Not Playing the Game

After an email conversation with an old friend earlier today, I thought it might be worth expanding on the re-appearance of my writing at Substack, and it’s disappearance from WordPress (for a while). I’ll try to keep it brief, because I’m only too aware that writing about writing is quite possibly the most dull subject in the world. I hear Vogon poetry might be worse, but I don’t think many people have survived long enough to warn others.

While web platforms like WordPress are wonderful, and empower all sorts of engagement, I have slowly come to the realisation that as much as I would like to play an active part in something bigger than myself, I just don’t have time. On a good day I struggle to make time to go for a run, or read a book – finding time to re-pay other people’s commitment in me by reading and commenting on the words I have posted ends up causing a tremendous amount of guilt.

You might not have noticed, but I switched off comments at Substack. If you like a post, you don’t need to tell me. If you have a really burning thought you want to share with me however, my email address is at the foot of the about page.

Substack is really designed to deliver writing via email. I love email. An email message doesn’t tell the sender that you read it, and is somehow more personal than the result of clicking a “like” button. An email written from one person to another is private, and requires a certain amount of effort. There’s something nice about that – about you being the only person reading those words.

Posting writing to a public platform such as WordPress or Tumblr encourages synchronous “following” – to the extent that a small amount of expectation is attached to each follow. Some people exploit this in order to grow their social graph – I’ve never felt comfortable engaging in “lifts”, “follow backs” or whatever other falsely inflated social games have been dreamed up to game the cogs of the social machine.

I also don’t like walled gardens. I get it – they’re probably inevitable – but that doesn’t stop me from railing against them. I should probably explain what I mean by a walled garden. In the early days of the world wide web, blogs appeared, closely followed by RSS (really simple syndication) – allowing anybody publishing anything anywhere to read anybody elses content. Over time the various platforms embellished themselves with comments, likes, follows, and so on – but they only work if you are a member of the platform. Alongside that, RSS feeds became truncated – because the writers wanted you to visit the source in order read further than the first paragraphs (usually in order to land your eyeballs on adverts, garnering a millionth of a penny for the writers bank account).

And then there’s lock-in. If you have started publishing words to the internet on one platform, and then decided to move – good luck with that unless you’re a software developer. The only reason I’ve been able to move platforms over the years is because I *am* a software developer, and have written code to make it happen. It also helps that I’ve always written the words outside of any platform, and copied them in – so I have an enormous archive of writing stretching all the way back to 2003 saved as markdown formatted text files in an organised group of folders. Without that, I would be dead in the water too.

This is getting away from me.

It comes down to this – I started writing at substack because it’s easy, and it doesn’t do much other than push my writing out to the world. Readers don’t require anything special, and can’t interact directly with the writing – which relieves them of burden too. I’m essentially stopping myself from playing the game, and relieving readers of responsibility.

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