The Drive for Recognition in the Internet Age
It’s not a Sunday morning drive, looking at fields and falling leaves. It’s more of a speedway demolition derby; and, at the end of the day, everyone surveys the landscape looking for the victorious and panning the vanquished. It’s more a primal battle for superiority where what’s at stake is self-esteem and legitimacy, a raison d'être for your ambivalent soul. It pervades every profession and avocation. Politician, artisan, student and writer. The prize, nothing short of eternity. A place in the history books. A seat on the throne.
Well, if you haven’t felt that way about it, you’re still invited to read on. I’d like to focus this short essay on what I perceive to be a universal need for recognition, especailly exemplified in writing. After all, that’s what most of us do when we post to the Internet. Whether it’s the story of your day, or your latest magnum opus (“this is one of my better works, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one!”) The Internet has come along to fan the flames of eternal recognition. The ante’s up, and the profit (in ‘recognition’ terms) can be so much greater. The blog hits so much higher. The reach so much wider. Here’s a chance, with a little networking and a lot of staying power, to get your word out. Here’s an opportunity, in the quiet of your study, to infiltrate millions of minds with what only you can say. And say it best. Don’t mind the dilution factor. We’ve always been up against numbers. Still, the loudest voice will be heard. The most strident call, the most urgent cautionary tale and doomsday prediction mandating the greatest attention. So get to work. You’ve got a few good years left, and there’s nothing better than instant gratification.
Or not. Do you buy into these premises? Probably not, but millions do ( I can't really say that with certitude, knowing that this little essay will reach only hundreds, mew hah hah). Freud, not one of my favorite founding fathers of psychology, did however say something, somewhere, that’s always stuck in my craw. He said, “Maturity is the ability to defer self-gratification.” If this is true, which I think it might be, then, on the Internet, we have a hundred million immature internet avatars looking for new and improved ways of fulfilling their lust for self-recognition. Is this putting it too harshly? I think not, having experienced, like you, the thirty-second delay (on a good day) it takes to receive feedback on a poem or a piece of writing, courtesy of my community website or social networking group. And I’ve been on the self-deluding train to Recognition City many, many times. That nonstop transcontinental line that stops for nobody, and all the paying customers are served fine meals, and sit around watching the beautiful landscape pass by while they discuss mutual successes.
But what is recognition and how does the internet influence and affect it? First of all, the desire to be recognized for what we consider ourselves to possess, be it the ability to write, the sensitivity to be compassionate, the natural gifts of athletics… whatever it may be- is, of course, a very legitimate pursuit. Indeed, it's hard to imagine writing without the potential to be recognized in the back of your mind. What you write may be qualitative. Or it may be quantitative. It may be helpful. It may only be artful. It may be base, or it may be aesthetic. Still, we view it as something of a 'special' entity, something we’d like to share (that word!); and, yes, something for which we wouldn’t mind being recognized. For even the most altruistic, self-effacing and zen of writers, the desire to be read cannot be shrugged away (there may be a few existentialists left out there who can write in a vacuum and feel self-fulfilled, but these cannot be quantified, as they remain in dark places with no internet connectivity).
New and expanding opportunities of reaching people through the internet, coupled in negative fashion with an increasingly competitive and exclusive marketplace for print publications, has led writers to saturate the world wide web with their wares. Self-publications, blogs, ezines and other personalized vehicles for getting the word out have exploded onto the scene. And what is the net effect? What might this look like in the year 2080? Or, if you have trouble with that short a prognostication, how about in the year 4080? How will the participants in this Internet Age be judged many years from now? Will there be reference manuals for the great writers of the internet age (GWIA), or a data base for the most read poets on the world wide web from 2000-2080 (MRP-WWW)?
I think not. And the reason will be (you can quote me on this), that all the great writers were too busy writing, and thus unable (and unwilling) to spend the hours necessary to get the proper recognition they might have (or might not have) earned on the Internet. All the great writers continued to read and think and work on their craft, while all of us networking sluts continued to get our names and work out there on WWW, filling in the unfillable Intenet trash heap with more and more garbage. Perhaps the one great legacy will be monumental hard drive capacity records, groups of ‘authors’ who have collectively pounded out the greatest mound of spent hard discs in the annals of human history. Google, to the google power, of text, neatly filed away in the New Writers of the Internet Age (NWIA), housed in a special annex to the Library of Congress. However, you won’t be able to visit the stacks. But you can just log on and search NWIA. You might even find me there!