On Talking (and Trolling) to Ourselves
Why, technically speaking, I’m not technically speaking
There’s a scene in Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail immediately following the rousing “Knights of the Round Table,” (AKA “Spamalot”) in which King Arthur turns to his loyal company and says “on second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.”
That’s kind of how I feel about Medium right now.
Cutting through the 140-character cacophony on Twitter, I hear the same refrain: People are sick of ill-informed “journalism” on Medium, often written by people in tech, about tech, for other people in tech. Because the worst of it is boring, hateful, troll-riffic, straight-up total bullshit.
Lest you misunderstand: I’m a fan of Medium. I earned my posting privileges by answering, via email, a call for submissions on a particular topic. I got fantastic support and feedback from the editor I worked with. I am proud of the writing I’ve done here. I attract more readers than I ever did on my own hosted blog. I enjoy writing for the site and I love when someone reads, recommends, or provides genuinely thoughtful commentary on the work I have done.
But the thing is, I don’t write about tech. Nor do I read about tech. Not here.
That’s not to say I don’t have an opinion on the subject. I most certainly do. I commute to Silicon Valley every day and have been doing so for nearly a decade. I have a hard time imagining a different career — outside of a fantasy one spent writing from a garret apartment in London or the banks of Lake Como or some quaint remodeled farmhouse in upstate New York with a cavernous barn I rent at a reasonable rate to an up-and-coming installation artist whose controversial work belies his calm, introspective disposition and penchant for making delicious elderberry jam. His name is Vaughn, probably.
Where was I? Oh yeah: I don’t want to read or write about tech on Medium. There’s plenty of engaging tech discourse out there already. I can find it without even trying. (Often, without even wanting to.) It’s not as easy to find an article about the history and cultural significance of rosemary. Or a thoughtful little piece about why commencement speeches hit us, like, right here.
Allow me to introduce, then uncomfortably belabor, a crude metaphor for why I avoid all things tech on Medium: The tech community has consistently demonstrated a worrisome lack of ability to realize when it has climbed too far up its own ass. It’s dark in there and it contains nothing meaningful to help us make our work — in and out of tech — more interesting, more groundbreaking, and better informed by the big, beautiful, complex world that’s just on the other side of our LED-backlit displays.
I’m not going to whine the tired neo-Luddite line “Why can’t we just expeeeerience things? Why do we have to doooocument everything diiiiiigitally?” Document away! One of the joys of the Internet is that one man’s selfie is another’s revelation. New and exciting ideas await us beyond every click and tap. But you know what’s not new and exciting? “10 Reasons Your Startup Needs A Sleep Doula” or “What Game Developers Can Learn from Artisanal Barrel-Making*” or “Everything You Love Sucks and I Should Know, I’m a 30-year-old Tech CEO.”
*I know it’s called “coopering.” I was just testing you.
We must be careful not to mistake experience for expertise. And in the current tech climate — with an 80% chance of money falling out of the sky into any bucket with BAD IDEA written all over it — success and talent need not be well acquainted. Indeed, judging by the most unpopular tech-scented pieces on Medium, it seems as though talent wrapped up a rough day at the office, went out, got drunk, and had a one-night stand with success, who, okay, is kind of attractive but is really an utter douchehammer.
I can’t speak to how Medium’s editorial curation process works. For my part, I have benefitted from it — because I feel my writing was judged on its merits, not on what my business card says. I am a person of nearly no renown, and Medium doesn’t care. For this I am grateful. For this I am also cautious. It’s all very new, so I must be discerning about what I choose to consume and create. It’s challenging, and I wish it were easier, but I have no mind-blowing ideas about how to make it so.
For me, for now, the shorthand of self-curation means steering clear of tech pieces on Medium. They might be meh. They might be great. They might be a smiling pile of poo. They’re just not what I’m here for. I’m here to read and write my way to a better understanding of what occupies the space between what I do for a living and what I live for. And I’ll keep doing that for as long as you’ll listen.