Monday, February 11, 2013

Street Performing in Cyberspace

Several years ago I came across the blog of an aspiring screenwriter who'd purchased an option on a classic science fiction novel (the genre connoisseurs here will have heard of the author, if not the book), to the end of turning the story into a screenplay which he hoped would become a feature film. The blog was a diary of sorts about the course of the project, which he also hoped would provide some useful publicity. The idea intrigued me, and soon enough I found myself following the site and leaving the occasional comment. We even exchanged an e-mail every now and then.

As it turned out, the legalities regarding the rights to the novel were more complex than he'd anticipated, and made his continuation in the project a poor business proposition. At any rate, the blog hadn't worked as hoped. After several months of regular posts he checked his stats and found that he'd got only eight hits all day – just about all of them from people apparently interested in anything and everything but his project. That is to say, there was very little traffic of any kind, and even less of the repeat traffic that would have indicated the emergence of a following among those who happened to drop by.

Where Internet content is concerned, the ratio of supply of all kinds to demand is staggering (there may literally be more web sites now than there are people on the planet) and the competition for readers, watchers, listeners intense beyond the power of words to describe. Meanwhile, attention spans appear to keep on shrinking, especially among the most wired of us, who are, after all, the principal audience. The result is that a site without, for instance, the attraction of a brand name, a celebrity association, or some gimmick a lot stronger than the one described above – like a simple DIY blog, operated by a single individual with a day job and other priorities, striving to attract a readership with nothing but their own thoughts and their own words – is almost certain to be crushed in the stampede, and its anguished cries as it lays dying almost unheard in the maddening cacophony of billions of pages screaming for a listener's attention. And no amount of adherence to the "how-to" advice so widely available (like most advice of the type, the presentation of the obvious in shiny, authoritative-looking packaging) will do much to shift the odds in its favor. That we so often imagine otherwise is just another example of our stupid but overpowering tendency to focus on the one-in-a-million success story, while totally forgetting the nine hundred and ninety thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine failures – and perhaps worse, to take for granted that the successes represent the triumph of world-beating excellence rather than mere noise.

For all the talk of the Internet as an equalizer, it remains a place where the big battalions win. And for all the talk of connectivity, cyberspace is just another place where one can feel lonely in a crowd.

New and Noteworthy (Self-Publishing, Stross on the Presidential Election, The Hydrogen Sonata)
10/23/12

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