posted Oct 31, 2000

The Healthiest Addiction
Personal Commentary
10/31/2000; 3:34:41 PM

I've been reading Expanded Universe by Robert Heinlein, notable mostly for the commentary he includes between the stories that talk about when and why they were written.  I was reading a passage that has lept out at me before, but this time I wanted to take the time to share it. He's talking about a time early in his career. I'm chopping a lot out to conform with fair use, please read the book (on page 92) to see the full quote.

I had always planned to quit the writing business as soon as that mortgage was paid off.  I had never had any literary ambitions, no training for it, no interest in it -- backed into it by accident and stuck with it to pay off debt, I being always firmly resolved to quit the silly business once I had my chart squared away.

At a meeting of the Manana Literary Society... at a gathering of this noble group I was expounding my determination to retire from writing once my bills were paid...

William A. P. Whie ("Anthony Boucher") gave me a sour look. "Do you know any retired writers?... You know retired school teachers, retired naval officers, retired policemen, retired farmers. Why don't you know at least one retired writer?"

"What are you driving at?"

"Robert, there are no retired writers. There are writers who have stopped selling... but they have not stopped writing."

I pooh-poohed Bill's remarks -- possibly what he said applied to writers in general... but I wasn't really a writer; I was just a chap who needed money and happened to discover that pulp writing offered an easy way to grap some without stealing and without honest work...[long skip here]

Bill "Tony Boucher" White had been dead right. Once you get the monkey on your back there is not cure short of the grave. I can leave the typewriter alone for weeks, even months, by going to sea. I can hold off for any necessary period of time if I am strenuously engaged in some other full-time, worthwhile occupation... But if I simply loaf for more then two or three days, that monkey starts niggling at me.

America and American-influenced modern cultures have been conditioned to consume; we all know that. The web gives great powers of expression to those people, weblogs being one of the easiest ways to write. We all know that.

But there is something that is just an undercurrent in current 'blogging... like see this BlackholeBrain entry:

Another long relaxing weekend and no looking at a computer! I'm starting to like that more and more... but still I love doing this [blogging] enough to feel like I've been *without* too long. >:] Most of you know that feeling I think... but I know I can quit anytime I want to! More later...

He makes a reference, presumably meant to be humorous, to 'blogging as addiction. Like most jokes, this has a kernel of truth in it. Let's stop tip-toeing around this issue, and say it loud, without humor: Weblogs are addictive!

Even the best of ideas need help to succeed.  P2P was boosted by the power of music, and on that power, Napster gained 33 million users. What's helping the web, and weblogs? The power of addiction. Weblogs may not be exploding like Napster, but it probably won't ever die... once you start writing for a weblog, you won't stop writing.

The key for weblogs was to make that first fix easy to get; Dave Winer was exactly right that way. For many people, writing and sharing it with the world (even if the world doesn't beat a path to your site) is addictive on the first hit. The cool thing about self-expression, though, is that it's almost totally healthy. Ask a psychologist what happens when someone stops expressing themselves. Let's get more people hooked to the healthiest addiction... it'll be good for them, and good for the web.

There are some people I've thought of introducing to weblogs... I think I'm going to try giving them their first free hit and see what happens. 


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