15 clicks (or likes, or follows…) of fame

I have several friends who write blogs. If you are one of these people, then hi, thanks for reading, I like your stuff too. They write about all sorts of interesting things, but mainly about themselves (which is interesting too in its own way of course). Why wouldn’t you? It’s probably the subject you know most about and when you’re starting out in the blogosphere — let’s face it a pretty crowded field — you’ll want to be sure of yourself and stick to what you know. I have tried to stay away from writing personal anecdotes in my offerings so far for two reasons: firstly to challenge myself, and secondly because of a natural fear of indifference. There’s something that always makes me hesitate before choosing to read someone’s personal blog about themselves. It’s the literary equivalent of posting a picture of your dinner on Instagram. Why should I care? To turn it around, why on earth would anyone want to read about what I’m up to? I’ll read it, and at a push with a combination of coercion and bribery, family and friends might too, but complete strangers? By one estimate there were 152 million blogs on the internet in 2013, and if, for arguments sake, they took 5 minutes each to read, it would take 1,440 years to get through it all. That’s a long time to digest the vainglorious self-indulgences of the many. So what makes my writing (or my friends’) stand out and persuade you to give up 5 or 10 minutes in your day to consider my musings?

One answer is the accessibility of the internet. Not only is blogging is easy to do practically it’s also free to write and in most cases to read. As Seth Godin said: “The web was built on words”. And this means that collectively, humanity has written about everything. You only have to perform a quick search to find someone’s thoughts on your favourite topic. Search engines help you out. If you happen to stumble across mine first then great, thanks very much, I hope you enjoy it. There are no guarantees on the quality of the writing of course — in fact you’re certain to find bad writing without too much difficulty — but the internet is a democratic place and anything goes. It is this accessibility and simplicity that encourages so many of us to write and express our opinions. Would we do it if we knew nobody was going to read it? We might, but then there would be little point in publishing anything. Our carefully crafted words, sentences and paragraphs would remain hidden like a teenage girl’s diary. So if we assume that we have some interest in others reading our output then a more interesting question is why? Has the internet given us a greater accessibility to a certain type of ‘fame’ too?

In 1968 Andy Warhol couldn’t have known that his famous quote “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” would be so prescient. Modern day ‘celebrities’ are now often defined in terms of the number of followers on various channels they have, or how many views or likes snippets of their own lives they accrue, as by any other yardstick. Indeed, the internet has created its own new breed of celebrity whose fame is virtual alone; where a computer gamer can have his or her own YouTube channel with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, yet walk down the street unnoticed. It is this detachment from the traditional view of fame as we usually think of it that paradoxically allows us to be ourselves online more fearlessly. If I really wanted to hide I would write under a pseudonym with an avatar very easily. In blogging terms alone, as I have 152 million others to compete against, the chances of me becoming an internet sensation are pretty small even with a little self-promotion. The noise of the web reduces our attention spans and makes it difficult to see beyond those shouting the loudest. So I am very unlikely to spark more than a momentary curiosity. But is this transient phenomenon so very different to other forms of public exposure that ordinary people experience? Some quiz shows are watched by millions, but when the lucky winner goes home with the jackpot and the credits roll who remembers their names or anything about them? Or a vox pop for a news item? Or those on reality television? (Infamy perhaps in this last case).

I was once on television in a documentary that aired on a terrestrial station. This was pre-social media and internet subscription channels so I assume the audience was six if not seven figures. The segment I featured in didn’t cast me in a particularly flattering light and it was a bit embarrassing at the time. But even I’ve only just remembered about it now never mind anyone who saw when it was broadcast. So why would I be bothered if a readership you can count on your fingers and toes reads sees a fully edited and controlled bit of me? I, of course, shouldn’t and now don’t.

Writing about yourself does have one distinct advantage over passive commentary or insights into other subjects: it automatically has some value because there is a direct link between me and the reader. The personal angle means we can subconsciously connect with them in some way. How often do you see the phrase “Dear readers…” written by newspaper columnists? It’s a way of drawing people in. And just as every conceivable topic has been written about on the internet everyone wants to read all about it too, no matter how arcane it is.

So it seems there is an audience for bits of everyone’s lives, you just have to find — or more likely stumble — across the right bit for you on any given day. And if you’re enjoying the read it’s likely to be because you can identify with the author in some way. So maybe I should be a bit less dismissive of those who appear to relish in pouring out the minutiae of every waking moment. I might not be the target but someone, somewhere will be.

I hope you’ve extracted some vicarious enjoyment from reading about me writing about writing about me. If it hasn’t irritated or bored you too much then please do consider perusing my other blogs, all of which are about something else. I promise.

P.S. If you are one of the aforementioned friends who blog, then don’t worry. I’ll keep reading your stuff too. I’m very loyal like that.