2012.02.11

The internet has a bad reputation. The news media denigrates the web, runs sensational stories about the trouble kids can get into. Parents worry that their children place too much importance on the superficial things in life. But everyone forgets that the internet is made up of words. For all social media is used to spread videos of Justin Bieber’s latest single, and photos of Lady Gaga’s red carpet dress, and posters for the next superhero movie, it also spreads the word.

The internet was built with words. People may think, because we’re talking about computers, the internet is made up of numbers and symbols and other tech speak they don’t understand. But writing is at the heart of everything. Teenagers write more now than they have in the last hundred years. All that texting which parents bemoan: writing. All the blogs: writing. All the comments on Facebook walls: writing. Twitter is writing.

Yes, we must be clear that not all that writing is correctly spelled, grammatically structured, and properly capitalised. But neither was the writing I did in composition books when I was 14 in the late 1990s. It was the first step. It is a long path to where one ends up as an adult.

The writing that children do on the internet today teaches not only how to make a sentence, but how to read, how to respond, how to critique, how to act. A tweet is limited to 140 characters. That’s enough space for one great sentence, maybe two, if you’re good. Twitter offers restraint, like Petrarch’s sonnets and Bashō’s haikus before it. Twitter is a structure that children learn, internalise, then practice. Before one can make great art, one copies the masters. It is important to read the work that came before you. In today’s parlance, it is important to find masters of the craft to follow on Twitter.

Because the internet is not all writing. You have to read, too. Taking in information, especially at the speed it comes these days, is an art all itself. Children are quick to skim, reject, save something interesting for later. They learned this skill from television, flipping channels until something good catches your eye. Shuffle through songs on an album until you find the good one. But when you find the good one–the single, the one-liner, the poster that stops you on the street–you dig deeper. The internet can be a lot of surface, until one finds something to love and wants to find more.

That’s where the true success of the internet is exposed: connection. All those tweets, those blog posts, those comments pointing your friends to a funny cat video on YouTube–what we’re actually doing is making connections. Social media, at the end of the chain of via links, is social, not media. It’s not about Justin Bieber; it’s about us.

Jesus, I don’t even know where this stuff comes from sometimes. I easily got my 500 words for UBC, but now I need to keep going to get my 750. I really should start doing these in the mornings again. It’s a great time for my brain, before I’m tired and lazy. That essay up there is definitely going on my blog. I wonder how much Googling they do when they’re evaluating university applications. Like, if someone is talking a lot about wanting to go to one school over another, would the another school just not bother?

It’s true, you have to make the clackity noise. Every damn day. Because stuff just falls out of your fingers. That’s always been how I write, even when I did have a plan, a tiny bit of one. I had a plan for where this was going to go, but my fingers took it an entirely different direction. I had to be careful that I was still talking about learning and not just going off on a rant about how awesome the internet is and how much I love it and how much I wish other people loved it and how much I wish I could make a living off it.

But making a living is always about selling. It doesn’t matter where you do it. It doesn’t matter what you make, what you do, what you have, you still need to sell. That’s my hard part. That’s why I keep trying, keep practicing, keep thinking until I get it right.