Internet trends have their distinct waves. In the first wave, the early discoverers are excited about their discovery. In the second, those who weren’t part of the discovery (i.e., weren’t there first) express “What’s the big deal?” disinterest. In the third, we get meme fatigue, with a general theme of “We’re still talking about this?” and “Shut up already!” And finally, overlaying the other three, there’s the self-analysis. In case it isn’t obvious, that’s what this entire paragraph has been.
If you read Facebook, Twitter, or any other sufficiently populated social media site, you’ll have been slammed by a 48-hour dress-a-thon by this time. The fad has faded, I realize, but the self-analysis wave can keep it going long past its prime. I have no guilt about being part of that.
I enjoyed every wave of the poorly lit photo of The Dress. I liked seeing the variety of reactions. I wrote a trivia question for my online trivia game about it (“What pair of colors is the dress?”) and accepted multiple correct answers. It was refreshing for the internet to be arguing about something frivolous for a short time instead of hotbutton topics like religion, politics, and the serial comma. I’ve especially enjoyed the serious articles about visual perception that have come out of the frivolity, though.
You know what’s tough about talking about the finer points of writing, words, and grammar? Trying to do it with people who aren’t as into it as you are.
I’m an editor because I love these things. I love finding the best way to communicate an author’s idea if it’s not coming through clearly. I love going over the same sentence over and over, trying different words, punctuations, rhythms, until I find something that’s just right. I love learning about what kind of language conveys what to other people, whether it evokes irritation or a more positive emotional response.
This passion means loving language and its construction on a few different levels, from the highly detailed to the very broad. A single comma can change a sentence’s meaning or tone or context. Larger changes can affect a reader’s entire perception of the writer’s message.
Paying attention to these differences is important to an editor and to a lot of unpaid language lovers, as well. But we confront a dilemma when we try to share this love and interest to our larger social networks because, as I find, talking about details of language and the way it’s pieced together, if it’s not explicitly framed as “Here are some ‘rules’ you can relax about” or “Grammar Nazis suck,” tend to get interpreted by some as falling on the side of “The sky is going to fall if you don’t stop doing this in your writing.”
The world probably doesn’t need yet another discussion point inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey, especially from someone who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie.
What I have seen, however, is some of the online conversations about it, though probably a tiny fraction relative to the whole. And naturally, we tend to gravitate toward people we have things in common with, so what I read isn’t necessarily representative of the broad picture.
While another take on the phenomenon of the moment will probably cease to be relevant in a week or so, it can still function as a springboard toward addressing in more depth one of the subjects I touched on last week—analyzing and contextualizing nested sources—as well as the topic of primary vs. secondary sources.
I’m not deliberately avoiding Fifty Shades so much as putting my time into activities that interest me a whole lot more. Because I haven’t read it, however, I had to be very careful about how I discussed it when taking part in a recent conversation on a social media site about it, and I think it makes a good example of how to appropriately discuss a topic that one is not a firsthand expert on.
For three years, I taught women's studies to undergraduates. I believed that academic integrity was such an important part of being a student that I set aside an entire class each quarter to talk just about what plagiarism is in more detail than most of them were likely to have encountered before.
The class would begin with a quiz that would later be self-graded as a group (everyone who was present that day would receive full credit). Ten questions on different types of violations of academic integrity. Some were relatively obvious, some were subjective, and some contained information that always sparked discussion. For instance, different students had been taught different guidelines as to how much of another author's work could be used before it had to be cited: some had been told that there is no minimum number of words; others had been told that a two-word phrase didn't have to be put in quotation marks.
There were a few specific subjects that surprised the students, however, and I'd like to discuss them here.
In the freelancing world, there is a type of resource that has a somewhat mixed reputation among seasoned freelancers, and that is the job bidding site. The best known include Elance-Odesk and Guru, but a web search will bring up others.
The basic idea is that buyers list jobs they’re looking for a freelancer to do. Freelancers, who have profiles set up on the site, submit proposals and bids for the job. Buyers review the proposals they receive and select one or more freelancers to hire. The parties then use the bidding site for communication, file sharing, and exchange of payment and services, and the site takes a cut of the cash.
Sounds simple enough, right? So why do established freelancers often shy away? Well, bidding sites have a reputation for being marketplaces for low-paying jobs. Not just-below-the-going-rate jobs. Not even minimum wage jobs. You can actually find people on there offering work for — and others accepting work for — as little as $3 per hour, or one-tenth the minimum hourly rate indicated by the Editorial Freelancers Association to be “common” for typical editors’ tasks.
I'm Lea, a freelance editor who specializes in academic and nonfiction materials. More info about my services is available throughout this site.