The River

Friday, August 01, 2003

What a long strange trip it’s been

You know why I started blogging? I wanted to write an article on it for a magazine, and I thought it best to start a blog to get some firsthand knowledge of the phenomenon. I’d heard about blogging through Chris Locke’s EGR newsletter, and I’d discovered Chris by somehow stumbling upon The Cluetrain Manifesto Web site. The magazine I worked on is now defunct, but the company isn’t. It’s a Fortune 50 (er, was) telecommunications company. The quarterly magazine was for business customers, a way for sales reps to deliver our product catalog, published in the back of every issue, while hopefully sparking a few conversations about the cool technology and applications covered in the articles, technology the company’s services supported.

So I started my blog one night, from home. It felt a little strange typing in the first post, hitting publish, and having it out there. I’d written hundreds of magazine articles, some of which were published on the Web, but this was different. Everything I’d written before had some story to tell, information deemed of interest to a clearly defined audience. There was no reason for writing on the blog except to speak.

And what did I have to say? Not much at first. Most of the blogs I’d seen were heavy on the links and light on the writing, so I went with that style. It seemed the safest, and since I was writing a story on blogs for work, I figured some might wonder if I had started a blog myself, and find it. I was playing it safe, as most of us are in the corporate world. I didn’t come to work and talk about corrupt politicians or the evils of end-stage capitalism. And I wasn’t going to do it on my blog, where the VP of marketing communications could see it. Sure, anyone could broach these subjects at work, theoretically, but no one does. A), most people don’t concern themselves, B), it tends to make people nervous, and C), they’d look at me, especially, as if I’d lost my mind.

And my company wouldn’t need to confront me with it. They’d simply mark me down somewhere, even if just as a mental note, as a malcontent, and when the time came to draw up names for layoff, there I’d be. As the Clash sang, “You have the right to free speech. As long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it!”

No, I kept my nose clean, my head down. I was “Still shaking the bush, boss,” as a Cool Hand Luke character once put it. I worked on my magazine articles and other editing and writing projects, but took frequent breaks to surf the Internet. Even before starting my blog, I would surf at work and send links to the best stuff to a good friend I chatted with on IM.

Then news broke of my company defrauding investors -- big time. Stocks plummeted. Scandal broke across the front pages of America. With my workplace totally discredited as any kind of honest outfit, my morale and that of my co-workers was abominable. We were pissed, not sure if we even wanted our jobs anymore, if indeed they were still viable. Not only did I, and others, feel suddenly free to talk about the idiocy of the overpaid excecs steering the corporate ship, but I also had little reason to hold back anymore on the blogging. So, as one of my first blog buddies memorably put it, I let fly.

As I let myself run farther and farther with my thoughts and feelings on what I began to see as not just one company’s hubris and downfall, but America’s as well, I got more and more paranoid that someone at work would discover my blog. A high-profile client I’d written a case study on could search for my name on Google, find my blog, and complain to my company. My boss could just get curious one day. Maybe he gets a report on my e-mail or Internet activity. And he might wonder: do we want this malcontent here? Is he using our computer and network to do this personal publishing? This company, by the way, has been through at least four rounds of layoffs in the past year or so.

Regardless, I was getting mighty political, and so was the country. The world was turned upside down, and, damn the torpedos, I had to make my views known. I had a blog; I was going to use it.

It was time, so our leaders said, to go to war. Even at this short remove, it seems unreal. Never have I seen the country so polarized. And both sides absolutely fearful of the result of either going to war, or not going to war. Both seeing the demise, whether through attack or internal corruption, of American prestige and power. Both, too, having widely divergent ideas on what those concepts represent.

The tide, or mass delusion whipped to a fine froth by the media and the dogs of power, was for war. In the face of this, and with some measure of my own delusion, I exercised my free speech rights. I even attended my city’s pitifully small protest on February 15. I saw people taking pictures and felt uneasy even then. I might appear on the daily newspaper’s front page. What would the neighbor’s think? I wondered just that when I planted the “war is not the answer” sign in my front yard.

These were all new, baby steps. How long had I went along to get along? How long had I subverted my beliefs, my thoughts, my feelings, my dreams? Well, not always and forever, but long enough to be caught in the middle of one hell of a corporate ethical meltdown, although not technically caught and not in the middle. Lost, hidden and undetected in the bowels of the beast.

And hidden is where I’ll stay for now. Assuming an alias, writing for myself, imagining a new story, wherein the beast swims off to its destiny, and I jump free.

I’ll have something to say about that.

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