, you would bite the bullet and hire some digital marketer to do it for you, or failing that, you would grow weary and resentful of supplying all this content to sites like Facebook, Medium, LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent beBee, and just say fuck it and pack up your tent.
I have come close to that a couple of times. In fact, you could argue that it’s probably happening to a lot of people right now. So maybe it’s not so much that quality of writing has gone downhill, but that the actual number of well-written posts being published is declining.
You and I are both professional writers and have been since god was a kid. Running out of gas or getting cynical about what we are doing isn’t really in our DNA. But the whole content marketing concept required that a lot of people who weren’t pros start writing at an obscene frequency and at a high level. And maybe some of them did for a time, but they just ran out of gas or ended up getting frustrated by pathetic or, in many cases, non-existent ROI.
You and I will keep writing till we keel over. And you (more than me) have a specific vertical and digitally reachable target and a market to sell part of your writing into. My business runs off getting to know people and referrals, both of which are, in great part, 3-D activities. And I think there are a lot of people out there who come to that realization at certain points in time.
It’s been my experience that anything significant that happens in the world is the result of a number of factors. We have hypothesized several of them here. I suppose there are more, but several is a good number.
Sadly, none of this bodes well for the future of the blogging medium. I know there is a substantial movement afoot to get people to do more video messaging. But then again, it’s really just more of the same, isn’t it? Give us your content and we’ll give you access to millions of uninterested people, and you can keep on beating your head against the wall.
BTW, that’s Laird JimmyBob. I just found out from Ancestry.com.
PHIL: Laird, Lord, or Lard-Butt… whatever you prefer, JimBob. I’m just trying to yank your chain, anyway.
But seriously, I think you’ve kicked the issue squarely in the groin. It isn’t us, the writers and digital self-publishers, whose quality is flagging; it’s the networking platforms that are deteriorating.
They are consistently failing to deliver the environment they promised. Failing to deliver the audiences they promised. Failing to deliver the marketing ROI they promised. And failing to deliver the quality content they promised — or at least, they are allowing whatever quality content that appears to be buried in an avalanche of insipidipity and outright BS.
To be sure, this complaint is not new to social media. However, I believe that what is evolving lately is a clear understanding that this flawed situation is not transitory, but endemic to the medium (small-m).
The moguls of social media are interested, first and foremost, in stimulating use irrespective of whether that use is purposeful or meaningless. Because usage translates into dollars when the gangsters of SM sell access to their respectively accumulated databases.
Moreover, many if not most of these “social entrepreneurs” are, in fact, closet fascists ─ lock-stepping in cadence with overreaching government control freaks. Sadly, those thought by so many to be messiahs of social connection turn out to be devils of manipulation and betrayal.
Yeah, I know, maybe that crosses the line into hyperbole… but not by much, my friend. Cheers!
— Phil Friedman and Jim Murray
Postscript: When Jim Murray and I first conspired to co-author this series, we saw it as a not-so-literary experiment. Well, so much for experiments. We're now completing our third year and on our 34th installment. Along the way, we've developed a reputation for not pussyfooting around sensitive subjects or avoiding sensitive toes. Indeed, "politically correct" is not found in our lexicon.
That said, we also endeavor to remain faithful to the idea that these exchanges are not just about us and our idiosyncratic ideas, but more importantly about the exchange with you, our readers. So, as always, we invite you to join the conversation.
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