The Writer's Twilight Zone
If This Is Writing, Then I Want To Retire
I've just entered the Twilight Zone. I'm sure that I just saw Rod Serling say "you are now entering...". That has to be the only possible explanation.
I did some writing work for a client where I describe various venues for a sport. I won't identify it so that it stays nice and generic and the client doesn't get angry at me. Let's just make believe that it's football.
The assignment was to write blurbs about each venue and describe the way that the particular venue affects the game played there. Fairly straightforward stuff. The stiff wind blowing in off Lake Michigan into Soldier Field, the thin air affecting visiting teams at Mile High, that kind of stuff.
I did the research and incorporated the various factors into the blurbs. Everything went well. I finished it up and sent it off to the client. The next day I got an email explaining how the blurbs were fine but they would like me to edit out all the numbers.
When I read that, I had to check again to make sure that I had interpreted that correctly. Take out all the numbers? Did they mean replace all the instances of, say, "30" with "thirty"? No, they replied. This was Web 2.0 content. It has to appeal to the spiders. Spiders don't care to index numbers. So why waste valuable html on them? Take 'em out.
At first I got hot under the collar for two reasons: 1) that I had to deal with such idiocy, and 2) that the client was right. Numbers have no appeal to Google. All they want is keywords. The keywords are the descriptive hooks that get the traffic to the site. That's all that really matters. Getting the traffic to the site. What the traffic does once it gets to the site is of secondary, or even tertiary importance. The click has become an entity onto itself, with its own rules that we either obey or ignore at our peril.
I was presented with an unique conundrum. For over 30 (or thirty) years, I've been continually honing and refining my skills to be a factual writer. I do my homework, I write the content, assure that it's as acceptable and correct as I can get it under the particular circumstances, fire it off to the clients/editors, get my paycheque and go onto the next assignment. Well, now it's no longer that simple. In the Web 2.0 world, I can no longer value fact and precision. I am now only a regurgitator of keyword dense text, regardless of whether it's readable, or even makes any sense at all. Therefore, my "football" copy now looks like this:
In that great game which was played somewhat close to the end of that season in that year, Dan Marino took the snap right about there on the down that's just short of the end of the series, with less time on the clock than needed to boil an egg, at a point on the field which is roughly equidistant from where the lines on the grass start and end, and then took his classic drop of not really that many steps. He saw Clayton blow his post pattern by slipping on the wet turf at the place just past where the guy with the stick was standing and instead of turning at an angle that's somewhat in that direction over there, he fell and went out of bounds about a body length or so from the stick guy. Marino turned to Duper and saw him wide open a good "that much" in front of the corner so he fired the ball and hit Duper right between the digit on the left side of his jersey and the digit on the right side. Duper cradled the ball, turned towards the goal posts and ran a goodly amount of yardage for a TD, bringing the score to more for the Dolphins than the San Francisco red and gold team.
There! We have now totally bastardized football, the English language, and the very philosophical and scientific constructs which underlie our very existence as human beings. We have taken Euclid, Pythagoras and Archimedes and replaced them with an algorithm devised so that a corporate entity which produces not one single tangible product, but is valued far higher than all the automotive manufacturers in the USA put together, can index even more terabytes of lobotomizing blather and thus make even more money. Which I'm sure they need, as $170 billion sure doesn't go very far these days.
This is emphatically not the world I was sold on when I was an eager student trying hard to absorb knowledge like a sponge. I was led to believe that words could make a difference. The right words in the right place could change the world. I pored over the classics, the immortal soliloquies, and the great speeches that led entire nations to tragedy or triumph. Words had significance. They had meaning. They had power.
Words in the 21st century have only the power to increment your Google AdSense account by a hundred thousandth of a penny. The word itself no longer matters, nor does any meaning that was once attached to it. The only thing that matters now is drawing enough stray electrons into your particular server's circuitry to make your ethereal odometer click forward by another nanometer. More words, more nanometers, more fractions of a penny. Do it enough times and real money actually comes out of something that actually does not even physically exist. Words are now commodities that get bought and sold by the 40' FCL containerload. Are they the right type of words? Yes. Do they actually say anything? Who cares? Just give me more words!
I think I'm going to cry now.