Whenever a young person comes to me for career counsel I let loose a dramatic sigh, fix her with a steely stare and deliver the following discourse, which is drawn on more than a decade’s experience spent toiling in this industry:
“If you want to succeed, find a field in its infancy, one with no particular promise, where the pay is non-existent and the opportunity for eventual reward so theoretical as to seem absurd. Look for a space so raw and undefined that anyone with intelligence, credentials or contacts gives it a wide berth because they see no future in its pursuit and anyway they are too busy climbing the well-defined ladders of the moment. Immerse yourself in this arena and make as much of it as you can. It won’t be very hard, because the only people sharing the stage will be much like you: misfits, difficult types without degrees and the otherwise unemployable. At first you will all recognize yourselves as kindred spirits and you will be too deeply delighted by realizing that you’ve found your tribe of fellow fuck-ups to really spend a lot of time worrying that the path you’re carving out is without precedent and probably unsustainable. In the early days you will survive mostly on that kind of companionship, but you will also be bolstered by the scorn of those who would never in a million years consider being on your team, since it is so obviously beneath them that even you have to laugh when anyone deigns to drop down in the depths and spend some time slumming. In any event, stick with it for a couple of years. If things actually do work out, by the time the world finally comes around to you and the bright young things who would rise to the top of any hierarchy start seeing your field as a viable — and desirable — destination, you will be too firmly ensconced to be dislodged, and as the old people who once mocked you or looked upon you with disgust fade away the new generation will lack any context with which to understand just how lacking in talent or expertise you actually are. It’s that simple.”
By this point my young charge has long since wandered off, not even making a polite excuse for departure, but I love the sound of my own voice and, especially on the rare occasion when I say something that is incontrovertibly true, once I get started I find it impossible to stop.
Recently I was having dinner with a friend from the early days of blogging. (No, wait, don’t go, it gets better!) This person was one of the pioneers of our particular corner of the Internet, someone who showed, through her aptitude and energy, that the old ways of assessing culture would no longer be the final word on who was worthy of discussion or who was chosen to discuss. We were speaking, as we all tend to do these days, of just how worthless the web is now. My friend, who has wisely turned her focus to other areas, looked at me with a level of seriousness that is increasingly rare when we talk about how terrible things have gotten in the places where we once found so much joy and said, “I’m glad that women are written out of history, because I don’t want anyone to think that I am in some part responsible for the way things turned out.” I could only nod in agreement.
I used to say the Internet turns over every six months, by which I meant that twice a year there would be so many new users in the space that every lesson learned by the previous “generation” needed to be taught again, but with diminishing results. That seems like a generous assessment now, when the end of each week brings only anxiety in the anticipation of the horrors the following Monday will hold. I try not to be precious about my own particular “Golden Age” on the web (and believe me, those quotes are laden with irony), but as someone who is coming around on the possibility that those who scorned us at the outset of our time on the Internet as devaluing culture and criticism might not have been all wrong it is hard to look at everything that is happening today — and worse, everything that will happen soon — without ruefully reflecting that things didn’t have to be this way. But of course things did have to be this way; our Internet’s strange success contained within it the seeds of its destruction. Once people realize there’s money to be made in something, anything that was once good about it is not long for that world. This is probably where I should put a GIF of a character from a ’90s Nickelodeon show looking sad with the acronym LOL superimposed on it but I like to think I have conveyed that same sentiment using words.
I have previously shared with you Balk’s Law (“Everything you hate about The Internet is actually everything you hate about people”) and Balk’s Second Law (“The worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything”). Here I will impart to you Balk’s Third Law: “If you think The Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.” The moment you were just in was as good as it got. The stuff you shake your head about now will seem like fucking Shakespeare in 2016. I like to think of myself as an optimist, but I have a hard time seeing a future where anything gets better. Do you know why? Because everything is terrible and only getting worse. We won’t all be dead in twenty years, but we’ll all wish we were. I used to have hopes that once the Internet got completely unbearable some of the smart people would peel off and start something new, but with each passing day it seems ever less likely. (If anyone peels off to start something new it’s going to be teens, and we know what idiots they are.) No, the Internet is going to keep getting worse and there will be no chance for escape. It’s a massive torrent of sewage blasted at you at all hours and you pay handsomely for the privilege of having a hand-held cannon you carry with you at all times to spray more shit-sludge at yourself whenever you’re bored or anxious. Some of you sleep with it right next to your head in case you wake in the middle of the night and need to deliver another turgid shot to your wide-open mouth.
Now that I reflect more, I guess I’ve only got one really solid piece of advice about the Internet that you should take away from this conversation: You’d better push down whatever you’re carrying around in that trash bag on your back right now, because it is going to be a long time before you finally get to put it on the ground for good, and let me tell you, you can’t even imagine what they’re going to fill it with until then. It’s going to get heavy, and let’s not even think about the smell. I’m glad we had this talk.