The other day I was searching online for information about a brilliant but mostly forgotten figure in the film industry. As expected, I found a brief entry on Wikipedia, but also a link to a beautifully written and illustrated blog post written by someone motivated to express his appreciation. The rekindling of interest in the composer/arranger Conrad Salinger with the help of this particular blogger is the kind of thing the internet does so well. The part that’s new for most of us is the impulse to follow through on a digital discovery and actually tell a talented an expert, performer, or amateur enthusiast—anyone whose work you admire—that you really like what they’ve done. We need to get in this habit. And most websites are set up to make responses easy.
We live in an age when there are often more sellers than buyers, more writers than readers, more supplicants to join the ranks of musicians and actors than audiences to support them. Our politics is now described as more “oppositional” than celebratory. In sum, recognition, praise and gratitude are increasingly rare forms of response.
There are two parts to this. We are used to consuming the products of our culture as commodities, letting it slip from our notice that someone worked hard to produce a piece worthy of praise. In this age of fragmented media–and especially writers and musicians who tend to be underpaid and over-copied–a little personal praise is a small but useful gesture. Beyoncé can probably live without hearing from you. But musicians appearing at a local club or releasing their first recordings would probably welcome an encouraging word. The same is true for bloggers, journalists, newsletter compilers and others whose labor is likely to be taken for granted. We need their music, or the music of their words. Really useful internet content does not simply happen. Do more than “like” them on Facebook. Let them know they’ve done something that moved you, even transformed your understanding of a subject.
The second part of this requirement seems unnecessary to acknowledge, but is important in a era of mindless trolling. Be complementary. As we know, web anger seems to be the new normal. Comments after news posts or in Twitter feeds are notoriously cranky, and all the slimier for usually being anonymous. Instead, say something nice and sign your comments. Meaningful and constructive criticism is best when knowledge of a subject makes it fully earned. But praise is an important gesture of acceptance and needs to be more freely expressed, especially in a society where most of us are stuck looking inward.
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