I’m inclined to believe that the internet has been a force for good. If for no other reason than if it’s a force for evil, chances are I should be nice about it to save my own skin.
For someone like me though, it’s been a double edged sword. Social media and writing on-line commentary pieces have allowed me to come out of my anxiety ridden shell a little and engage with the world more widely without that whole messy experience of dealing with people face to face. Of course as time’s gone on, my internet self and real world self have collided with each other. I’ve met a few politicians and journalists (I’ve been drinking with Alex Massie and David Torrance and gave Chris Deerin a gingerbread man), I even managed to get some work experience in no small part thanks to Twitter.
The downside of it though, is that most of the time it’s difficult to hold any kind of conversation beyond the superficial. Few people are capable of communicating detail and nuance in 140 characters or less; it’s much easier to rely on outrage and meanness to win the argument. Post a link on Facebook to an article you agree with and watch as suddenly people who haven’t spoken to you in a decade suddenly appear on your timeline suggesting that you “Fuck Off” or launching into a long post which does little more than regurgitate an opposing viewpoint you’ve heard already from someone else.
That was part of the reason I found writing for ThinkScotland (www.thinkscotland.org) so positive. The website, and it’s Editor (who’s been immensely supportive and tolerant of my somewhat variable posting schedule), gave me an opportunity to express myself more clearly. Albeit occasionally in a way that was less than complimentary about those with whom I disagreed. Recently though, I lost the writing bug.
More accurately, I still had the urge to write; I’d make notes about ideas for articles, I’d bookmark articles I’d read that I thought might be the basis for something or that were in desperate need of being ripped apart; but somehow those urges to write never seemed to coalesce into anything I felt was worth publishing.
The more I read, the less vital or useful my contributions felt. For all that the internet provides people with a spectacular opportunity to feel well read while suffering spectacular confirmation bias, there are still many hugely gifted and interesting writers who can excite and engage and inspire, and do so in a way that makes you examine your own beliefs rather than simply playing to them. Who am I to believe anything I write has anything like that value to the public debate?
Which takes us to the here and now and the purpose of this piece. I’ve decided to try writing again, but this time a little differently. I’m trying Medium so that I can publish something more quickly when I feel the need to have a rant and I want to do more here than talk just about Scottish politics, fascinating though it is! Truthfully I haven’t really decided how this new kind of writing is going to look. Sometimes I may find it looks rather like the old style but now I can change it up a little; shorter rebuttal pieces formed of thoughts too long for Twitter or maybe the occasional full blown rant that I’ll probably regret the next day and take down. We shall see.
I seriously considered not writing at all any more. In recent elections I’ve been so involved as a campaigner that I found it hard to square that role with the idea of writing as an observer; particularly given how easy it is to begin to see the banality of much of the day to day nonsense that makes up so much of modern politics. It’s hard to talk about the big picture and focus on the long term when so much of politics is geared to the quick and dirty point scoring of the here and now.
If nothing else I believe some of the best political commentators around are the ones that occasionally manage to remind you that it’s not worth winning the battles if you’ve lost sight of what the war is about. I apologise if this sounds like I’m drifting into some strange hybrid of cod-philosophy, anthropology and self help, I’m aware it’s an issue I have when writing and I’ll do my best to keep it in check.
Assuming I decide to come back here in future and write some more, I’ll probably have to touch a little on the EU Referendum before it’s over. Like a dead jellyfish lying on a beach, I don’t really want to touch it, but the urge to at least nudge it with the toe of my shoe is undeniable. Considering it’s practically a repeat of the Scottish independence referendum with some of the names changed and a bit more internal party turmoil, you’d have thought I’d have had enough. For pity’s sake both “Leave” campaigns have a man called “Alexander” at the top of them. *
I’ve no idea whether anyone will read this or indeed what they’ll make of it if they do and I think I’m broadly OK with that. At the end of the day I’m making the assumption that writing stuff on Medium is like every other contribution someone makes to the world of cyberspace- some will like it, some will loathe it, a couple will conclude it’s the product of a conspiracy of Zionists/ Space Lizards/ Nazis or really any organisation they wish to blame for the world doing what it wants and not what they want, and the vast majority of people simply won’t give a toss either way.
Which is fair enough really.
*This sentence only makes sense if you’re aware that Boris’s full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, but since the chances are that what readership I ever garner will predominantly be made up of those with a minor addiction to politics, I hope most of you got it.