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An Infinite Space For Stories

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By AA PATAWARAN

So I’ve sat through hours upon hours of lectures, discussions, workshops about this so-called “digital shift.”

One such event was three days long, a convention of sorts in Hong Kong, except it was happening in multiple rooms from which to choose, the topics ranging from digital narratives and branded content to cryptocurrency.

It was a big deal, with the world’s biggest global media players there, from The New York Times to Reuters, from Google to The South China Morning Post.

In the end, if I were to sum up what I learned, I’d say it was like I was back to journalism school. But since I didn’t really take my undergraduate studies seriously, I’d say it was like I was back in college taking up the course I should have taken if I knew better—the Humanities, I guess, or maybe Literature or, better yet, Creative Writing.

I look at all these digital pages and, really, despite all the adds-on, like, say, moving pictures or a button that leads you elsewhere on the web or a box that allows you to comment on or make inquiries into or take action on what you are reading, they are no different from the printed page.

I should take it from what the speakers at the November digital training in Hong Kong kept reiterating, that this digital shift is only another page in the evolution of journalism or, if we must come right down to the bottom of it, of storytelling.

We are looking at a society increasingly dependent on machines, yet decreasingly capable of making or even using them effectively. —Douglas Rushkoff

It’s great news for writers who, like I did in 2011, a year before I launched my book Write Here Write Now: Standing at Attention Before My Imaginary Style Dictator, entertained doubts about writing for a living. I wrote the book originally as a funeral song to what I thought was the end of my career as a writer, only it turned out to be proof against my perceived notion that there was more and more evidence pointing to the dearth of readers and, as a result, the imminent extinction of writers like myself.

I was so wrong. In the digital age, there are even more readers as there are even more writers, especially with a whole new universe in which to read and write. As for gatekeepers, forget it. We know now more than ever that the gatekeepers, stiff and stuckup, consulting the great big book—what book?—on what should or shouldn’t be, are a thing of the past, as long ago and far away as Miss Minchin or, closer to home, Miss Tapia. At worst, they are like Professor Snape, as I saw him, unyielding on the outside but a little soft on the inside, a little like clay that can be molded to a different shape. Kind of like Oxford and Merriam-Webster that now accept at least 4,000 new words into the official dictionaries every year, words like God-dang-it or howzit or slimeball (December 2018).

I’ve never really scoffed at bloggers, even when they were a new phenomenon being touted as the “New Media,” which gave rise to a new nickname for me and my kind, “Tradmed,” as we were referred to in the expanding industry.

In the beginning, it was weird. I was at an event for a telecom giant, for instance, where one long table was reserved for bloggers and another long table for us. It wasn’t like I didn’t like them but I didn’t “not” like them, either. They might as well have been journalists from an unknown, startup magazine or newspaper. Same same.

Except, after a while, it dawned on me that these bloggers were different in something major, especially the kids, these fresh-faced, straight-from-college or still-in-college kids who were already occupying a seat equivalent to mine.

The difference was they were there on the strength of their own name, backed up by numbers, the number of likes their blogs would generate per post, whereas as I was right there with them only to represent a big name in publishing, meaning anyone could take my place.

What I couldn’t understand was how the bloggers didn’t see it that way. I mean they would say things to me like “I’m only here for the loot” or “I only write when they pay me (By the way here is my rate card)” or they would pander to their audience instead of using their own voices. They just basically took it all for granted, not all of them, but many of them who would resort to buying followers or likers, instead of polishing their material, to up their game. Plus they made it more about money or popularity, instead of about stories, which should in time fetch money, popularity, and more if they told these stories right, not to mention respect and meaning.

Be that as it may, we’re all at a time when changes are happening so fast that by the time the dust settles something new comes up to disrupt everything else. That gives us license to make what we can of what’s happening while we can.

So go ahead, use that blog. Shoot that vlog. Make that podcast. Go jump right into this great new book of what appears to be an infinite number of blank pages, what we in our cluelessness call “digital.”

But for godsakes (is this an official word yet?), write good stories.

Please.

Twitter: @aapatawaran | Instagram: @aapatawaran | Facebook: Arnel Patawaran

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