We are Writing up a new age of Enlightenment Online
How soon we get there is up to us. And to what we choose to use the internet for.
Fairy tales about how writing online can change our life abound but most of them are sketchy and do not acknowledge that thinking out loud in print and in public isn’t the same as typing on the internet.
If editorial quality is in the eye of the reader, few of us agree on what it means; some like their internet to resemble daytime TV and produce Jerry Springeresque prose with Trumpian undertones, gunning for instant reactions by fanning the flames of outrage. Others prefer copy that digs deep into societal issues using the author’s own experience of being a human in the world to humanize some universal predicaments. For the latter, writing is a vehicle for discovery, reflection, and conversation.
The typists who produce clickbait, meanwhile, foment disagreement for engagement without offering any informative or educational value.
Because we only ever find out how whatever happened benefited them but never others.
We cannot, therefore, trust in work ethics and editorial standards to reward integrity and editorial efforts with success if we — the audience — or the algorithms do not value or promote such things. Yes, this can be disheartening and no, this is not permanent, just an open-ended transition period we need to go through until we get to the other side, the one where words matter again.
Although choosing not to embrace the zeitgeist of sensationalism and lurid headlines may limit our reach, what it lacks in numbers it unfailingly makes up for in quality, engagement, and cerebral stimulation. As a result, we are encouraged to think better, which also improves our writing and impacts how we present ourselves to the world. Word by word, we become more articulate, more self-confident, and more curious.
While those improvements cannot be quantified in dollars, they last a lifetime and lead to innumerable intangible life upgrades, like collaborations at all levels, from meeting your soulmate to creating a business. Writing is an excavation of the self, and the better we know ourselves, the better equipped we are to get to know and understand others.
When used with purpose, words are connectors that build bridges between people instead of fortresses to protect outsize egos.
The internet is the hive mind that can make a better society happen if we unite in pushing back against the diktat of greed that keeps churning out overwrought pathos for clicks and bucks. But until thinking out loud in print gains critical mass, we have to accept it will take a while for our intellectual labor to yield results, be they financial or otherwise.
For now, we are sowing the seeds for a new ecosystem instead of depleting the current one for our own personal gain. Trust that the present we are writing up now will be the future; greed will eventually become obsolete when it realizes it may have amassed financial wealth but credibility, respect, or usefulness remain beyond its reach.
We are laying down the blueprints for a better humanity by gently waking one another up from egocentric darkness. And the sooner we do, the better for everyone; we are learning how to be better, together. When we approach writing as service, we break down barriers, torpedo taboos, and slay stigma but doing so takes time and it is a team effort. If bringing us together is what the internet excels at, it only happens when we share our personal narratives with integrity, humility, and most of all accountability.
Peddling shockers to line our pockets with the proceeds of sensationalism by parlaying outrage, shock, or disgust into cash as we settle old scores is a zero-sum game, no matter how much it pays: it offers no societal value so it achieves nothing beyond temporary personal enrichment.
Surprisingly perhaps in such an individualistic culture as ours, it is by putting others first that we lead change. Those who get to carry the torch have first dibs on what the future looks like and that is priceless: This is how writing online can change our lives, from journalism to social media.
We get to shape the world we want to live in through the strength of our words.
Think about it, isn’t this extraordinary?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.