Sociology & SEO: Dissociating from Alternative Worlds
On the back-end, I faced an explosion of ideas. Paying for self-hosting allowed me to access a whole new world of WordPress plugins. It wasn’t just about star ratings, scroll buttons, or user submission forms. I became concerned about functional qualities, such as website speed and site navigation. Yoast came with percentages and tips to craft content more visible to other web users. Google Analytics provided the performance indicators.
I thus became an official player in this web game called SEO.
Appropriation by Sociology
Elsewhere, I was into my final year at NUS. When the end looms, one feels a desire, if not urgency, to make sense of the totality of an experience. I have learned a lot from Sociology, and it was always on my mind to apply what I have learned to writing. It is not far-fetched to say I picked Sociology for the sake of my writing. Writing came first. Writing is first.
Yet non-fiction writing is also the form of expression most easy to distort, since it is also the preferred form in media and academia. It would be easier (but still difficult) to distance one’s photography, painting, or fictional stories from such influences. For a few semesters, I could maintain that distance because I appropriated Sociology. It’s why I often struggle to meet the intellectual focus expected in the front end of the classroom.
With the end near, I made the decision to deepen my commitment. And hence I became appropriated by Sociology.
Dissociation from Thinking Self
By throwing myself into the ways of thinking of academia, I seem to have lost my sense of self. I grew more dependent on the ideas of others, and that is seen by the quotes and theories I center many posts on. But this didn’t only happen in the past 6 or 9 months. It had actually started once I entered university. Whether it was conscious or not—it was, albeit with some naivety—doesn’t matter. I was appropriated from the get-go.
To say this is not to mean malice or ungratefulness. Instead, I couldn’t be more grateful. Because I had a bigger problem. I have been too self-indulgent. I have been too enamoured with my own thoughts, ever since my adolescence. It may be important to keep my writing self independent from my student self. But surely, it must be more necessary to tear down the divide between my thinking self and my living self!
As such, it is through the process of appropriation that I have learned, to dissociate from the layered realities of my thinking self.
Not Following the Plan
To retrace my steps like I have is to gain a little more empathy for the decisions I have made in the past. Faced with impending graduation and a growing knowledge of the rules of the digital content game, it was most reasonable to privilege informational and academic content over fully reflective ones. To write posts peppered with the keywords including ‘sociology’ and its associated thinkers and theories is tactically smarter than to write posts applying them without mention. Why write posts that won’t be read, when I mean them to be read?
If my thinking self knew what to do, my living self sure had other ideas. My output these past four years has been significantly lower than earlier years. And while I have—by sheer academic practice—improved in thinking and craft, I lost the pleasures of writing for discovery. There are people who delight in the transfer of information and the construction of arguments. I am not one of them, and I should have known better, earlier.
Even when citing quotes and theories, I kept trying to spin my own voice in.
A More Human Direction
Here is the critical shortcoming of my tagline, “finding a fit”: there’s no telling which is the right fit, because we are always subject to the forces of past, present, and future. If the right fit today is the wrong fit tomorrow, is it still right? To this I cannot answer confidently. But to be aware of this process, and not fear this process, gives us the agency to construct a biography of the self. It is how we learn to evolve consciously as human beings.
To really practise what I preach, I cannot hide behind the guises of others’ Sociology. In fact, I cannot hide behind Sociology itself, as a way of thinking. It is a disciplined perspective, and as a human, I cannot allow the tool to define its user. I need to make central my unique sensibilities. I need to write with the force of a being that keeps evolving, rather than that of beings who keep ceasing to. (Our knowledge of others is always start-stop, whereas our living self is always available, just somewhere inside.)
If I can dissociate from my thinking self, it’s time to start writing with my whole living self.
Whole Living Self?
You might be thinking: Oh, Eugene is going with his heart, good for him! But no! Not only are the mind and body not mutually exclusive, they are also both wholly necessary to the particular content I create. Even if I want to follow my heart, I can never leave my mind on autopilot. While Sociology trains me to think differently, it does not tell me to think differently how, and when. It is all too easy to follow lines of inquiry that mean little to most.
And then there’s me trying to be a cultural producer, rather than a “pure” artist. To write with attention to ideas is to seek social change. It is a moral act going beyond an expression of the self, to an interaction with others. The ‘others’ must turn up. And so I cannot escape the webs of games I play. I must dance, even at the risk of tangling myself. I just need to remember that it is a web I’m crawling on, and never confuse the web for the world.
Perhaps it is in knowing yet accepting risks that we commit the self: to create what’s worth creating, and to write it into being.
To remind ourselves to never forget our innocent and most hopeful selves.
林宥嘉 Yoga Lin – <勿忘你 Roots>