When I chose to embark on my new journey to successful writer-hood, I was aware from the outset that I would need to spend a substantial part of my days writing (yep, I’m not just a pretty face folks). What I didn’t realise, however, was that I would also need to spend an equally substantial part of my day engaged ‘socially’ on the internet.
You see these days success as a blogger (i.e. purveyor of modern wisdom) is measured, for better or for worse, by the number of ‘likes’, ‘+1s’, twitter followers and social shares you possess. Superficially, this is reasonable: if you write profound, entertaining prose that distils the complex issues and philosophical conundrums of our modern age, people should have no choice but to subscribe to your feed for their daily dose of wisdom purveyed. In practice, however, follower numbers seem to have very little to do with the quality of a site’s content (or maybe I’m just telling myself this because I only have two – hi Mum! hi Dad!). Seriously though, Justin Bieber has more online followers than Barak Obama, Bill Gates and CNN combined!
Unfortunately, terrific text and earth-shattering ideas are only part of the equation needed to attain a healthy following in this digital age. Evidently, it helps to be famous (note to self: buy a neurotic cat).
More importantly, though, you need to engage ‘socially’ (sensu lato) on the internet. That is, you need to blag about it. Or more exactly, you need to broadcast your persona and your message (or others’ messages if you have none of your own) further, faster, and more frequently than is humanly possible by sharing, tweeting, commenting, liking, plus one-ing and recommending stuff.
Now this kind of behaviour is anything but natural for me (hell, I only just upgraded to a smart phone six months ago). Like many of I you, I presume, I just don’t care that much about the minute details of anyone else’s life, nor about the fleeting thoughts in their heads. My life and my thoughts are strange enough to keep me occupied most days. However, I recently attended two seminars run at Oxford University on this theme by Marcus du Satuoy and David White, where I heard enough convincing arguments of the benefits of internet blagging to blogging, to sway my dubious stance on joining the tweeting generation.
As David White puts it, I have gone from being a digital visitor (who uses the web as a tool for achieving specific goals, like Googling or checking IMDB movie ratings), to a digital resident (who develops an online identity, participates in online culture, and views the web as a venue for conducting their social life).
And don’t be mistaken, the irony that a field biologist and travel writer would “reside” in a digital world in front of a computer has not escaped me.
So for the moment I enter into this digital stream of consciousness hesitantly, like a teetotaller walking into a pub where everyone is drinking heartily and chatting loudly. I hope that I’ll soon develop a taste for this crazy brew of mutual sharing. Maybe one day I’ll become a seasoned online barfly.
Perhaps I’ll even find that the tingly sensation of 1000’s of followers and subscribers is as addictive as an icy cold Gin & Tonic.
But, I seriously doubt it.