I did some quick napkin math the other day. I wanted to figure out how many words I’d written as a professional content writer over the past four+ years. At the peak of my productivity, I was writing upwards of ten blogs a week, at about a thousand words a piece. There was some ebbs and flows in there, but once you add in all the other writing I did—website copy, email copy, white paper copy, landing page copy… well, I think it’s pretty fair to estimate I averaged about five thousand words a week.
That’s two-hundred and fifty thousand words a year.
That’s one million words in the past four years.
And those are just the ones I got paid for.
Uncounted are the long personal emails, the strings of chat messages, the forum conversations that represent hours of careful composition, yet are seen by only a handful of people, the unfinished chapters, the nascent essays, the abandoned blog drafts, all scattered across the nooks and crannies of the Internet, likely never to be read again, save by some algorithm, or perhaps a future ethnographer plumbing the depths of early twenty-first century informal written discourse. I wonder what they will think of us.
But anyway, that’s a lot of words. And while it is only a small drop when compared to the vast body of written online activity, it still feels like a noteworthy contribution.
One million words. Most of it unattributed.
When I’ve explained my job to people over the past few years, I’ve fallen back on describing the way the Internet works, as many of us are familiar using it. You, the Internet User, want to find something out—how to assemble IKEA furniture, where to go for dinner, what complex simulation software will best help you optimize your production chain (you know, common questions). You pop open Google, type in your search query, and then click through to the search results until you find a satisfactory answer.
That blog post you read that gave you advice about how to clean wine stains out of white carpet? I wrote that.
Also (maybe, probably) the one about protecting your business from common IT security threats, and the one about resolving intergenerational conflicts to improve your company’s corporate culture, and that roundup of wedding dress trends.
All this writing has caused me to think about what the Internet is made of. Not the computers and wires and ocean-spanning, transcontinental cables (although I like thinking about that, too), but the content available on the open web—the videos, and images, and chat conversations, and memes, and comments on other people’s comments on other people’s memes of chat conversations. It’s millions upon millions of people, across the globe, pouring words into data banks so that the other millions of people across the globe can access and read them. And in the face of that, my own million-or-so-word contribution doesn’t seem like much, even though it is the very thing the Internet is made of.
So, that’s what I do for a living. I write the Internet.
In our various ways, we all do.