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Over the years, the term “going viral” started to get on my nerves. As I’m a writer, this nails-on-chalkboard-in-my-soul experience is common as “going viral” is oft a goal of writers. We want tales of our books to “go viral” so they reach our audience – oh, and so we make money. Despite the “positive” take on it, I kept finding it annoying.
I figured it out recently – and I’m glad to say three years of Covid-19 chaos was only a minor part of it for this hypochondriac. However, it does involve viruses-as-metaphor – so let’s talk viruses.
A virus isn’t even a living thing; it’s a replication machine that uses living creatures to reproduce. It has no reactions, no feelings, it’s not even a single-celled bacteria. A virus is pointless – which is probably why they’re so scary – at least a bacterium is alive like you.
The idea of “going viral” as an author or artist gets to me as the idea is “you hijacked a bunch of people’s attention and got them to spread what you posted.” The quality of your book or art doesn’t matter – at best, it’s an afterthought of whatever meme or clever marketing phrase you used. Dross and brilliance, specialty work and mass appeal creations, the content doesn’t matter.
There’s a creepy implication to “going viral” that your work could be like a virus, and that’s laudable. You can make your work perfectly calibrated to sell, create a perfect campaign, and get a bunch of attention – but there’s nothing there but a bunch of optimized math. I’m unsettled by the idea of “virality” replacing creativity.
When you take a look at our media and social media landscape, you can see it’s gone in that direction.
What do I do with this knowledge of my opinions? Mostly it tells me what I’m comfortable doing as an author to promote my works. Partially it may tell me why some of my fellow creatives are unsettled by “going viral.”
But it also means I’m casting a far more jaundiced eye on marketing and social media, and I’m sure I’ll have more opinions to follow.