I first published this twelve years ago. I have lightly edited it. Take a journey back in time with me.
It’s funny, this digital music thing. Giddily-funny. In the 90’s I dreamed of paying 10¢ each for tracks. I expected I’d soon be able to buy them directly from the artists. I still hold out hope that someday musical artists will make a decent living supported by their fans through direct micropayments. Meanwhile, there’s CD Baby. (Thank you, Derek Sivers!) You can pay in chunks. I’m a fan of The Cook Trio. Delightful Gypsy jazz. And I will never forget the radical internet music pioneer Janis Ian. (Well, I did forget her name tonight, but a little Googling cured that lapse. What I never forgot was the impact she made on my understanding about how the internet was changing the music industry. That was before Radiohead was famous.) No Connection with CD Baby. Support independent music. Buy something through CD Baby.
And this brings me (finally—I know, I ramble) to my vision of the evolution of writing onto the internet. I think it was fair to talk about reading first. And music is just another form of art. Anyway. Writing. I’m about a thousand words into this piece. Why is that important? Because the art form I’m promoting is internet-enabled writing. This is the evolution of the blog post. I’m limiting myself to between 1700 and 1800 words. As I said, I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that I red 1734 words by Larry uninterrupted and 1,794 words by Charles Murray before diving into my own work. That’s plenty of space to create a thoughtful essay. And I like to think of the blogger as an evolution of the essayist. (Thank you, Ken Myers, for the Mars Hill Audio Journal; thank you, Alan Jacobs, for being a frequent guest on MHAJ and for writing Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, which has been on my to-read list since I heard Ken interview you, and thank you for introducing me to the father of essayists, Montaigne.)
The interview of Professor Jacobs by Ken Myers inspired me to download Charles Lamb’s book, Essays of Elia from Google. (It goes without saying that we all owe Google a debt of gratitude for starting to digitize the world’s books. But I’ll say it anyway: Thank you! You don’t have it all figured out yet, but you are taking digitization of human knowledge far beyond where Project Gutenberg has the resources to go.) Prof. Jacobs mentions Lamb’s essay, “Poor Relations”, which I found on page 173. I checked my journal. My entry for February 2, 2011 is: “[I] red the essay on [my wife]’s iPad. Exquisite!” I have not yet red Montaigne himself, but Prof. Jacobs raised my awareness of his importance, and a month later I listened to Sarah Bakewell discuss Montaigne on a Philosophy Bites podcast with Nigel Warburton. The next day I red “Montaigne’s Moment” by Anthony Gottlieb in the New York Times (online, of course—thank you, Lady Gray, for fighting to carve a path forward for digital newspaper survival; I loathe your myopic political bias but do not deny your influence).
And so I will restrict the length of my essays so that I can preserve a form that is comfortably readable on the internet. I appreciate how Twitter restricts me to 140 characters. (That restriction is to make a tweet fit in a single text message. I don’t know who decided on the length of text messages, but Wikipedians agree it was so they would fit into the existing signaling formats, and that sounds truthy enough for the purposes of this essay. (I have to double up on parentheses here to point out that it’s absurd to cite Wikipedia. Human beings create the content. They’re mostly anonymous cowards, but they’re all human. So you’re not citing an authority, you’re citing a crowd. Get it right! (And, tripling the parentheses, I thank you, Stephen Colbert, for inventing truthiness!))) I like to work within constraints. It’s good practice for all aspects life.
I now have to get ready for breakfast. This essay is just a little short. Better than risking being too long. But more than essays in past centuries, it lives! It’s not a finished draft because I don’t have time to review it thoroughly. Spell checkers catch gross mistakes, but we all know to write the first draft from the heart and the second draft from the head. I don’t have time to use my head if I want to get this published in the proper sequence. Up it goes. Then comes publicity: Instantly on Twitter. But later today at Google+, Facebook (default—I’m not sure if it will be public or not) and (perhaps—I’ll remove this parenthetic when I’m sure) LinkedIn. And email. Email isn’t being replaced by social media. It’s not either/or. It’s both-and. (Thank you for that image, Michael!)
Larry helps the reader avoid distraction by publishing links at the end of his essays. I’m taking it one step farther. Google and Wikipedia contain all the answers you need if you wish to follow up on anything I’ve said.