Paying for Free

What is the point of entertaining you if you only tell me when I’m doing it wrong?

I will point out up front that I’m very lucky in my audiences. Some of this is work on my part, since I have no problem being fiercely critical of the hypercritical. A lot of it, though, is having largely other bloggers as readers of my blogs, other fiction authors as readers for my stories. There are few things more grand than to have work appreciated by those who understand what went into it.

How other bloggers cope sometimes is beyond me, though. The onslaught of commenters telling people what they should be writing about, how they should write it, what they can and cannot say about it, how what they left out is far more important…well, you get the idea. And the people saying, “Thank you, I enjoyed reading that,” or, “I’m so glad you brought that to my attention,” are rare indeed. All the more precious for that, but rare.

There’s a group of entertainers I’ve hung out with over the years. They make much of the money for their work by passing the hat, which means they have to engage their audience. Even among them, there’s a saying: “The cost of your ticket does not include a speaking role.” It isn’t entirely true there, any more than it is in blogging, but it’s worth remembering for anyone wanting to continue to be part of these audiences.

What is the point of writing anything if I’m brilliant only until I challenge you, when I become insane/dishonest/evil?

I wrote a little riff on this recently, but what the hell is up with all the people in the atheist/skeptic/rationalist blogosphere who suddenly think they can read minds? Doesn’t it make any of them suspicious that the only minds they can read are those of people who disagree with them, or that the mind-reading consistently reveals depths of depravity hitherto unsuspected?

Despite my continued interaction with the frustrations of social media, I’m truly unlikely to suddenly go around the bend. If you appreciated my ability to reason about topics on which we agreed, it might be worth a little work to follow along with an open mind when you think we don’t. If you appreciated my insight on topics you understood, it might be worth asking me questions to unpack the statements you don’t understand–and listening to the answers. If I have written things that have helped you in the past, is it not worth it to you to help me communicate with you now?

And if it isn’t, what is it worth for me to continue to keep you in mind as I write?

The best free entertainment/enlightenment comes from people who can do many things. Do you pay enough to keep them doing what you like?

Specialization keeps our industrialized world running, but it’s hard to beat a generalist for communication. Silos and jargon don’t make for good conversation. We can come across fifteen different analogies before finding the one that fits our experience well enough to make an explanation click. We can read the story set in fifteen different cultures, with fifteen different themes emphasized, before we find the one that resonates with us. We need and want these connections to be made.

Ironically, that means the person who is entertaining you today doesn’t need to be doing it again tomorrow. Sure, they probably have some kind of creative itch that needs scratching or social responsibility that needs appeasing, but they have options. I could go write one of the many books that would really like my attention. I could go apply my talents for the many nonprofits that share my values. I don’t need to blog. None of the people who write well-received blogs need to, so why should anyone keep it up?

I think this is one of the things we sometimes forget as we get comfortable with our free-content culture. We get entitled. Oh, do we get entitled. This content, this blog (this forum) is available to us, just like the things we’ve always paid for, so it must be ours.

Except we didn’t pay for it, and it isn’t ours. We’ve loaded a page and let a few words in. The price of that ticket doesn’t pay for a speaking role, and we should expect to be treated with little more respect than a heckler–or that person who wants you to work for nothing, just for them–if we act as though it does.

It isn’t as though bloggers are charging exorbitant rates. A full reading of the post, a second glance to make sure the thing that pissed you off was actually what was said, addressing the meat of the post before wandering down tangents, the occasional compliment or link sent to your friends who would appreciate it, the simple acknowledgment that the blogger has done some honest work. None of those are a high cost for what we’re being provided for free these days, and they’re the kind of pay that matters to someone who is already doing it for the love.

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7 Responses to “Paying for Free”

  1. March 15th, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Adamo says:

    There’s something about the internet that divorces individuals from the reactions to their usage, real time. First, it’s easy to find those who agree with you, regardless of how socially unacceptable that may be. Second, we don’t get the reactions from the large group who might recoil in disgust because we never connect with them except via typed words. No intonations, no body language, and thus no reality check. If one hasn’t internalized that parent watching over your shoulder and scolding misbehavior, it’s like giving some people license to try and do anything, apparently consequence free. In their own little internet world, there’s only one human who counts, the one in the room at the keyboard. With the illusion of a like group surrounding them, and thinking they have complete anonymity, nothing is off limits.

    Delete buttons are handy, at least for the words. And Steph, please keep doing it for the love.

  2. March 15th, 2010 at 10:13 am

    D. C. Sessions says:

    Despite my continued interaction with the frustrations of social media, I’m truly unlikely to suddenly go around the bend.

    Pity that — insanity can be so … liberating.

    Oh, well. We love you despite your limitations.

  3. March 15th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Jason Thibeault says:

    I have, in the past, especially after protracted battles with specific evangelicals, taken to reading more into what they write than the face value of what they’ve written. You’ve hit the nail on the head there. I’ve been to that precipice, and it’s taken better people than myself to drag me back away.

    That I’ve been away from blog-drama for a bit gives me fresh eyes. I hope I can use them to spot these exact issues in myself the next time they crop up, before they make it into comments with my byline.

  4. March 15th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Yannis Guerra says:

    You have clearly not read this
    http://xkcd.com/386/
    Therefore you are wrong. Therefore you are evil. Therefore you should be shamed into oblivion, as you have voiced an opinion that differs from mine.
    QED (obv!)

    Ahh…i would be a terrible troll. I can’t do it…

    So I will compliment your article. Well done! Sadly the people that would need it will not read it (TL;DR as they would say)
    The thing is the internet let people say what in real life they have to internalize, because you know…you don’t know me, and you can’t punch me in the face. So na na na!

    But please continue writing. Some of us enjoy it.
    Even though we are to lazy to comment about that.
    And we leave our effort in the middle of doin

  5. March 16th, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Paul S. says:

    Some people have difficulty separating criticism of opinions from denial of their worth as a person. These are people who either get excessively emotional in face-to-face arguments or avoid them entirely because they know that a serious argument will be emotionally painful for them or others or both. The internet opens a whole new avenue for debating or just plain arguing, one where a person doesn’t have to worry about seriously offending people whom they actually know face-to-face. This is often attractive to people who just like to bully and offend others, but it also snares some people who have a hard time separating debates about the value of their arguments from debates about their value as a person.

    The shorter version: I think that some people do it just to be jerks, others do it because they have emotional difficulties that lead them to confuse disagreement on issues with insult. I’m in the second group, myself. The only cure I’ve found so far is to just avoid things that really hit on a personal level, or at least to try and look at what the person online wrote and my own reaction from a more dispassionate viewpoint, which is not an easy thing.

  6. March 16th, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Paul, that’s an excellent point, and a very hard thing to do sometimes, as I know all too well. Kudos to you for working at it.

    Yannis, what’s really funny is that I don’t even need to follow that link. That’s a url I have memorized. And thanks for commenting.

    Jason, for what it’s worth, when you’re not in one of those protracted battles, you’re one of the more rewarding commenters I’ve seen.

    D. C., I did have “Angie Baby” lyrics running through my head the day I wrote this. Of course, since we’d been playing Batman: Arkham Asylum the night before, the lyrics were running, “It’s so nice to be insane. No one asks you to explain, Harley baby.”

    Adamo, if I quit doing this, it won’t be because I don’t love it anymore. It will be because something else I love has demanded the time that this takes. And it does take time.

  7. March 16th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Adamo says:

    If something else you love takes you away from this, it must be a powerful love indeed. While I’d personally miss this, as long as it’s for love, it can’t be all bad. Just be lucky enough to make your choices for love. That’s all I’d really ask.

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