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The Sad Tale of Internet Writing

Updated on September 16, 2013

The Solitary, Thoughtful Writer


The Mechanical World of the Internet

If anyone is considering a future of online writing, he or she might take note very carefully of the impact that technologies are having on the Internet writing market. Although in the beginning, online writing was something of a relaxed, liberal hobby for intellectuals, it has now become a difficult task of people attempting to squeeze few dollars out of it over the course of a day. But the way it works online, the people who are serious about writing the way the great novelists and poets once did are being cast aside in favor of writers with no real literary ambitions but who can churn out some cheap words to fill what's called "content" for website owners with a profit motive tied to advertising.

Once the biggest blow of the recession years happened when the stock market went way down all of a sudden, many people lost their jobs and sat home looking for ways to make money off the Internet. Some of those people were writers at heart from way back. But they realized soon that they were making a lot less than could be made working at McDonald's at the lowest legal wage. And yet they stuck with it because at least they were making something, and it gave them something to do all day. Over the years, the pay for Internet writers striving for intellectual uniqueness, distinctive style, and philosophical ideas to stimulate readers actually has gone down and down because readers who enjoy that sort of writing are in the minority. It just doesn't sell, unless it's written by someone already famous.

The topics people could write on were being dictated to them by site owners who recruited clients willing to pay maybe $5 for an hour or two spent writing and researching and proofreading. Online writers don't even earn the minimum wage, but it's legal because they aren't employees. They are independent contractors unprotected by most laws regarding labor and employment.

Businesses don't care enough to show sympathy. They are desperate too in this recession. They want high-quality writing for their websites but aren't willing to pay much for it. Therefore, it looks like Internet writing is headed for something less human than the wit and profound thoughts of William Shakespeare. If a machine could be invented to do the writing, that would suit the business world just fine. But how can a machine be made to produce ideas and perfect sentences, other than by copying them from something already written, which is against the law without citing the source? Somehow there has to be an inventor working on a way to do it right now, because if it can be done, it will create another technological revolution and maybe even bring the world out of its recessionary depression.

Many websites want writers to create what's called copy-writing. That's a word for an article that's going to be used by a client to recruit customers to a particular purchase of a product or service offered by a company, which in turn pays the writer maybe $5 or $10 for two or three hours of work writing about something he or she couldn't care less about. This is not what a serious writer wants to do for a living. In fact, it's not even worthy of being called a living, since it wouldn't pay the rent and buy the groceries.

Writing is an art and a talent. But that talent is not rewarded online. Many writers who worked at publishing companies 20 or 30 years ago would not be able to get a decent job in today's market because of the new emphasis on "content" which came to mean quantity rather than quality writing. Cynics say the Internet will evolve into mechanical writing done by a computer rather than a human being.

People can buy software already that will churn out written material that looks like it came from a real person. Technical reports with analysis can be created this way. There may not be the moving emotional passages of a Charles Dickens, but that kind of "entertainment" isn't appreciated very much anymore. It comes to audiences in the form of a Hollywood movie, unheard-of in the days of Dickens, who had to create the feeling of a scene through words alone.

While people are still reading the classics and majoring in English or American literature at college, it's starting to look like the only way someone can spend a lifetime of work discussing those things is through a hobby, a special interest community group, or by becoming an English teacher. Creative writing drains the soul and is very tiring. But mechanical writing, done by a machine, takes just the click of a key.

It's doubtful that a machine can write a great novel. But there again, how many people care to read Steinbeck or Faulkner? The Internet is looking for something "useful" such as a how-to article, not something thought provoking and eloquent. It's useless to "business" to turn a phrase with just the right words in a unique way, unless one is hired as a copy-writer to create an advertising slogan. But the slogan would have to have mass appeal, which means it can't zero in on the small minority of the population that thrills to the eloquence of Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams. The great writers aren't very efficient for advertising products and appealing to customers. It's not good business to hire a serious writer. Only Hollywood or Broadway would be interested in that.

People are trying to attain knowledge of data and information. This is a stronger need that to attain wisdom through eloquently state passages written by a great author. These basic needs will drive the business world, including the Internet which survives by profits and advertising. The humanities such as history and literature are being ranked second to science and math because the latter are more useful. Philosophy isn't as useful as technology. This places the serious writer into serious trouble if he or she expects rewards for what's most important in his or her life. Writing will have to remain a hobby while some other "day job" pays the rent despite how meaningless it may be. There's no financial opportunity for such a person on the Internet despite the ease of online publishing.

But the Internet remains great for communication between human beings, including the writing of opinionated answers on blogs and social network sites. Making contact with many people through writing in this way is an excellent innovation of modern times and cuts down on loneliness and depression, which in itself outweighs all the bad things that can be said about the disappointing pay and opportunities for serious writers on the Internet. There is a strong demand for those who like to communicate with other people about matters of mutual concern. Although there isn't much money flowing from such activities, the psychological advantages are great. Meanwhile, the aspiring novelist or screenwriter will have to live the life of the Hollywood hopeful, but not as an Internet writer.

A Far Cry from Shakespeare



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