It depends. I mean people have always wanted to sell books or magazines. But yeah now there are more complex metrics too, which people internalize or set as explicit goals. We all know the weird doggie treat feeling of likes and faves, as Hannah Black recently described it.
I like to read on a device because it’s pretty lightweight. However when it comes to really dense things like Derrida, I have to be able to make notes with a pen. No other interface has really substituted for that. But I have been reading online for a long time and I don’t mind it. I can read most scholarly texts or Twitter online. I love reading Twitter and it definitely changes my writing.
The problem here isn’t that the internet disallows concentration, it’s that its applications are specifically engineered to keep your attention. Facebook isn’t a driver of distraction, it is actually a driver of intense concentration—on Facebook. We haven’t tested this, but I assume that the traffic we see from Facebook is generally of lower duration, because people are likely to flip back over as soon as their next notification pings. So to some extent your question is correct, that our role becomes less to have our own online audience and more to engage with a segment of Facebook’s audience. Which is fine, although lately I think we angered them and we feel like we are being punished by the algorithm. So it takes some of the fun out of that job.
The interesting thing about interacting with audiences online is that you get data back and then tell yourself stories about that data. Like what I just said, it’s just a story. Another story is that it feels like our community likes it when we publish rigorous and meaningful texts even if they don’t read those texts. Which is also fine. At this moment in time, that is what writing for Facebook seems to manifest as: the longread. I wonder what else it can mean, how that might change if we started telling ourselves a different story about our engagement metrics.
Not necessarily. I mean, the internet has allowed much easier research access, and has allowed me to put my hands on truly obscure primary sources that would have been nearly impossible to source in the past. But I’ve used those sources for both online and print.
One funny thing is that I guess it feels like the collective awareness cited above makes it more likely that I’ll challenge myself to push further than other people would on research, to try and make a meaningful contribution to a topic. But it’s possible that this is the wrong lesson to draw, that the real goal is just to make a tiny contribution.
It’s hard to imagine a form of writing that won’t be uploaded. I think there are still different kinds of contexts online—spaces like Twitter, which are more about the accretion of small statements are different than spaces like Rhizome, where things feel more standalone and permanent right now. But I think the biggest change is the way that writing online has made me more aware of my place in an overall ecology of writing. It’s a humbling thing, which is potentially demotivating, but I have come to understand the writing process as having certain inherent virtues.
So I guess the internet has made me more aware of writing as a collective practice and more conscious of my role in a collective.