I wrote this a few years ago, but facing my imminent and rather unwelcome exit from academia, I might find myself in this situation again.
After looking for work for six months in every country except Saudi Arabia, I have buckled down and accepted a job contributing to the inanity of the Internet. I write “content,” a term that inspires no greater understanding of information exchange than its plain meaning. The infinity of the Internet beckons those who will fill it with everything and nothing. I write for those how-do-I-do-it sites, often resorting to offering well-written but incomplete and virtually useless knowledge (as per guidelines). And, I am paid $15 per “article” for constructing the written equivalent of a painting by numbers.
Now, I am not saying that this is by any means a fruitless endeavor. Yes, income of any stripe is always welcome, but there are deeper truths about our society to be gleaned from the questions posed by the merely average to so-called experts such as myself. In this banal existence, I may have found some mystical knowledge about the human condition.
One question in particular has inspired this commentary: “How do I install a drain after the cement floor has dried?” There is an innocent beauty in that most obviously wrong of questions; we call it hope. Any one of us could be that do-it-yourselfer who, while presenting his (or her) beautiful new garage/basement/party room floor to a spouse is asked the innocuous question, “Where is the drain?” This belongs to the realm of Haiku:
Flat, dry, unyielding
Still, a windless graying sea
What do you mean, “Drain?”
Insight dawns. Visible physical deflation ensues.
Thus begins my travel from a purely academic understanding of the human condition through a portal to the true core of humanity. Whether college professor, middle manager, or waitress, the Sisyphean futility of life becomes manifest when grasped in the pathetic frustrated hands of imperfect and imperfectable human life; we are all one—there is a Zen moment in here—when in our DIY projects we neglect the most obvious and necessary. One can imagine that poor schmo standing before the computer, having been told that the Internet has all the answers, praying to the binary god, typing frantically, “How do I …?”
Now this foible of humanity lands on my desktop. Rather than gently passing on the bad news that, no, there really isn’t anything to be done now, I open my article formatter and type in the box labeled step one: “First thing, rent a jack hammer and protective ear covering …”
Next assignment: “How do I get a date for my sister?” It is going to be a long night.
signed, the content hack