Big Brother Is Watching You. Chances are you’re familiar with the phrase and its origins, even if you’ve never read George Orwell’s 1984. And while we in American swear, “It couldn’t happen here,” especially after the fall of the World’s Largest Totalitarian State, the fact is it’s easier than ever for Big Brother to keep tabs on us. We freely hand out an astounding amount of personal information on a daily basis that could theoretically be used by Big Brother to track our movements (E-Z Passes, GPS systems, credit card/ATM purchases, those annoying little “So-and-so was at such-and-such with 3 other friends” on Facebook), our habits, our interests. Even the simple act of purchasing a shirt at a department store comes with a request by the cashier for our phone number or ZIP code, and would you like to give me your e-mail so we can send you a coupon?
Those of us hoping to make a splash in the literary world don’t have to worry too much about Big Brother. Big Brother generally doesn’t give a rat’s hinquarters how you make a living, provided a) it’s not illegal, and b) you give your fair share to Big Brother. Big Brother also doesn’t really care what you write in your books or what you say in an interview or on your blog, unless you’re advocating violent revolution or waving the flag for al-Qaeda or Kim Jong-un. Mabye you’ll find yourself on a watch list if you raise a stink about bringing your tube of Preparation H on an airplane, but you’ll probably never know it, and it will probably never affect you in any real way. But Little Brother is another story. Like Big Brother, Little Brother is always watching, and Little Brother is much more willing to mess with you.
Who is Little Brother? I am. You are. Anyone with a camera phone and access to Facebook, Instagram or Youtube. Anyone who blogs or Tweets or is involved in a forum with a big audience, such as Goodreads. And since you’re reading this, and since most of you have blogs and such of your own, that means probably about 99+% of the people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Big Brother is a mostly-cold bureaucracy that grinds along, following its own byzantine set of rules, regulations, and procedures. Little Brother, on the other hand, is hot-blooded, passionate, and has no rules. Little Brother is capricious. If you offend Little Brother in some small way, Little Brother will post the video, screen cap the blog post before you can take it down, and amass a mob of other Little Brothers, all waving virtual torches and pitchforks, and telling the rest of the world that they will never buy one of your books again, ever.
Can Little Brother really hurt your writing career? That remains to be seen. Perhaps it depends on what level you’re at. Perhaps it depends on what level of offense you’ve committed (and I should note, there are times when Little Brother is perfectly justified in calling out Bad Author Behavior, and times when Badly Behaving Authors deserve to be called out for things they say and do). Perhaps it’s really a case of ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ What I do know is we have to think before we speak, reconsider before we hit the ‘send’ or ‘post’ button, and carefully consider every word. That shouldn’t be too hard; we’re writers, after all. It’s what we do.
Note: I’m really not as paranoid as this post makes me appear, but I’ve seen enough authors getting raked over the coals in places lately that this has been on my mind quite a bit. As the duty sergeant (I think) used to say on the show, Hill Street Blues: “Be careful out there.”