I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about the evolving nature of the internet and how that relates to writers and writing. Here are a few guidelines I think make a lot of sense for writers. I am sure someone somewhere has already codified all of this, but it’s important to me to state it for myself, and to remember how I want to strive to conduct my own communications.
(1) Choose your level of involvement with the internet, and stick to it. If you want minimal involvement, create a static website about your book or other creative endeavor. If you want medium-level involvement do a blog. If you want more, do more. But decide upfront what your approach will be, how much time you can spend, and whether you can actually follow through or not. As in any area of life, you will be judged by what you do, not what you say you’re going to do. The disconnect between words and actions will determine how much integrity you have in other people’s eyes.
(2) Make sure that the difference between who you are on the blogosphere and who you are in real life is minimal. While I can see the point of creating an online persona for distancing purposes–you want to have some personal space of your own–there are dangers in being too unlike your real self. One danger is you begin to believe your online persona is your real persona, and usually your online persona is going to be less complex than you as a human being. Another is the disconnect that occurs when people meet you in the flesh for the first time. (Other dangers are specific to the particular creative person.) Some difference is inevitable because people are often different in their writing, of course, but consciously thinking about this issue is important.
(3) Control any passive-aggressive tendencies. One useful thing about the internet is that it doesn’t support passive-aggressive approaches to communication. It tends to reward honesty and directness. While this means it can also discourage subtlety or nuance, in general I think this is a good thing. Passive aggressive approaches to communication are usually not constructive and do not support fundamental ideas of transparency.
(4) Only link to things that you think are worth promoting. Let’s take book reviews as an example. The fact is, anyone can post a book review on their blog. Linking to every single one of them lends legitimacy to much that’s little more than a public diary of stray thoughts. If a blog has a technorati rating of 2 and that blogger trashes your novel The Living Spleen of Prudence Boulevard, you’re under no obligation to post about it. If you’ve got a technorati rating of 400 and you do that, all you are doing is strengthening the enemy, so to speak. (If you’re publishing a book you don’t believe in 100 percent, I can’t help you here.) The hard lesson to learn is that just because something related to your work pops up on the blogosphere does not mean it should be linked to. Of course, if there’s something in a negative review that you find interesting and want to blog about–other than saying “this guy sucks”–that’s different.
(5) Contribute to the accuracy of the internet. Under the rules of the new transparency, pointing out errors of fact related to your work or your books is perfectly okay in my opinion. The internet is a lovely place but it is also easier, because of the immediate nature of the medium, to post something that contains inaccuracies. Making the internet a more accurate place is a positive thing. Correcting errors of fact is also a proactive way of protecting your reputation.
(5) Be helpful to others and contribute to the unimpeded flow of information across the internet. Now more than ever paying it forward is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Information itself is no longer important in such a mega-world–it’s how you leverage that information. There is also nothing new that will not, within days sometimes, become old. Building connectivity is much more important. Within five years, this will become increasingly obvious. Take, for example, the idea of “genre gatekeepers”. Right now, they are dams across a river (the word “dam” is not used here with any positive or pejorative weight). Soon, they will be rocks around which the river flows. The ones who recognize this new paradigm will adapt and continue to be valuable both as mentors and as resources. Those who don’t will simply control smaller and smaller islands in that river. Eventually, no one will remember who they are or why they were once important.
(6) Understand the negative aspects of the internet and manage your behavior accordingly. Negative aspects of the internet and our electronic lives include: being trained in Pavlovian fashion to check our email every five seconds, having our Instant Messenger up 24-7, and writing on laptops where we can be interrupted at any moment. Some of these aspects of (post)modern life affect our attention span. Others turn perfectly viable tactics into an unsupportable and detrimental overall strategy. In all things, balance is required. As a writer, I feel the greatest dangers of the internet are (1) equating the constant appearance of new information and new correspondence with a requirement to immediately reply/be instantly available and (2) the constant, daily loss of uninterrupted time not only to write but to think about writing. Many writers and others who depend on the internet find themselves controlled by their involvement with the electronic world, without even realizing it. They still think they are in charge, but they are not: their tactics have become their strategy. If this addiction were an addiction to, for example, alcohol, the results would be obvious and the reaction of friends and society corrective. But when it comes to the internet, we’re nearly all addicted, and we receive so much instant gratification without understanding or monitoring the attendant dangers that we often do not even realize what we may have lost.