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Dec 17 2011

Paying for Free

It’s one of those days, the sort that happen a lot this time of year, where a moment to sit down and write is in short supply. Apropos of that, and the early comments here (really?), enjoy this repost. It was originally posted here. For the record, he money earned by having ads on the site don’t change this math.

What is the point of entertaining you if you only tell me when I’m doing it wrong?

I will point out up front that I’m very lucky in my audiences. Some of this is work on my part, since I have no problem being fiercely critical of the hypercritical. A lot of it, though, is having largely other bloggers as readers of my blogs, other fiction authors as readers for my stories. There are few things more grand than to have work appreciated by those who understand what went into it.

How other bloggers cope sometimes is beyond me, though. The onslaught of commenters telling people what they should be writing about, how they should write it, what they can and cannot say about it, how what they left out is far more important…well, you get the idea. And the people saying, “Thank you, I enjoyed reading that,” or, “I’m so glad you brought that to my attention,” are rare indeed. All the more precious for that, but rare.

There’s a group of entertainers I’ve hung out with over the years. They make much of the money for their work by passing the hat, which means they have to engage their audience. Even among them, there’s a saying: “The cost of your ticket does not include a speaking role.” It isn’t entirely true there, any more than it is in blogging, but it’s worth remembering for anyone wanting to continue to be part of these audiences.

What is the point of writing anything if I’m brilliant only until I challenge you, when I become insane/dishonest/evil?

I wrote a little riff on this recently, but what the hell is up with all the people in the atheist/skeptic/rationalist blogosphere who suddenly think they can read minds? Doesn’t it make any of them suspicious that the only minds they can read are those of people who disagree with them, or that the mind-reading consistently reveals depths of depravity hitherto unsuspected?

Despite my continued interaction with the frustrations of social media, I’m truly unlikely to suddenly go around the bend. If you appreciated my ability to reason about topics on which we agreed, it might be worth a little work to follow along with an open mind when you think we don’t. If you appreciated my insight on topics you understood, it might be worth asking me questions to unpack the statements you don’t understand–and listening to the answers. If I have written things that have helped you in the past, is it not worth it to you to help me communicate with you now?

And if it isn’t, what is it worth for me to continue to keep you in mind as I write?

The best free entertainment/enlightenment comes from people who can do many things. Do you pay enough to keep them doing what you like?

Specialization keeps our industrialized world running, but it’s hard to beat a generalist for communication. Silos and jargon don’t make for good conversation. We can come across fifteen different analogies before finding the one that fits our experience well enough to make an explanation click. We can read the story set in fifteen different cultures, with fifteen different themes emphasized, before we find the one that resonates with us. We need and want these connections to be made.

Ironically, that means the person who is entertaining you today doesn’t need to be doing it again tomorrow. Sure, they probably have some kind of creative itch that needs scratching or social responsibility that needs appeasing, but they have options. I could go write one of the many books that would really like my attention. I could go apply my talents for the many nonprofits that share my values. I don’t need to blog. None of the people who write well-received blogs need to, so why should anyone keep it up?

I think this is one of the things we sometimes forget as we get comfortable with our free-content culture. We get entitled. Oh, do we get entitled. This content, this blog (this forum) is available to us, just like the things we’ve always paid for, so it must be ours.

Except we didn’t pay for it, and it isn’t ours. We’ve loaded a page and let a few words in. The price of that ticket doesn’t pay for a speaking role, and we should expect to be treated with little more respect than a heckler–or that person who wants you to work for nothing, just for them–if we act as though it does.

It isn’t as though bloggers are charging exorbitant rates. A full reading of the post, a second glance to make sure the thing that pissed you off was actually what was said, addressing the meat of the post before wandering down tangents, the occasional compliment or link sent to your friends who would appreciate it, the simple acknowledgment that the blogger has done some honest work. None of those are a high cost for what we’re being provided for free these days, and they’re the kind of pay that matters to someone who is already doing it for the love.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    James Sweet

    This post is terrible! I want my money back…

    The worst were the people who would show up at various not-very-science-y blogs on scienceblogs.com (especially Dispatches) and say, “Hey, I thought this was a science blog.” Um…

    I suppose this domain name is less likely to attract that sort of idiocy. At least, I can’t picture anybody saying, “Hey, I thought this was a blog about free thinking.. and you’re thinking about the wrong stuff.”

    I’m so serious about not being the guy saying “ur blogging rong!” that I’ve even refrained from telling Ethan Siegel that he uses too many exclamation points (he does… I mean — he does! Way too many!)

  2. 2
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Yeah!

    And thank you.

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    James @1: evidently you’ve not met the more adventurous slimepit members claiming we’re all about groupthink and thus “freethought isn’t allowed around here” when they get banned for douchenozzlery.

  4. 4
    anfractuous

    Gee, sorry. I’ve been happily lurking around here, enjoying your work without letting you know how much I appreciate it. As a “wish-to-have-written” type myself, I know how much time and commitment goes into these posts. Thank you for being there to keep my spirits and curiosity and entertainment

  5. 5
    anfractuous

    Oops! Premature submitting:
    Thank you for being there to keep my spirits and curiosity and entertainment fullfilled.

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