Is a blogger a writer, or a completely different animal?
I woke up a couple of mornings ago to discover that I may have been actively sabotaging my mental health by not posting on Facebook. This had me all worried (my last FB post was on Jan 21, 2016) till I realised the original post was by Facebook itself, and the cure which they quite earnestly recommended was to start being more active on Facebook.
Though I initially laughed it off as another of Facebook’s attempts to increase its readers’ engagement, I suddenly had an epiphany. I wasn’t on Facebook, but the mental health argument was absolutely applicable to me.
The thought was both horrifying and fascinating as I wondered what more I was going to discover about myself as I explored this line of thought. I mean I used to be a voracious reader of books but I don’t read so much anymore, except online. It’s like I’m done with reading what others have to say, and more concerned about saying something myself.
Not that I have anything important to say. These days, my chosen platform is Medium and what I churn out is mostly babble and techno-babble. The thing is if I go a week or so without writing, I start feeling restless. Like I wrote my last post on Medium around two weeks ago, then got busy at work, and have been feeling antsy lately about not writing.
That is what led me to the humbling conclusion that I’m not much different from the average social media addict. They may be stuck in a vicious circle of posting pictures of their breakfast or cat or whatever, getting ‘likes’ that gives them a dopamine kick, which in turn motivates them to post more stuff.
But so am I. Except that my kicks come from seeing the views, reads and claps for my posts on Medium. I can’t even take refuge under the excuse that I write as I’m being paid for it. Because I’m not, as I am based in India where Stripe has yet to launch.
If there is anything at all that differentiates me from the Facebook or Instagram poster showing off a new hairdo and counting the likes, it may be that I only write if I feel what I have to say will be of interest or value to someone. Or maybe that’s just me trying to salvage my bruised self-respect.
Anyway, once I admitted my similarities with a Facebook poster, I found myself intrigued by the idea. Had I just stumbled on a new species of writer that had evolved in the crucible of the internet? A type that lives and dies by their ‘views,’ unlike the writers of old who could and often did write without caring if anyone read what they wrote.
But then again, maybe I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. The Internet has given birth to not just one but many species of writers, who are as genetically dissimilar as dinosaurs and daisies. They may or may not be writing for the love of writing. Some may even be using their skills to manipulate their unsuspecting readers. Does this mean these last are not writers? I don’t like Hitler but he wrote Mein Kampf. Is he a writer? I don’t know.
Let’s look at some of these new species of online writers, and try to figure out who they are, what they write, and why. I must add that people have different tastes, and writing that appeals to me may not work for you. But I can only talk about what interests me.
Fakes news for profit: These guys are currently in the news. A good example is the now famous Macedonian teenagers who generated fake news during the US election. Here’s an interesting story about it. These kids are after the ad dollars that come with multiple views of their tall tales, and are clever enough to know what headlines will attract the maximum views.
The Experts: This is the original blogger. He is knowledgeable in some area, and builds a following based on it. Here’s an example, a 20 year old kid who writes about investment in Indian markets. Most of todays’ successful bloggers belong to this category. Writing skill may help in their success but is not critical, as their content is what brings in their followers.
The Crusaders:: They have taken up a cause and dedicate their energies to fight for it. These blogs can be quite compelling like Mosul Eye whose author literally put his life on the line to talk about life under ISIS in Mosul (though I suspect he would not take kindly to being labelled a crusader). It was only after Mosul was liberated recently that he revealed his identity.
The Curators: With billions of websites in the world, it’s easy to get a case of FOMO. That fear is what the curators take care of, as they trawl the net and filter out gems for us. I have been following this blogger off and on for donkey’s years. I guess this post of mine would come under the same category as I have linked interesting bloggers in it.
Visual Diaries: This group are exponents of the ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ principle. They complement their stories with interesting photos. Travelogues, photo journals and the like would come under this. Here’s an award-winning travel blog by an Indian lady who funds her travel lifestyle using the income from her blog.
Story Tellers: This group writes because he or she likes to write, and can tell a tale well. I’m not linking anything here. Like I said, people have different tastes… one man’s meat is another’s poison.
I’m sure there are many more types of this new of species of writers, but my objective is not to make an exhaustive list. What interests me is the skills that are needed to be a blogger or online writer today, and how different they are from traditional writers.
If we look at the above types of bloggers, it’s clear that a lot of them are very different from the writers of yore.
For instance, I have observed that once most of the above bloggers become successful, they put together a blogging team, hire professional designers and videographers to polish up their content, fill up their sites with tastefully designed ads for products that will appeal to the blog’s readers, and basically turn the blog into a business.
Nothing wrong with that as they got to live too.
But somehow all those ads makes the blog lose its charm for me. As an aside, I guess that’s why I gravitated towards Medium, which I think is trying to create a viable platform whose content and design are not dictated by the site’s corporate sponsors (advertisers). Good Luck with that!
Finally, where do I fit in?
Personally speaking, I have found that writing which appeals to me may not even require the author to have an excellent command of the language, or a fine turn of phrase, or a huge vocabulary, or even perfect grammar. But what he or she must have is an ability to tug at my emotions in some way, like this humorous short story on Medium.
I don’t know if this kind of writing is popular or wins awards or makes money for the writer. But what I do know is that it put a smile on my face, and in that sense, it enriches my life. I guess this is the kind of thing that I aspire to write.
If aspirations were horses, I would be riding. Sadly, I’m mostly falling off the horse at the moment. So I look for something easier to ride while trying to master horse-riding.
Somehow the tech related stories I write in Medium’s ‘Hacker Noon’ publication seem to touch a chord with readers. Which is a bit strange as I’m just a layman with no background in tech. But I have always been fascinated by tech and gadgets (just ordered a JBL bluetooth headset yesterday). I guess that shows in my writing, and people relate to it.
Is my writing tech stories a cop out?
I don’t think so. Let me see if I can clarify my line of thinking with the help of an analogy. I love sports, but have always had poor eye-hand coordination and am a disaster at any game I’ve tried my hand at. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. Just this morning, I got thrashed 0–6, 2–6 in a tennis match. But all that losing exasperated me so much that I took up running while I was in college. Running is nowhere as much fun as playing a game. But it doesn’t require much skill, especially long distance running which is mostly about training and building up stamina. That I could do, and by the time I got my degree, I was a top runner at my University.
I see running as the equivalent of my tech blogs, while my attempts to master tennis represent the writing style that I wish to excel at. The fact that I may never ever excel in tennis or writing is irrelevant.
As the old saying goes, it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.