The death of the writer

2011-07-07 00:00

WHEN I was a child, I wanted to be a writer so that I could be immortal. I longed to be like William Shakespeare and make everything that I loved live on after my death through my words. There was a power to words. Maybe it was all in my head, but as a kid I truly believed that the pen was mightier than the sword.

Computers seemed to guarantee the immortality of writing by transferring it away from the easily tainted, torn or misplaced medium, paper. The Internet, however, has killed the significance of words in the same way that portable music devices and free podcast and music downloads have killed the radio. It has also decreased the life span of words from centuries to seconds, due to the fleeting nature of the medium and the myriad material available on the Internet.

Writing is no longer a precious commodity or art, and it does not seem to require much skill. Today, everyone believes they are a writer. From brain surgeons to store managers who were once street kids, they all believe that one day they will retire and publish their memoirs. Self-publish them if need be.

Or maybe start a blog.

A friend of mine who likes to be at the forefront of everything introduced me to the world of blogging when it was still considered a waste of time and was frowned upon by “real” writers and those who appreciated the way of the word. He believed that everyone had a story worth telling and that blogs let people tell them. At the time, the idea seemed like a shortcut to immortalising my life. I was Shakespeare. Nothing could hold me back except for the fact that I had one reader, my friend.

When I stopped posting new blog posts, my blog, and all of its words, was engulfed by the dark side of the Internet and entered the abyss for all abandoned blogs, old tweets and outdated content no longer making any appearances on Google.

In the past five years, the usage of blogs and such, as well as their readership, has increased rapidly and having a good online readership can strengthen, if not guarantee, your chances of being published by the same company that rejected your potentially award-winning novel before reading it.

It sounds easy: start a blog, get lots of people from around the world to read it and then get published and hopefully be good enough to become immortal. There’s just one problem: attracting a consistent flow of traffic to your blog is not easy. There are too many other blogs to compete with and too many Justin Biebers and Lady Gagas hogging all the limelight.

The appreciation for a well-written piece or book or poem is dying, while the popularity of all things mindless has increased. More people would choose to browse through Lamebook.com and similar websites than read through an entire story on dailymaverick.com. Is there any need for the writer?

The Internet swallows skill and mixes it among the masses, making it almost impossible to find. There’s no selection process, no rank system, no bureaucracy for us to hate. It’s the ultimate freedom, where the voice of the plebs is louder than the senate. It’s what we have always wanted. It sucks.

Who knows, maybe in a few years the Internet will succeed in killing Shakespeare.

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