As much as I rail against iPhones and their ability to suck the life out of the zombie masses, creating a culture of social ghosts who never truly see one another, I have a profound respect for the vortex from which that infernal device draws its power. Though at times it may resemble a cesspit of vanity, illiteracy, crass behavior and pet worship, the internet has its seemly side.
It connects us in ways no other invention ever has. I’d even go so far as to say it has supplanted every religious text ever written with its invasive and world-changing power. It has become the new religion of the masses. A global phenomenon offering salvation from ignorance and the expansion of horizons undreamed of – if only in bite sized pieces of opinion and gossip. Offering, I should add, but rarely accepted.
For myself, a jaded and cantankerous misanthrope who finds it painful to the point of physical distress to spend any extended amount of time in a crowd larger than six, the internet has become a social crutch offering access without actually requiring an entry fee. Well… aside from the occasional forgotten password, of course.
From the safety of my couch, I can check in on friends and family on Facebook – making snarky comments like a poo-flinging chimpanzee – chat briefly with people I haven’t actually seen in ages, watch their videos posted on YouTube, Vine and Vimeo, ooh and ahh over their pictures posted in Flickr, inspire them by passing along select morsels of the esoteric and at times incomprehensible ephemera cascading through Tumblr and post my observations on one of several blog platforms I discreetly inhabit and infrequently update, depending on my mood.
This has become very handy, considering I work from home. There was a time, not so very long ago, when that particular career choice created a very lonely occupational hazard. Not so, anymore. Allow me to elucidate.
I have freelanced most of my adult life. Only once before did I attempt to make that a full time profession. It was during the nineties, before the proliferation of the technical megacosm. Websites were still a relatively fresh invention and email was quickly replacing phone calls and letter writing as the communication style of choice. Still, in order to attract and filter business opportunities, one had to put on a social game face and get out there to do some serious networking.
I did that for six years and loved every minute of it, counting as clients Hollywood movie studios, top public relations firms, purveyors of quality smut, community theater troupes and the odd artist, actor, musician or writer. It was a halcyon time, much like the world of real estate before the bubble burst. Only something as cataclysmic as the destruction of the World Trade Center could upset my golden apple cart, and it did just that.
When those towers collapsed, so too did my livelihood, though I wouldn’t realize that immediately. The most grievous loss was the severing of ties with Hollywood, which, almost overnight, decided collectively that all marketing must be handled in-house rather than farmed out, even to veterans like me.
The same went for all the larger public relations firms. Fear had cinched up coin purses tighter than a frog’s ass across the business spectrum and nobody was feeling it more than the entertainment industry. Within six months, I found myself desperately trying to keep up with bills and growing debt. Change was upon me, once again.
Luckily for me, I had clients I could fall back upon. Business people who recognized my worth and rescued me from the post-terror retreat of creative forces and the economic drought that followed. I continued freelancing, of course, but regular sources of income became necessary in order to support my family and the life I had built for myself at that time. A life that has all but evaporated at this point, but at the time, I did what I had to do to maintain it, if only for a few years longer.
It’s a very different world today. In some ways, it never quite recovered from the effects of that staggering September morning. Freelancing is not what it once was. A writer who could once pull in upwards of $100 for a well-written article, is now grateful to receive $25 for the very same work. And, because any yahoo with a laptop can now claim to be a graphic designer, webmaster or marketing specialist – and vastly undercharge for their questionable work – finding clients who are willing to pay for services professionally rendered is difficult. Many, it appears, are willing to attach their names to substandard work, in order to save a few shekels.
Many, but not all. There are still clients who take great pride in their product and who are willing to take a chance on those for whom the box is anything but confining. It is because of this that I have made the decision to walk the path of the unsupervised again. It wasn’t an easy one, but it did happen quickly once the decision was made. I now find myself launching a new creative enterprise that is far and away more philanthropic than any I’ve ever attempted before, while staring at the relatively clean canvas of an all-new year and wondering what new adventures it will bring. This from a self-avowed introvert.
Fear not, all this roundabout rambling does bring us right back around to my original point – the importance of the internet. Having spent the past two decades learning how to navigate the highly-charged, zero-gravity effects of this cultural labyrinth – and, in truth, knowing that it is virtually impossible to anticipate the mercurial shifts of this ever-evolving beast – I feel I have achieved the kind of understanding that can pass for proficiency. In much the same way one can believe he or she has tamed a jungle predator, while at the same time knowing that to show weakness of any kind could spell disaster.
I am finding that, once one looks past the duck-faced selfies and benighted diatribes, weeded through the opinionated news bites and ever-pervasive porn hand-me-downs and side-stepped the morass of banal cat pics and rabid celebrity obsession, one can find avenues to knowledge that can be creatively honed into tools of surgical precision. Not everything we read on the internet is true. Only a fool would believe that, which makes up about 98 percent of the American population, but I’ll avoid that digression for now. This is where the navigation part comes in.
I come from the old school of journalism, in which facts are followed up on, and double-checking is an unquestionable necessity. This before any commentator worth his salt would attach his name to a public passage. I research my sources before I access them. This habit has served me well over the years.
It has also helped me to compile a reputable wellspring from which to draw inspiration. With this fountain of erudition at my disposal, I feel confident in my ability to freefall successfully. And, except for the occasional meeting with clients or obligatory appearance at event, concert or function, I don’t even have to leave the comfort of my home to do it.
I’m not really sure where all this introspection has come from. It could have something to do with the fact that for the first time in over six years I have the energy and drive to do more than simply exist. My forays into historic theater management, weekly news reporting, advocacy for the film community and the subsequent soul-scarring administration of a popular film festival have all served to remind me that anything is possible if I just set my mind to it. If I can accomplish all those social balancing acts, and the many side-projects that came along with them, while in an emotional quagmire, imagine what I can accomplish once the fog clears?
It’s a slow process, to be sure, but every day brings new revelations. Since making the decision to freelance full time in mid-September, I have partnered with a handful of highly talented and progressive clients who are very generously keeping my coffers filled. I am also working on a plan to reinvigorate the local independent film industry, have returned to the novel I abandoned six years ago and am reorganizing my on-line presence. And, because old habits die hard, I have written two more scripts and am currently in pre-production to shoot the next High Life episode sometime in January.
Even more surprising, I’ve auditioned for and been cast in a play that will run in March. Yep, I’ll be back on the boards after an eight-year hiatus, something I really thought would never happen again. I know, I know… Don’t even try to psychoanalyze that behavior. Theater is one of the few truly social indulgences that can feel entirely insulated. After all, to those of us on-stage, the audience is really nothing more than a sounding board of faceless devotees, as insubstantial as smoke for the course of the play. Every extroverted introvert’s dream. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to blog about, which, in a way, is exactly the point.
That’s a lot of positive change in three and a half months. I anticipate even more as the new year progresses. In a way, as this year draws to a close and the next prepares for its launch, and despite the cliché, it feels a bit like rebirth. I’ve gone through my trial by fire and am now ready to rise from the ashes of sorrow and defeat as a challenger. Ironically, I escaped the confines of Phoenix to lick my wounds and rediscover myself, only to feel an affinity for the mythical creature from which that cultural sump derives its name on the other side of the abyss.
I doubt I’ll ever completely overcome my growing social phobias, despite the dauntless attempts by my handful of trusted comrades and long-suffering partner. There are far too many smoldering bridges and smoking craters in the footpath behind me for that to happen. Still, I am hopeful that my presence here in the interverse will help me stay connected in a positive and altruistic way. I certainly intend to make it a priority as 2015 transforms the landscape into a promising quilt of experiment, effort and enterprise. From where I currently stand, anything seems possible.
Who knows, I may even invest in an iPhone…