When blogs came along in the mid-nineties, I tried my best to run alongside the big dogs who now get paid to write article length work. Didn’t go so well, but hey, there’s generally only so much room at the top for the best in any discipline. In my opinion, the journey is overrated. We all want to arrive.
I remember the advent of citizen journalism well. It was a great time to be a scribbler-cum-typist even if you were barely known. Gather round, kiddies, grandpa is going to tell a familiar story.
The digital environment in which blogs thrived in was so unique. We came to call the place where we all lived and worked in the “blogosphere”. And like in the real sphere, it had currency, and the currency of the blogosphere was the link. Writers who respected others’ work would mutually link their websites on a “blogroll” that usually sat on the right margin of the blog so you could go check the kindred spirits of your favorite diarists. You could open your blog to comments, but unless you were a big dog you never really developed enough of a community where the commenters know each other and the blog was like a hang-out spot. It got to be that it was easier (and wiser) to read the blogs than the papers to get your news.
And who could forget the trolls? Did you feed some even though you were told not to? I sure did.
Now, how did you become a big dog with a community? You either had enormous tenacity and natural talent that couldn’t be ignored, or you were part of message board and newsgroup culture (which even I am not old enough to understand) and you made the jump from black and white to color so to speak and all your commenters came with you.
The big dogs started to get paid for their work once the media market realized that the internet was the battlefield where print news was going to die. Big outlets were very excited to co-opt some of those online communities in hopes of finding ad-scanning electric eyeballs. The solution for them, naturally, was to hire the curators. The updraft of the big bloggers collapsed the blogosphere, who took their links and audience with them- and I am sad to say that the little dogs were unable to fill the vacuum. For a little while, online magazines like the Huffington Post kept blogging and the feel of a blog community going for a few years, but in time it changed its system to something much less accessible and personal blogging as a “social medium” finally died, and while it still exists (I’m here writing the same dreck after nearly 20 years) it is moribund and has been supplanted by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and a shit ton of other online universes I can’t name where people gather. Because EVERYONE, including your momma, is on the internet now. YMMV.
You hear me, whelps? ‘Cause I am not gonna say anything about the old days anymore. You have my word.
Anyway, somehow I drifted onto Facebook like every other humanoid with a PC and a modem, and made a home there, with a couple hundred “friends” and acquaintances who saw my words. Your blog heroes, published and not, made that jump too. And today, as yesterday, news conglomerates are now in competition with your eyeballs again, for better or worse. Again, I tried to get my writing noticed, just as I did in the past by sharing to Facebook when I would write in the hopes that people would pass me around, but I was met with little success just as before. I just don’t have the juice, I guess. An old acquaintance used to chide me that I don’t cut it, and perhaps he has been right. I could only take an under the table gig anyway as a retiree. But I still wanted the attention, the link, the comment, the currency. Hell, some scientists think that online pats on the back serve as a reward, inducing you to come back so your brain releases happy juice throughout your neural network. It’s gratifying…there’s no question about that.
OK. Enough. Let me change tacks a little for a minute from recounting the banal history of writing on the internet, and I will return to the subject of social media and then class is dismissed.
I am probably not exaggerating that the election of Donald Trump to the office of president will be the singular event that defines my life. And that’s saying something, since I lived through the first African-American presidency and the destruction of the Twin Towers and all the resultant horrors that unleashed. I’ll try to explain why.
I have been a student of politics for as long as I can remember. I was always a precocious little fucker when it came to politics. I knew who John Anderson was at eight. I couldn’t tell you shit about what he stood for, but I was strangely aware of the 1980 election. At 12, I got to go to Washington DC for the first time with a nifty school program called “Close-Up” (still extant and highly recommended) after writing for my political science teacher what I guess looked like a precocious thing for a 12 year old to write about the politics of the day (couldn’t remember it if I tried, sorry). We toured the major sights, sat in on a congressional subcommittee meeting, walked through the Rayburn Building, and attended no shortage of symposiums, including several about the possible foundation of a unified Europe and the eventual introduction of a new currency which should have been more important to me than it was-but things European had a tendency to make me sleepy. They would later do that to me in my freshman year of college, helping to disabuse myself of the notion that I wanted to be a history teacher. Even today I go glassy-eyed trying to understand Europe. Plenty going on here at home for me to keep up with Brexit, frankly.
Anyway, I cast my first vote in 1992 for Ross Perot, because I bought that yarn from Reagan that government was broken and that a businessman was the answer to America’s ills. It was a gross misreading of actual political realities but shit folks, I was only twenty. I couldn’t decide whether to go left or right or whether or not that hole in the ground over there was my ass. I was a young, straight, white male at a time when the notion of “privilege” was only discussed behind the doors of college if you were interested in social science. No idea about intersectionality, feminism, black critical theory, gay rights, poverty, none of it. And I still fucking lived at home. The fact was that real politics, the frenetic business of managing human interaction, did not necessarily affect me. It would not do so until 2001, while I was wearing Army green. I was taking a class about facilitating discussions and we were suddenly told to turn on the TV in the room. I watched the second plane hit the second building live, and I was like, welp, that’s it, I’m going to goddamn war. Oh, shit. The question was: where?
That question was answered with our swift invasion of Afghanistan when the government wouldn’t give up Osama Bin Laden, the man purportedly behind the attacks who was under the shelter of the radical Islamic Taliban running that country. Yep. An entire country rent apart just to get one dude-nothing more American than that, some Pancho Villa shit there. The dead on 9/11 turned George W. Bush from a dunce into a hero, avenging the collective agony that I think we all experienced from being attacked so violently so closely. It had a profound psychological impact that few escaped from; people who questioned what we did in the wake of the attack were branded unpatriotic. It was the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century and massive power was given to the presidency to prosecute the perpetrators of the crime, which they soundly abused by then invading Iraq under false pretenses, shredding habeas corpus, destroying the right to privacy, racking up war crimes and teaching a generation of Americans that torturing prisoners of war was OK, if not necessary. I did not go to Afghanistan, and so I spent two relatively stress free years from deployment during which I got a fiancee pregnant and we married. When I left her in February 2003, I was a true believer in our vengeance. I even bought Dick Cheney’s trash about liberation.
Even back then, getting the Internet set up was one of the first things that needed doing wherever we selected a spot to set up our hospital, because the commander was certainly not to be without her Yahoo! Chat. I was fortunate enough to blog a good portion of the trip, thanks to earning myself an unsupervised solo job acquiring pharmaceuticals and being good enough at at it to be left alone. There again, that writing is permanently lost. I may not have had a choice, since I chose a platform (Blog City…really, young me???) that shuttered its doors once blogging stopped being profitable. I even checked The Wayback Machine and the domain is for sale. I wish I had kept my paper trail over the course of my life, to observe my evolution and have a few laughs. I’ve probably written enough to fill two books easily.
So anyway, I wasn’t doing any actual battling on deployment. Oh no, I was at war with random strangers. For the first six months of the trip, I mercilessly struck at people who didn’t understand the War On Terror, or the American way of life. It would take a move to Baghdad and the counsel of educated superiors to get me to realize what we had done. The British white papers that kept Iraq stable but weak had been undermined, and the Baathists who kept the whole schmear under Saddam Hussein in check disappeared and reappeared as armed fighters against our occupation when we outlawed their party and disassembled the national army- two colossal neo-colonial blunders for the ages, halfbaked ideas hatched by a clutch of wet-behind-the-ears Federalist Society “diplomats” (if memory serves) who couldn’t have gotten the situation on the ground more wrong. The Kurdish minority, long denied statehood by the Ottoman Empire and Western powers, went on the offensive for their chance at autonomy. Civil war broke loose and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in the fighting, and a generation of American fighters came home maimed, insane, or in flag draped boxes.