What is the point of writing and talking on the internet?
How Nonlinear Action makes change
Every year I get to this question- "What is the point and purpose of writing online?" This year, though, with the Musky Husky buying Twitter, and the collapse of meaning I see in the community I live it, the question feels more relevant this year than ever before.
Usually, I brush off my concerns as burnout or something, but I am legitimately struggling this year with this question. I don't have an easy or even a flippant answer right now. The closest answer I have at the moment is stubbornness-- that I don't want to give up and give in to the postmodern nihilism devouring the world.
Don't misunderstand me. I haven't lost hope. I have not succumb to the rampant nihilism stalking our world. I just cannot see what, if anything, I can do to make anything better right now.
Headlines and Shallow Takes
I've worked online for over 15 years and in that time I have watched as the nature of the comments changed. I get far fewer discussions about the topics at hand and more comments that take what I had to say out of context simply to support their own preconceived notions.
So many presume the points I am going to make and comment in support or condemnation of thoughts I don't share, but they assumed I have based on a title or the first minute of video or audio. Honestly, it is tiring.
I know the job. While I do my best to avoid clickbait titles, titles need to be punchy, provocative, and interesting enough to encourage people to click into the article, video, or podcast. The problem is, so many see the title as the summary of the content and act accordingly.
Wow, I just sighed so hard I lost my train of thought.
The Attention Economy
Those familiar with me won't be surprised when I say that the problem here is capitalism and how it has turned everything into a marketplace where everyone is desperate to gain currency and build up as much capital as one can acquire. The bigger issue is that social media has changed the currency of the marketplace from Social Capital (charisma, rhetoric, and community building) to Attention Capital (number of likes, clicks, and engagement).
Attention is a terrible metric and engagement is even worse. They have nothing to do with quality and are both very easy to gamify and trick. A good clickbait title and properly inflammatory content will harvest the clicks and engagement from the market with no need to put in any effort or work on the part of the content creator.
Content is Hard
Anything that we care about and invest our actual time and energy in drains us of our energy and creativity. These are wells that need to be refilled to keep the engine running. And if the well isn't bubbling with fresh water, it's almost certainly running dry. And that's where our energy really needs to be directed. The problem is that the algorithms only care about engagement and the quantity of content you can pour into them. They punish breaks and any attempt to refuel.
It is difficult to operate on the internet making things you love without a background radiation from the analytics, how did the last bit of content go over? How do you make the next better? How do you satisfy an audience that is alienated from you by a wall of engagement that gives you no valuable metrics?
Naive Nonlinear Action
The only answer I have seen that comes close to an answer is from the metamodern construct Hanzi Freinacht, who encourages us to adopt a practical naiveté about the work we are doing an adopt a non-linear system to operate in.
"The simplest definition of a non-linear system is that the output (outcome) is disproportional to the input (the effort made) (Hanzi Freinacht, .The Listening Society p. 145)."
What that means is that we have to accept the essentially chaotic nature of the world and life and that every action does not necessarily lead to desired or predictable outcome, and the amount of effort put into the system is not proportional to the output that comes out.
"Non-linear thinking often befuddles us; it just seems counter-intuitive. But our intuitions betray us. Without noticing it, we continuously and repeatedly squeeze non-linear phenomena into linear models that our minds are more comfortable with—a kind of analytical violence stemming from the crudeness and developmental simplicity of our minds (Hanzi Freinacht, The Listening Society, p. 146)."
In other words, we force a narrative on events that are truly random because our minds reject the concept of randomness.
This does not mean that there is no cause and effect, but that we often force unrelated and chaotic elements into our understanding that we then try to control when they are not controllable.
For that reason, we cultivate a practical naiveté where we pretend that we will achieve our goals and do good faith work to move forward.
"Metamodern activists relentlessly make naive efforts to do great things, things that are unlikely to occur at each attempt, but almost certain to occur in the long run, somewhere, somehow. This may feel a little bit pathetic and embarrassing at times. But it is a simple fact that the play-it-safes, in their villas, are not going to change the world. People who make repeated efforts at great things, working with good roadmaps, will (Hanzi Freinacht, The Listening Society pp. 146-147)."
Because we practically accept the chaotic nature of the world and naively pursue our goals, we both embrace the chaos and plan a workable roadmap forward.
A Nonlinear Roadmap
There are times when we need to plan out a linear path in order to get something done, but we always know that the effort we are putting into it will have chaotic and unpredictable outcomes on the other side.
More than anything else, though, what I am taking away from all of this, is that I need to not feel like I always have to start at the beginning. Sometimes the best actions to take is the chaotic one that jumps to the step you want to be on without taking all the steps in between.
For example, most of the fandoms I am in are burning down from reactionary mobs of people spitting foul poison into the water to score points in a fictitious game that they made up themselves. I don't need to make rebuttals or to even acknowledge their issues. I can just jump in and start where I want.
I don't have to reply or comment on homophobia or transphobia if I don't want to, I can just push forward with a practical naïveté to put forward the ideas and stories I want.
This might sound like something obvious, but it isn't. It is hard not to respond to all of the lies and falsehoods that are out their in the world. So many things are said and done that I just want to shout about constantly. Fortunately, other people are doing that.
Instead of reacting to the racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia in Star Wars fandom, I can celebrate the diversity that has entered the franchise and elaborate on the stories I am interested in.
Nonlinear action does not absolve us of our responsibility, it frees us to take positive actions that are not mired in the muck reactionaries shovel on the path to prevent progress.
That is what I am doing with Project Shadow.com and my various podcasts. I am going to talk about what I want and share my stories there. I chose to build all of this on Substack because their tools are geared toward building community and not chasing likes and engagement.
Yes, most of my characters are nonbinary or queer, because those are the stories I want to see and read, and those are the stories I long to tell.
This is the year I release a lot of fiction. I hope you come along for the journey.