Hey-ho, reader! Welcome to the seventh annual Midlife Crisis Crossover year-in-review. This tiny sandbox was formed on April 28, 2012, as a place where I could entertain myself by making essay-shaped things out of whatever words and pictures I had at hand, as opposed to surfing social media and waiting for excuses to reply to strangers who didn’t ask my opinion. Often it’s been a fulfilling use of galleries, memories, and peculiar opinions that might otherwise either languish unwritten in my head or collect endless rejection emails from every professional website ever. At other times it’s been less fulfilling, but something I continue cobbling together anyway, as long as I can keep the fires of motivation stoked.
When you make a longtime hobby out of turning words and pictures into hopefully entertaining compositions, more for the sake of self-satisfaction and human interaction than for lofty aspirations to widespread fame and/or corruptive fortune, it’s always a pleasant surprise when something you did — no matter how tiny or inconsequential it seemed at the time — somehow catches the eye of just the right person and creates an unusual opportunity you’ve never had before, never saw coming, have trouble explaining to others, but draw a bit of pride from anyway.
I’ve had a few such occasions pop up in my life. Another one of those odd little things recently happened for me. I think I now have enough to assemble my own checklist. It’s not long or dignified enough to call a bibliography, but if there were an Internet Peanut Gallery Database — like IMDb, but for nobodies like me — then my IPGDb page would presently look something like this:
Over the past several years the good folks at WordPress.com, facilitators of this very website you now clutch in your device, have provided bonus services to users in the form of The Daily Post. A fine team of editors provided springboards for would-be bloggers who were interested in writing but needed ideas, offered networking opportunities between WordPress users like me who lack the skills to meet fellow entertainers, start conversations, find the right cliques, and expand both their online reach and their Friends lists. The Daily Post’s guidance came in the form of writing prompts every day, weekly mixers for new bloggers to ask questions and seek suggestions, and the regularly scheduled themed “challenges”, which invited our take on whatever particular word of phrase came to the editors’ minds. We were free to interpret and respond to their suggestions at our discretion, then seek out other respondents and compare their approaches to ours. It was a fun way for WordPress customers across the board to expand their horizons and bond as a community.
Alas, that era of fun corporate block parties has come to an end. As of May 31st The Daily Post has shuttered its services and will no longer offer new topics or assignments for our use. We writers, photographers, artists, poets, mommy-bloggers, retired wool-gatherers, lecturers, fireside storytellers, collegiate navel-gazers, marketer wannabes, spammers posing as humans, and all-around social typists are left to our own devices, to create our own ideas from whole cloth, and to figure out how to network without trained professionals lending us a hand. Frankly, some of us may be doomed.
Regardless! Over the past six years we’ve had our own stories to tell and opinions to express here on MCC, and are in no danger of running out anytime soon. Current projections show that I may be in for awkward times around late 2019, but for now we’re good. Throughout the long history of the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenges and Weekly Writing Challenges, MCC participated roughly 95 times among our 1700+ entries to date. The Daily Post’s editors signed off their final programming week with a retrospective of their favorite results from years past. Now, it’s MCC’s turn. The following is a look back at our most popular Weekly [whatever] Challenge submissions — the all-time favorites as determined by You, The WordPress Viewers at Home.
Over the past few days, internet users have been flooded with notifications from various websites, apps, and mailing lists they signed up for in a previous millennium, all declaring the official implementation of new updates to their privacy practices as mandated by the General Data Protection Regulation, Europe’s latest tool in the war on online shenanigans. At the core, it’s a good thing — European residents using computing gadgets should now have more insight and control into how their personal data is collected, stored, used, abused, and repurposed into fuel for the corporate engines that rely on us to be their consumer puppets. On a certain level it feels like an annoying form of paranoia, but this is the kind of response that occurs when multi-billion-dollar companies can’t give straight, morally upright answers to basic questions about what they do with all the 1s and 0s they harvest from our keystrokes.
As is wont to happen in the wake of radical societal upheavals, Comedy Twitter has been having a field day with the wave of emails, notifications, and pop-ups they’ve been receiving from organizations and proprietors desperate to comply and eager to keep their traffic from European visitors uninterrupted. I’ve laughed at too many to relay here without diminishing the effect, but some responses have been comedy gold.
Then tonight I found out even my own site was affected. I didn’t see that coming.
I launched Midlife Crisis Crossover on April 28, 2012, three weeks before my 40th birthday as a means of charting the effects of the aging process on my opinions of, applause for, revulsion at, and/or confusion arising from various works of art, expression, humanity, inhumanity, glory, love, idolatry, inspiration, hollow marketing, geek life, and sometimes food. It was also my way of finding a way to give myself excuses to write during a time when joining other people’s conversations was becoming increasingly dissatisfying and rare. Nobody talked about what I wanted to talk about; when they did, my opinions usually got me sent to go stand in the corner or flat-out ignored. And I couldn’t just not type.
Six years and 1,772 entries later, here I remain, not permanently burnt out, not yet out of anecdotes, still finding new experiences to relay, and, once in a blue moon, pulling out a different Moral of the Story to share with the kids these days that I haven’t already hammered into the ground in twelve previous posts.
My favorite piece of journalism so far this year was just published January 27th over at the New York Times and struck a nerve in a number of places. In an epic-length article entitled “The Follower Factory”, the NYT plumbed the wobbly world of Twitter and those peculiar, insecure users who boost their Follower head count by paying a company actual money to bless them with hundreds of thousands of automated “bot” accounts that pretend they’re fans clinging on to their every tweet, for the purpose of making the paying customers look more popular. Some are piecemeal accounts, with profiles barely filled out. Quite a few are the product of surface-level identity theft, cribbing photos and usernames but with a character altered to make it unique (relatively speaking). They don’t praise you, go forth in your name, act as your “street team”, or interact with you or other humans in any meaningful way. They just Follow. They sit there, shut up, and act like you rule.
Companies such as Devumi cheerfully offer low-price options for ordinary web-surfing rabble like me, but they also bank some major cash selling bot followings by the hundreds of thousands to B-list celebrities, politicians, creators, reality TV dwellers, and others at varying levels of fame. The NYT named a few names I recognize — actor John Leguizamo, Chef Michael Symon, onetime MST3K guest star Kathy Ireland, and film critic Richard Roeper, whose Chicago Sun-Times reviews have been suspended pending their internal review. Of those who responded to requests for comment, a few buyers insisted it wasn’t them personally pushing the buttons, but an assistant or social media manager who bought a hollow audience on their behalf for PR strategy or whatever. Whether their deflections are true or not, boosts of fake fame are kind of sad. Granted, some personalities receive perks and bonuses from their corporate overlords based on the looks of their social media metrics, which means a return on their invidious investment is entirely possible. To them I imagine it’s all part of the Game.