The World Is not Really Flat, You Know


The World Isn’t Really Flat, You Know

The World Isn’t Really Flat, You Know


Journalism – and more seriously – writing, completely sucks today for the most part, despite the enormous democratization of the publishing movement.

In fact, it sucks so much that even when your intention is to do serious work and contribute to the public dialog in a meaningful way, most people just assume you’re looking for a job. As a case in point, yesterday I spoke to the Head of Communications for a major multinational company.

I told him that I wanted to write a 10,000-25,000-word feature story on his company, to visit its various offices all over the world in such no-mans-land makeshift urban locales as Ulan Batur, go through all the zillions of spreadsheets that lie dormant on the blinking 2006 Acer laptop computers in the corner of their shitty offices in Warsaw and see how somehow there’s a cultural connection with the idle intellectual process that defines the firm’s London station and how it is unfathomably somehow still part and parcel of the same corporate ecosystem as the one in Manhattan, staffed to the ceiling with psychopathic maniacs looking over each other’s shoulders for a quick opportunity to quietly knife the guy’s wife they screwed in an Upper East Side hotel room over the weekend when she was supposedly away on a “girl’s weekend” with friends.

Well, I didn’t say it quite like that, because then I would have given the guy the impression I wanted to write something negative about the company. And that isn’t the case at all. In fact, having just completed an investigation of serious white collar crime that goes all the way up to the most powerful people on the earth, quite honestly I felt more like taking a break and writing about a success story – that would be a company that spans the globe on an intellectual front, forging its sub-cultures in the way I’ve just described. In other words, this guy’s firm.

But at first, he thought I was asking for some kind of weird freelance gig where I would do something akin to produce bad public relations material for them masquerading as serious journalism. It took me 5 minutes to explain that what I wanted was as far from a job as you could get; I wanted to practice journalism. I didn’t want money; I didn’t even want him to pay my plane tickets. I definitely didn’t want a job.

In fact, it would be plain unintuitive to come to work at 7am every morning for the rest of my life to the same place. But that’s what journalists do these days, the world over: they get up, they have breakfast, they ride the subway to the same neon-lit three thousand square foot room in the middle of the same early-2000s purpose-built steel-and-glass office block, they read a few websites with a latte, and then they start to write the news.

Lolita’s ghost

If Vladimir Nabokov had worked for McCann Ericsson back in the day hawking toothpaste manufacturers bill board ad promos, I highly doubt that Lolita would have coming popping into his head, complete with her nymph features and shiny braces and a mind capable of subjecting her own abuser to the very abuse he imagined himself invincible of succumbing to. Likewise, I don’t think most of the great works of art would have been created if all that was required of their creator was to read what someone else wrote twenty minutes ago and ask an analyst what he thinks of it.

In the same way, no great work of journalism was ever written by a journalist who turned up to work at the same place every day, who went to lunch with the same group of friends and gossiped about the same senior managers’ likelihood to promote whoever of their colleagues has the brownest nose and in turn is likely to become the richest, coolest, most attractive nobody on earth. But you know, I don’t think anything great ever got implemented and powered into action in an office apart from a series of financial securities packages which all tend to have limited expiration dates anyway.

Great journalism, like great art, like great technology, is not likely to be as easy to find as everything is on Tech Crunch or BuzzFeed, and it’s just as unlikely to be the product of venture capital, which is why only 1 percent of investments turn out to be anything at all.

Otherwise, what would be great about it? What enduring sacrifice or powerful lesson or hard-hitting truth would have brought it kicking and screaming in what is somewhere between an orgasmic spasm and an orthodontic extraction, into being? With all this venture capital flooding into news, publications today tend to have a much more “on-the-go” feel about them. I am not being complimentary, but the fact that if you were a VC, you would think I was, should sound alarm bells right about now. What I mean is that whereas journalism used to always be about getting that close-up shot you’d never be brave enough yourself to take, today the process is something of the opposite; it’s about hanging back or, if you are investigating, then doing it in a relatively safe environment at least (like a Bitcoin mine in Asia). The most inventive stuff you see around today is essentially just a rehash of a grad school coursework project.

And that’s the good stuff: for the most part, that’s to say, if you work at somewhere as soul destroying and intellectually-diseased as AP or Reuters or Dow Jones, then it’s just nuts and bolts stuff. China’s growing: nuts and bolts. GDP is contracting: nuts and bolts. Tech is booming: nuts and bolts in pixels.

It’s like the parents of these journalists never told their kids there was a life beyond something that consists of paying the mortgage in New Jersey, or at least if they did they never showed them something with any degree of perspective involved. Certainly, they never told them about the ordinary stuff worth seeing much beyond the latest OSX release.

And so, as for instance at Dow Jones, when these promotion-obsessed title-freaks (who are totally OK with working for the same organization that thinks televised conservative talk radio is justifiably fair and balanced) try to paint you a picture of something far-flung like modern Asia, it is one from which certain aspects of the real thing are conspicuously absent.

Among their stories you will never find the choir-horn chaos of traffic jams snaking through the middle of a baking sun-drenched Jakarta afternoon or the rich-kid joyriders revving up acceleration-modified vintage Japanese motorcycles over the highways of Bangkok by night. No – instead, you just get to hear nuts and bolts. Indonesians are spending $4.5 more dollars this year than they were last year; Japanese automakers are having a boon as GDP per capita jumps 12.3% in Thailand.

But real life never happens this way, at least, not for those of us who haven’t had to suffer working in a factory the past 20 years. Real narratives, when you think about them, are instead more like the contextual wheels of the thing that is being driven, moving you from one place to the next momentum-bound at varying speeds past a myriad of situations of decidedly varying quality. There’s a deeper message here that is vital to our lives and how we spend it.

Your Life’s Not A Computer Program

Storytellers – not just journalists but writers too – used to assume an intimacy with their audience members, even where none was explicitly consented. Today you get fired for showing initiative in a news room, which is why no one shows any.

Writing as it was in a time when people used their brains meant something that was so much more glamorous than any of the tacky yuppie show-offs you see trying to become the world’s next technopop star, and the electrifying effect of the narratives you read was as a result so much more socially significant and enduring than yet another cheap-and-nasty VC-saturated “virtual” platform that consists of meaningless trends that wont be here tomorrow anyway.

So here is my sincere advice: if you are in your early 20s and consider yourself anywhere from pretty smart to really smart, just forget what anyone advises you to do today, ignore everything your friends are doing, get as far away from everything that is recommended for you, and just go and try and figure it out. Naturally, that’s likely to be terrible career advice to start out with, and it’s also likely to be pretty painful at times, beset with disappointing and hurting people and wondering what the hell you are doing here.

But at some point, I can guarantee you, it’ll all come back into focus and you’ll realize the person you wake up next to in the morning is more attractive and more independently interesting than anyone your friends are married to, that your job is if not always the most exciting thing in the world yet then at least the product of your own time and initiative, and that the stories you have to tell one day, are, most importantly of all, likely to be the most interesting ones.

There will naturally be a pretty good reason behind that. For just like real journalism, real life experience represents not the clever strategy executed in the office at midday, but a holistic compilation of real dialogues taking place in the darkest corners of the highest-up establishments between members of world’s mobsters and elitists, and in turn those dialogues as you narrate them through your life’s response to them come to influence the response of society’s every day average human being.

At that point, in every sense, what you are doing with your life is pulsating with energy, nerve, intellectual rebellion and in the process somewhere thereabouts it’s right at that point you realize that you have acquired a real, not a pretend, mastery of unequivocal power play.

That’s to say: your life at that point, abandoned of the need to strike it rich and thus filled with more richness – materially but also humanly, socially, too – than you ever dreamed capable of amassing, lives in stark contrast to the existence of those among you who chased their tales like rats at the bottom of the Dow Jones drain, and you end up being authentic in a way that is true to the person you always wanted to become.

When it most counts more than ever you will find yourself morally guided by pure authenticity of reason, woven into nothing more elaborate and yet out of nothing less controversial than real, hard-won, prize-winning, unselfconscious and inspired storytelling.

Find the platform for me in that and I’ll show you the guy who wrecked it and built another hundred just for kicks before he then rendered the whole platform theory obsolete in an instant by virtue of making the ever-so-simple but totally-game-changing observation that, no matter how much money or power might say it is, the world isn’t really flat at all.

Daniel M. Harrison (c) 2015

Daniel M. Harrison is the author of Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact & Fiction In Today’s World, which is available both on Kindle and in paperback format via Amazon.

To see more of Daniel M. Harrison's work, scroll down to the bottom of the page to view his member details


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Journalism – and more seriously – writing, completely sucks today for the most part, despite the enormous democratization of the publishing movement. In fact, it sucks so much that even when your intention is to do...

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