So you want to be famous and you want to be rich, or as close as possible to what you perceive rich to be?
On the internet, whatever you want, you can have.
The pandemic has exposed infinite growth as a sham and predatory capitalism as inhumane but don’t worry about it. It’s not happening to you, you think out loud in print for a living, you have the privilege of playing with words and getting paid for it.
Of course writing is work and intellectual labor is labor too and you’re entitled to compensation, at least according to hustle culture and those whose stock-in-trade is to sell illusions.
Up close, hustle culture is often organized in a shape much beloved of Egyptian pharaohs and Swiss chocolatiers alike. No need to go looking, the hustle always finds you and your email address. The more palpable your desperation, the likelier you are to get swindled.
How many of us online have been sucked into innumerable schemes and scams promising to pull us out of precariousness provided we paid up, kept the faith, and put in the work?
If there’s one thing desperate word wranglers can usually rely on, it’s your work ethics. No tricks, no tech stack, just good old-fashioned elbow grease. You don’t have a desk either but you have the determination to make up for whatever you currently lack. So you dive in, only coming up for air whenever a story has been told, although seldom in its entirety.
The story is always life and you’re still living it, be it only from the other side of a screen, rebooting it by writing about it, looking behind and beyond things.
That ‘beyond’ is where your tireless enthusiasm comes from: Dreams keep you writing, especially when greater ease is only ever one story away. The more bets you place, the greater the odds in the online casino. Or at least that’s what everyone on the internet tells you, from people to platforms via pundits who have a vested interest in you drinking the Kool-Aid they make.
What if the system is designed to cater to the lowest common denominator with rewards doled out haphazardly to keep you on your toes, thus optimizing how much you can produce until you, too, break down?
When content is as disposable as it has become now, so are those who produce it, no one cares about what words mean anymore, only how many you can fill up the internet with daily.
Does that make you Hemingway, a content mill gig worker, or the Chief Enthusiasm Officer of your own comms skunkworks?
Real marketers are as aggrieved as writers (the literary people), philosophers (the living ones), and journalists (the scrupulous ones).
Those professions are some of the many whose expertise has been impersonated, misused, and left for dead by people playing make-believe with Instagram quotes, six degrees of Kevin Bacon news sources, and the dictionary. When Alex Jones becomes the definition of ‘honest’, it breaks language, but not for everyone.
Profiteers follow suit and attempt to cash in on a trend, co-opting vulnerability and authenticity alongside honesty. If you’re going to plunder our shared humanness, you might as well help yourself to everything that makes us human. And so dystopia constructs empires of deceit run by personas posing as bona fide people to whom, curiously, every buzzword applies.
It’s not about being honest, it’s about being what pays, as loudly as possible.
If your livelihood depends on words matching their dictionary definition, you’re screwed. So let go of the illusion you have any control over the zeitgeist because you do not, not in the age of cancel culture.
The only thing you’re in charge of is to either service this monsterhood of greed or build beyond it. This is between you and your conscience, you and your stomach, you and your bank account.
Given the amount of digital wannapreneurs still quoting Napoleon Hill — aka the original self-help con artist — beyond greed isn’t the popular way to go. Instead, gullibility remains the preferred stock-in-trade of those who turn deceit into assorted digital goods.
Daring to point this out or think out loud in print seems to have become counter-culture now rather than the norm. If you do, you’re either a staffer somewhere or a freelancer who enjoys writing at windmills, on the off chance your words might land somewhere they can grow.
And, ideally, feed you.
If spiritual poverty and greed are decimating the internet, words that defy the zeitgeist may in time provide blueprints for an open-minded, more empathetic future. But when shelter, food, and health are at stake, people will do whatever it takes to survive: Rare are those who can afford to have the courage of their opinions without dearly paying for them in precariousness.
When you’re earning less than $5.00 per day spending more than 8 hours a day 7 days a week writing on the internet, should you rock the boat? Wouldn’t you be better off figuring out ways to earn this much per hour, maybe even eradicate that pesky decimal point or at the very least move it?
Fake it until you make it is the motto of all hustlers. But why lie to ourselves and to each other unless we, too, stand to benefit from their gullibility much as others may have once benefited from ours?
How to unpack the rot that keeps so many people afloat when you don’t even have a good dinner to look forward to? The illusions sold by profiteers are the only thing standing between hunger and try harder now so you write on alongside them, on the off chance.
Showing up on the page is your alternate portal into a world that makes sense. Without enthusiasm for better words, there can be no exit from the zeitgeist. You deal with it the way you deal with a heatwave, reminding yourself the moment is finite, sweating profusely while you grin and bear it.
That gust of cool wind when you can breathe again will come around, it always comes around, global warming notwithstanding. Until then, you keep asking questions and offer dots, trusting readers to connect them and figure out the broader narrative.
In the age of desperation and disconnectedness, should every word we write be about maximizing profit? Enthusiasm cannot be sponsored but it empowers curiosity to find out what else is possible, against all odds.
But first you must invest in it, even when no one else will.
On the off chance it might all work out in the end.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.