I’ve been a writer for a long time. I’ve written everything from magazine articles to advertising copy to screenplays to novels. I’m a published poet. Along my writer’s journey, I’ve participated in every publishing format and each new technology platform. I’ve written two million words on computers since 1988. Currently, I’m writing this on my iPhone as I walk my dog. When Medium came along as an elegant alternative to personal blogs I was very interested. At last, here was an accessible forum for ideas which combined the open journalism of HuffPo with a simple, functional interface that reached tens of thousands of readers easily.
But after six months spent on Medium, I am left cold by the false cheer of this platform. Almost every article is a naked attempt to gain attention by self-obsessed jabberwocks promising personal improvement through easy steps to gain leverage on social media. This narcissistic über-journalism is the literary equivalent of duck-lipped selfies. It may catch your attention for a moment, but the content is half-baked if not outright dumb. And the easy proof of that claim is: virtually none of Medium’s stories offer ideas worth repeating. Sure, you may mindlessly and uncritically “like” or share a Medium article, but it’s not because it’s good or thoughtful material. You clap your approval and share because you’ve been trained to like, follow, comment, and share by those Playskool-like buttons that entice you to participate in marketing daft content.
Medium’s greatest asset is also its biggest flaw: ease of use. Nearly anyone can post professional-looking articles about anything. Articles that exist without the critical eye of an editor, fact checker, or even common sense. This is the journalism of anything and nothing. In terms of content, Medium says, “It’s all good,” and the result is a big-box store filled with scads of colorful, cheap plastic items fabricated in Chinese factories by underpaid labor. (A close analogy.)
The problem with giving writers the freedom to post anything is that it creates a flavor of prose that undermines any expert, researched, and knowledge-based approach. All opinions are presented with equal fairness, no matter how shit-for-brains, poorly-reasoned, or ill-advised. Writers get approval just for showing up. Unfortunately, once they receive even a sliver of attention from a drugged, uncritical audience, they have no incentive to improve their craft. The writing primarily exists to grab eyeballs and “create your brand.” Hence, there is no more worthy subject than the celebration of writing for the sake of writing. It is writing done to glorify the writer, and feed the writer’s ego.
Sadly, having nothing to say can entertain people. Seinfeld proved in the 1990s that people’s attention could be held by the stupid small details of modern life, even if they are extremely moronic inconsequential things. In April of 2018, a Medium writer offered a densely written appreciation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. To be charitable, we may call this kind of writing “postmodern” but really it’s just jerking off. No writer from Aristophanes to Hemingway would advise an author to spend their time obsessively dissecting snack food. That’s writing-as-therapy for the mentally ill, popularized by David Foster Wallace, who fortunately for the rest of us, stopped writing.
If you want a place to develop your writing, try a secret personal journal. Don’t make the rest of us watch you stagger around in baby diapers before you learn to walk (or write). The Beatles never would’ve become the Beatles if they didn’t spend two years privately working away at their music in the nightclubs of Hamburg. They perfected their craft in utter obscurity. Medium removes all the benefits of obscurity. By design, Medium gives writers a wide audience long before they’re ready to do good work. This is a mistake. When writers crave the dopamine hit a stranger’s “clap” provides, they start writing self-indulgent sensational junk barely better than the Bat Boy stories of the Weekly World News. A quick scan of my Medium home page suggests these stories: My Orgasm Is Not Your Property (So Stop Saying You Made Me Come); How to Suck Less At Things; and 120 Scene-writing Prompts.
Consider the vast gulf in quality between Medium’s junk journalism and a New Yorker article by John McPhee, Malcolm Gladwell, or David Grann. Not all of the writing on Medium is truly awful, but most of it is useless. Worse, it’s self-promotional masturbation focused on personal experiences. Far too much writing on Medium is about me, me, me. This helps explain why Medium stories about how to grow your Medium following are so popular, because everybody wants to know how to jerk themselves off — but even better.
My old lacrosse coach used to bark, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” This is true of Medium writers. Everybody posting stories on Medium wants to think of themselves as a serious writer, but they don’t want to put in the hard work of learning and polishing their writing craft. How many great writers have been discovered on Medium and gone on to great literary fame? Zero. And the reason is that Medium has set the quality bar so low, dull mediocrity gets a gold star.