The old guard is packing up and the new guard is moving in.
Actually, that’s not true at all. Let me rephrase that:
The old guard is freaking out and fighting the inexorable progress of the new guard that’s pushing them aside with energy and enthusiasm and even some understandable anger.
This old guard versus new guard drama has been happening for as long as humans have been evolving and new generations come up with new tools, new methods, and new thought. Environmental exigencies have forced people to adapt and it’s usually the younger generations more willing to see what’s coming and to imagine ways to deal with it while the older generations grouse about how things used to be better before all these stupid-ass youngsters came and made crap tools and adopted crap morals and why on earth should you all worship one God when it was better to have worshiped 10? Why must youngsters insist that we disinfect everyone in hospitals with that suspicious thing called soap and water and rubbing alcohol and that other creepy liquid? People were FINE dying of infection, it’s what kept the masses in check. Wasn’t it good enough that we have paper and pens to write serious works on – why the hell you gotta go and invent a printing press? Now every Tom Dick and Hairy Balls can print anything they want and since they can do it fast it’s definitely not quality because quality means PAINSTAKING. If you aren’t staking some pain on your work it’s garbage. And NOW we don’t even need a stinking press to print things. Presses took skill to set and now what took a day or a month or a year takes only seconds! The internet has done away with a whole respected perfectly fine printing industry. What next?
I will admit that with all progress comes some detritus, some dust ups, and some bad crap. It’s the way of the world. Progress brings new ways of doing things and it’s bright and shiny until we discover the dark side of progress. There’s always a dark side with the light side. It’s called “balance”. Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. Good and Evil. Conservative and Liberal*. Night and Day. Naughty and Nice. Naive and Jaded. Bright and Dull. Smart and Stupid. Front and Back.
The old guard and the new guard.
I’m seeing this struggle in all kinds of arenas right now. Certainly the political arena is staging one of the biggest fights between the old guard (conservatives) and the new guard (liberals). Conservatives are fighting to maintain a status quo and in some cases to reverse social and political progress while the Liberals are fighting to ditch the status quo and demand greater social and political progress into the future.
Oil versus all other possible sources of energy. I saw a conversation on facebook unfold and it was really interesting to me that one woman commented about how we need to keep using oil because the oil industry employs so many people and if we stop using oil then we will be taking away millions of jobs. It kind of took my breath away. Let’s keep using as much oil as we can and prop up the oil industry (which is wearing a halo, apparently) because if we don’t then people will starve to death. You can’t prop up the oil industry forever because there isn’t a forever supply of oil. That’s an incredibly important factor to consider. People who are encouraging the use of other sources of energy and encouraging science and engineers to come up with safe and sustainable alternatives to oil are suddenly villains out to ruin people’s livelihood? If we don’t come up with alternatives we will be up shit creek at some point, completely unprepared and the oil industry will crumble AND we’ll have no replacement industry in place. The thing is, we’ve already been through this. Coal is still being mined but the coal industry is miniscule compared to what it once was. So many jobs were lost. We’re going to keep going through this again and again.
It’s the natural and inevitable progression of life. Things change. Things evolve. Old industries WILL crumble and new ones WILL replace them. No country has ever maintained superpower status forever. Countries will rise in fortune and power at the expense of other countries whose fortunes and power inevitably wane. If anyone can’t see that coming then they have got their eyes (and brains) firmly shut because the proof is painted in big black letters across history. It’s also painted in blood. Nothing in this world is static. Even the earth spinning on its axis, something we take for granted as being an unchangeable factor, will eventually change. At some point the earth will stop spinning or it will spin at a different speed or it will explode. It WILL change. It’s just that human life is so insignificant that we will not likely see it happen.
I’m seeing this same fight playing out in the publishing industry. I’m obviously interested in this industry in particular because I am a writer and my main goal is to get my book published. So I’m keeping up with what’s going on and what’s going on is a whole lot of change and a whole lot of scuffling. The old guard had certain rules and protocol and if you got through the ranks of agents and publishers and got your book on a shelf then honor and respect were your reward. Hopefully you also got some royalty checks and a good living. I’m hearing journalists complain that they got to where they are respectably – with a college degree in journalism working real journalism jobs for newspapers and and now all these uneducated people just start websites and call themselves “journalists” and take away jobs that real journalists should be getting.
Can I just interrupt myself here? Mark Twain. Incredible PROFESSIONAL journalist. Excellent novelist. Impossibly talented satirist. A man who never got past elementary school.
I’m hearing bitterness expressed at the fact that publishing books used to be an honorable process and now anyone can publish their own books using independent on-demand presses and it’s all crap, apparently, because the only people capable of producing “real” books are agents and publishers. Yet this is patently untrue. There is real quality being self published now and there are blogs and websites producing excellent content that’s relevant and enjoyable. Then there’s the whole fight between print versus e-books. I’m hearing fights between cook book authors and food bloggers. Recipe developers and food bloggers.
The one universal theme I’m noticing is that everyone disdains bloggers. Bloggers are not respected because they didn’t have to fight through any elitist fences to set up shop. Just grab yourself a free template and push “publish”. It seems that the ease of blogging is what infuriates so many professional writers. I would like to point out that many bloggers are actually writers trying to find their way into their career and they have the wit to recognize that this is an important new way to be heard and to distinguish yourself. I don’t consider myself a blogger, for example. I write two blogs because I haven’t landed any book deals yet and no one is hiring new writers with no credentials for print anymore. I’m a writer who blogs. I’m not a blogger who writes. I only make that distinction because a lot of people blog for fun and to connect with other like minded people. A lot of people who blog aren’t writers but a magical thing can happen when non-writers write on blogs – they discover a love for writing. In writing their blogs some bloggers BECOME writers. I’ve seen that happening and it’s pretty spectacular.
Blogging allows a lot of exploration of interests and intentions. The thing is, as a writer I don’t look down on blogging at all. Blogging is a great tool. Blogging is an effective form of communication. In the blogging community I have made a lot of meaningful friendships with people I would otherwise never have found. It’s a great way to learn new things, to hear new perspectives, and to find inspiration. But blogging and bloggers have shaken things up in both the writing and publishing worlds. The old guard deeply resents blogs and blogging. Except for those smart people who see it for the professional tool it can be and jump on board with progress. The old guard sees careers ending because of self publishing and blogging but the truth is that writing and publishing careers are just changing in nature and there are possibly more writing opportunities than there ever were before. Some think that the number of bloggers who aren’t real professionals mean that standards all around are being lowered. No one is speaking Oxford English anymore because no one writing online these days has the proper education on how to form real sentences and people are forgetting what grammar is so if standards are being lowered so much how will actual educated people get work? How will they stand out if people prefer to read articles written in tweet-speak?
If you don’t see the answer in front of you then maybe it IS time for you to find a new profession. Maybe it’s time for you to back down and give up. If you can’t evolve with the evolving markets then you lose. It’s that simple. It’s the harsh reality of life. You either adapt and survive or you don’t.
Incidentally, disdaining new uses of language and perversions of nouns into verbs or twisting grammar to suit your own ideas is nothing new. I suppose there are going to always be those writers who don’t want new words being made up or who loathe slang being used in novels because it “dumbs” them down. Language is an ever evolving fluid tool of communication and as a writer I delight in seeing new expressions coined, finding new words to love and hate, and having new perversions of language to make fun of and then adopt because they’re irresistible. I love to see old words rediscovered and I absolutely relish seeing people expand their vocabulary. I loathe seeing language used to put fences around people. Tweet speak is still a bit of a mystery to me but it has a peculiar charm and humor about it. When language stops reinventing itself, when no new words are made up, and when vernacular stops giving color to communication – our language will atrophy and die. As a writer this is unthinkable to me. So I will embrace all the silly new abbreviations for words that don’t really need to be abbreviated and I’ll definitely hate some of them and adopt others. That’s what’s so gorgeous about language – there are an infinite number of ways to use it to suit our own personal needs and pleasure.
I want to make the argument that millions of people blogging who aren’t writers doesn’t lower the standards of writing as a whole. It might be changing those standards but it’s not lowering them. There’s always going to be crap out there in every profession. There will always be hoards of amateurs fighting for their spot in the professional world (pick your industry – it’s all the same) and many of those people fighting for those spots suck and either won’t get in or they’ll find their place with people who don’t care that they suck. Or who can’t afford professionals who are truly skilled. There’s room for everyone somewhere. Among professionals of any kind there are all levels of skills represented. Crap books are published all the time. Just because you got something published through Random House doesn’t mean it’s automatically good quality. They want to make money just as much as everyone else. To pretend publishing houses ever had noble goals of only publishing literature is ridiculous. Great stuff gets published and so does crap. That’s always been the case and always will be.
I read a lot of blogs for my job and I can tell you that there’s some really amazing writing talent out there slogging away doing what they can to get noticed, doing what they can to get paid, doing what they can to produce work worthy of reading. Just like writers have been doing since we developed the tools to write. The tools of the trade keep evolving but the struggle to find a platform on which to be heard, to find an audience, that will never change.
Before blogging there were the same number of people trying to become writers or secretly wanting to become writers. You didn’t know about them because they wrote all their exploratory crap in private. In notebooks. Or on computers in word files that no one had access to. In fact, I was this person. I’ve been working at writing my whole life. I’ve always been a writer trying to become a better writer so that one day I can write something amazing and share my stories and thoughts with other people which is the ultimate goal of writing (it’s a form of communication no matter how solitary the actual work can be) and until there were blogs I simply did all my exploring on paper. On a type writer. Or with favorite pens and notebooks. You didn’t know I was in competition with you for a place in the publishing world because I was still invisible. Blogs have flushed out millions of writers and millions of people secretly wanting to be writers. The number of people in competition for book deals and journalism gigs hasn’t actually changed. The only difference is that now you can see them everywhere because blogs give people visibility. It doesn’t actually give them your job or take away your book deal. Only the really determined and/or really good writers can do that. But now you can see how many people are actually jostling for a place in the writing and publishing field.
The new guard always wins the fight with the old guard eventually. That is a verifiable fact. Then the new guard settles in and gradually becomes the establishment and one day it’s the old guard being pushed out by a brand new new guard. That’s the way it goes. Sometimes there are temporary set backs to progress but the outcome is as predictable as the fact that people are always going to have babies and people are always going to die.
*I am not attributing a value judgment on either conservatives or liberals here because that’s not the point. The point is to observe how most things have an opposite and that one must exist for the other to function.