To spell it out as plainly as I can, there is no longer a way to post online without the implied desire to grow and cater to an audience. Every social media platform now functions on the basic idea that having a platform is good and having a large one is better. Sure, you can still attempt to grind out a career for yourself within a niche but appealing to base instincts is where mass appeal is born and mass appeal is what keeps the likes rolling in and the algorithm in your favor. It’s all about finding your audience and making them angry, horny, nostalgic, or if you’re truly skilled, all of the above. Most importantly, the purpose of these platforms has not been focused on facilitating communication between people that actually like each other for over a decade. Pretending as though receiving a dopamine hit that would make a medieval king declare himself a personal friend of Christian God isn’t the desired effect of these websites is disingenuous.
There’s an old adage about cooking frogs in boiling water. It’s said that you can straight up tell a frog that you want to boil it so long as you also tell the frog that it might get famous in the process. The delineation between Brands and human beings online has always been stark, but its purpose on the 2022 social media feed is mostly ornamental. When it comes to questions like “why did brands weigh in on West Elm Caleb?” the answer is simple: we told them to. Discourse is started, signal boosted, and sustained because it generates revenue for two groups, influencers and brands. The passive viewer receives nothing aside from a day’s entertainment, a weird headache when they try to read books, and maybe someday getting doxxed themselves. We log into the Commercial Zone every day, and we tell it what has our attention and then we have the audacity to ask why there are so many commercials in the Commercial Zone. It’s all commercials. We live in and are commercials.
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A harsh reality I have had to admit to myself: if I had the ability to write insightful, well-crafted book reviews of serious non-fiction then I would be writing for publications not just this humble blog. Sad but true, as they say, sad but true.
So yeah, I am having second thoughts on the future of CM 19 days into 2021.
One of the many reasons this blog has slowly dwindled in readership and content is that I have lost my “voice” – my sense that I have something interesting or important to say.
This is sort of the flip side of the lack of audience. The two are probably related in some in-direct way. As I posted less and less, and interacted with other lit-blogs less and less, my audience drifted away; into the world of social media and away from the world of blogs and RSS feeds.
That same social media, and the complications of life, that distract and take up precious time so that posting requires more work and commitment. At the same time, despite reading a great deal, I don’t feel the urge to post. I don’t have something I just have to put down in words and in the back of my mind is the sense that no one will read them anyway.
Life is funny sometimes. This is what I wrote almost exactly a year ago:
I will admit to being a fickle reader these days. My life has been rather crazy at the last four months or so, more anon on that perhaps, and so my mood seems to change regularly. Sometimes I am reading serious nonfiction, sometimes literary fiction but at other times what I really need is something to entertain and distract me from the chaos seemingly surrounding me. The search for intelligent books that still manage to do this, is always going on.
To say the last four months has been crazy is something of an understatement. What with my basement flooding the first day I started working from home due to a global pandemic which meant my kids engaging in digital learning at home with nearly half the house unusable and my daughter sleeping in the living room. Somehow 2020 topped 2019.
Ryan Francis has it all–great job, wonderful wife, beautiful child–and he loves posting photos of his perfect life on social media. Until the night his friend Blake asks him to break into a woman’s home to retrieve incriminating items that implicate Blake in an affair. Ryan refuses to help, but when Blake threatens to reveal Ryan’s darkest secret–which could jeopardize everything in Ryan’s life–Ryan has no choice but to honor Blake’s request.
When he arrives at the woman’s home, Ryan is shocked to find her dead–and just as shocked to realize he knows her. Then his phone chimes, revealing a Facebook friend request from the woman. With police sirens rapidly approaching, Ryan flees, wondering why his friend was setting him up for murder.
Determined to keep his life intact and to clear his name, Ryan must find the real murderer–but solving the crime may lead him closer to home than he ever could have imagined.
This is basically a fast paced summer/beach read which is perfect for when you are seeking entertainment and distraction rather than art/deep thought. As is often the case with these sort of novels, you have to kind of suspend belief a bit as the characters are not always fully developed, believable or likable. But it has a fast pace and a good sense of suspense which is also what you are looking for when you just want an escapists type read.
As with The Layover, the hook (in this case, “sorta estranged college best friend asks for a favor which opens Pandora’s box of secrets and problems”) is what gets you interested and the pacing keeps you reading even as you start to think that most of the characters are annoying and/or stupid.
Much to my chagrin, last year I said “Layover served its purpose in giving me an entertaining distraction but it wasn’t good enough to make me want to seek out more of David Bell’s writing.” So what did I do when offered a review copy? Decided to read more David Bell.
As I have noted previously, one of the reasons I have struggled to post regularly is the feeling that no one is reading or very few. Perhaps it is egotistical to want to have a large audience if you are going to write but I am just being honest.
On the political side I have written for online magazines and blogs that have significant traffic so perhaps that also colors my approach. Even this humble site once had a much greater audience and higher engagement. Alas, I have let it slip away.
So then the questions becomes whether that is worth attempting to reclaim. If larger audiences is the goal I could always work harder and submit pieces for publication. But to be honest that is a more work and more stress.
The fun of blogging is having control of what you write and when; and in some sense creating an identity that is your own. I can write what I want here and don’t have to worry about editors decisions on publication or schedule. Writing for publication is a job with the stress that comes with it.
Now maybe it is a job you love and so do it for fun. And on the flip side blogging can begin to feel like a job if the pressure builds to the point where you feel like you have to post, have to tackle a particular subject, have to do certain things to please an audience or keep your traffic, etc. So the motivations and rewards are complex.
But one of the valuable lessons of trying to restart this blog, or the regular posting to the blog, is the discipline it requires. If it were easy I would already be doing it. Instant gratification and constant distraction is one of the reasons I am participating in a digital declutter project this month. And using this break to focus on something more substantive like regular writing is also part of it (with the perhaps ironic caveat that the writing is digital).
Part of me sort of expects instant success. I post a blog or two, review a book, and then wait for the traffic to flow in. That is not how it works. I do not have the recognition or connections to quickly reconnect with a large group of people simply by posting a few times. It will take a blend of quality and quantity to start to draw readers in and maybe even build a regular audience outside the good souls who read and comment here already.
And that is part of the challenge I set for myself. To see if I can build up the habits, focus and discipline necessary to find success blogging again. Can I effectively and engagingly express my perspective and opinion on books, sports, culture, etc. in such a way that people will want to read it and will return to read more.
Perseverance plays an important role in successful blogging. There will be days you don’t feel like writing or don’t feel like you have anything to say. But writing is a discipline and requires pushing through and writing anyway. Excellence requires commitment. Now maybe many bloggers are not really aiming for excellence but my point is that if you want to draw more than just a few friends or acquaintances you will need to work even when you lack motivation.
And that is what I am working on across a number of fronts. So however you found your way here, I hope you will come along on the journey and maybe even leave a comment or two.
As you might have guessed from my post on the nature of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have decided to blog about more than books. The idea is to get the creative juices flowing and get back in the habit of posting by writing about my life and perspective. This is what blogging used to be about in many ways before niche blogs and social media changed the landscape. Although, I suppose there are probably still a lot of personal blogs out there you just don’t run into them unless you see a link in your feeds or are friends with the blogger.
Speaking of social media, I am in the midst of a 30-day social media declutter exercise inspired by Cal Newport. I am trying to stay off Twitter and Facebook for the month of January. I have been quite good at avoiding Facebook but have struggled to stay away from Twitter. I have avoided political Twitter but have dipped into sports twitter. Not as much as I used to (everyday) but frequently. I am going to try and avoid even my sports list on Twitter for the remaining 15 days. Should be easier now that football is over for my teams <<sigh>>.
Look for some reflections on social media and this experience. Maybe disconnecting from social media will also allow me to regain my focus and start posting regular book reviews as well. I guess we shall see.
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