I am part of the sharing generation. A number of changes in recent history have allowed everyone to have a voice and access to those willing to hear. Yesterday’s ideas were bound by vehicles and arenas which made it harder to disseminate them. This is not to say that I am celebrating and claiming that cyberspace access has made us free; after all immediate and open publishing has come hand-in-hand with incredible empowerment of surveillance actors, championed by the U.S. government (and specifically NSA), as Snowden, Manning, Assange and many others have shown us.
We now know that Facebook and Google are some of the largest information providers (willing or not) for the powers that be, who’ve taken advantage of a culture of fear to obtain never before seen entitlement over monitoring not just suspects and would-be criminals, but all of us. All of you.
Today, your personal data, religion, purchasing tendencies, ideology, sexual preference and many more tidbits of information which you used to consider private, are likely periodically and systematically filtered and analyzed by the U.S. government (and who knows who else). This is screwed up, even if it is true that I have nothing to hide from the U.S. government and I doubt they would find me remotely interesting. Even so, when personal information becomes public, when your cell phone is inherently also a perfect personal tracking device (thanks to GPS), it is easy to succumb to that same culture of fear that allowed legislation such as the Patriot Act to pass.
I live in Mexico. And I blog in Mexico. I blog about all types of things, stemming from comedic tidbits that could be catalogued as “brain farts”, to analytical and challenging pieces about the sociopolitical and economic status quo in my country.
I like to share and I like to say things I feels need to be said. Some of them go unnoticed; others get viral status and reach millions of hits. More than once, people close to me have asked “aren’t you afraid of saying X?”, usually after writing pieces which are critical of the political elite or organized crime.
Statistically, I live in one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work in, so I can understand my friends’ concerns. The good news is, I’m not a journalist. As an Op-Ed blogger, I am lucky enough to choose what I write and how I write it and because of this, NO, I AM NOT AFRAID.
Institutional, traditional media is easy for anyone to measure and follow. It is thus, an easy and attractive target because EVERYONE has some understanding of the scale reached by say, a national or local newspaper. With most e-media only the analytics owners (and potentially hackers and the U.S. government) know for sure if your words have become relevant to a few or millions of people. Then again, if they become viralized, they will likely fall in the hands of people susceptible to your ideas and words and they might want to do something about it. That risk is always there.
Saying that I am not afraid does not mean that I am reckless. There is a distinction between being afraid and being cautious… and again, not having an institutionalized agenda allows me to take certain precautions which deflect would-be retaliators.
- I have complete control of what I say, how I say it and to a large extent, when I say it. This is extremely powerful. I can manage the intensity with which I approach certain topics, the form and the periodicity. If I gauge that the timing is not right for discussing a certain subject, I stay away from it even if it would have been popular to talk about. Does this mean I am not 100% free? ABSOLUTELY. It also means I am not stupid.
- I don’t do investigative reporting and I don’t publish otherwise privileged, confidential or secret information. This is not to say that I have not had access to it; it just means that I maintain my “opinion-blogger” status. I am not a reporter, I am not a detective and I certainly am not anything close to Wikileaks. My objective is not to publish something before media outlets have already made it public. I provide commentary and opinion on facts and news which have previously been published and/or I put together pieces of a puzzle that were already out there, accessible to anyone with a web browser and the capacity to find the connections between them.
- I don’t pick fights, especially with bullies that carry automatic weapons. I am critical but unless I make the conscious decision to take that risk, I avoid pointing too many fingers on specific individuals, particularly if I am making accusations or evidencing a problem. This goes back to the liberty of choosing how it is I say things. Public political figures, like the President or a governor are used to newspapers talking about them, not always (actually rarely) in friendly terms. As long as it does not cross a certain line, they can take it and in is their job to take it. Now, if I had access to a specific drug dealer’s personal address (which I don’t), would I publish it on my blog? Of course not. I don’t pick fights with bullies. Again, I am not afraid but I am also not stupid.
- Commenting on a digital vehicle and basing my commentary of referenced, previously published pieces makes me less relevant and attractive to reaction than the original media that covered the story. I may be still at risk, but certainly less than others… and I keep it that way intentionally. I’ve been offered to write for a couple of local/national newspapers in my time as a blogger. Thanks, but no thanks. If I were a real journalist in Mexico, I would be afraid.
Now if I have to take these types of precautions, you might ask “why write at all?” And why take that risk, small as it may be?
Maybe it’s because I like helping others translate fact into opinion and use my words as a springboard for their own internal dialogue. That’s certainly part of it. It would be incorrect and arrogant of me to say that I like being a thought leader. I don’t consider myself one; I’ll settle for possibly being, at times, a thought catalyst.
Also, I love the satisfaction I feel when someone tells me “you put it together in a way that it finally makes sense to me” or “you said it the way it needed to be said.” I recently wrote a piece on women in the workforce in Mexico; it was extremely fulfilling to get feedback from women saying things like “thank you for really understanding women’s reality in the professional realm. Not too many men take the time to do it and it makes all the difference for a guy to actually say this publicly.” I’m happy to be THAT guy.
There are at least two other reasons that explain my drive for putting ideas out there.
The first one has to do with doing what I feel is a service to my community, my readers and the country I love. I try to write pieces which highlight a problem that needs fixing, celebrate and recognize positive actions and/or motivate and inspire others to learn more and hopefully make a difference.
The other reason is greedy, self-interest and an innate need (dare I say addiction) to transcend. No, I don’t want to live forever but I do want to leave behind a testament of my journey through life and writing is an easy and enjoyable way I’ve found of doing that. I will not likely be remembered by entire nations and my name will never reach Larry King status, but that’s ok. I don’t want to transcend for all of mankind, not even all of Mexico.
I want to transcend in a way that my children have tangible proof of their father’s principles, ideals and ideas. I want them to know that they should never fear about having ideas and putting them out there for the benefit of others and themselves, even if they are ideas that break away from the status quo. Especially if they are ideas that break away from the status quo.
We are not fully free, but I’ll be damned if fear keeps my words locked up in a cage forever. I hope my children eventually read these words and they get to live in a world where they never have to fear for letting others know what they think. Just like their father did.
My deepest appreciation and gratitude. Thank you for reading and letting me share my ideas with you.