Writing in the new age of travel.
ASTORIA, NYC- I’ve been away for a while. Traveling around the US and a couple of jaunts in Mexico, working on documentary films, editing work, and even some ghost writing for a PR firm, passing the time and making some money for when the gates of the world re-open … or I decide to do something else.
My absence here wasn’t accidental. Essentially, I suspended myself. The reason for this comes off as reasonable, clear, and normal in our current climate … but just a year ago it would have been outrageous, farcical, unbelievable:
Sites are now evaluated by search engines and social media sites based on the topics they discuss, the ideas they share, and the sentiments they expose — and if you don’t toe the line and comply with the politics, morality, and business interests of the prevailing technocracy you’re disappeared. Sure, you can write and publish, yell and scream as much as you like but nobody will be able to hear you.
In the old world, if you wanted to attract traffic to your site it was once a simple matter of producing large amounts of relevant content, getting loads of incoming links, and having a page and site structure that was easy for search bots to read. Then it was a matter of quality — sites with what the search algos felt was thin content were wiped off the map. Then branding was the next hurdle to jump — big, brand sites would be given a boost in the rankings at the expense of smaller publishers. Now it’s all of the above, plus ideology.
If you don’t believe me ask the U.S. Right to Know Foundation. From Taibbi:
USRTK, whose reporting is mostly based on public document searches, is an organization that inspires strong opinions. They inhabit a corner of the media universe focusing on who pays for what kind of research, and to what result, around topics like food additives and Genetically Modified Organisms. The material can get very personal, and thanks to headlines like “The misleading and deceitful ways of Dr. Kevin Folta,” they’re not generally in the friend-making business.
Moreover, agencies like USRTK are particularly vulnerable in the age of algorithmic moderation, as computers don’t easily distinguish between conspiracy theory and legitimate reporting that runs counter to present accepted narratives. Any organization that swims in those waters and isn’t attached to a big name now has to keep looking over its shoulder. If such an organization does end up suspended, deleted, or de-ranked, as USRTK later would be, it has to wonder: was it something we wrote?
As a nonprofit, USRTK isn’t terribly click-conscious, and director Gary Ruskin wasn’t aware initially that its traffic went off a cliff in December, 2020, dropping nearly 60% overnight:
Last summer, the USRTK began investigating the origins of the Covid outbreak. By the end of the year they were more or less cleansed from the search landscape.
There are many other examples.
I never thought I’d see the day in the USA where arguments — or even requests for information — that counter the government narrative could be punishable. I spent many years in China, where this type of authoritarianism is normal, and I always watched it with the curiosity of a spectator — it had little to do with me, I’m an American and in America people have the right to express themselves, be they right or wrong. These days are gone. Voice support of the wrong cause and you risk losing your job, access to banking, the ability to communicate online, and other basic essentials needed to exist in the modern world. This isn’t conjecture — I know people who’ve had it happen to them. This is a new age of McCarthyism, but the ideological descendants of the ones who were purged in the 40s and 50s are now the ones gloating as their political opponents are being carted away.
And like in China, you’re probably better off believing …
This blog generates a sizable portion of my yearly income … and it’s about travel and culture, so my arguments countering a faux pandemic and the raw realities of being in a country that’s shamefully reneged on its founding principles aren’t exactly relevant.
However, there was clearly a market for these types of posts. I received more donations from readers in October and November of last year than I have in the past five or so years combined. People came out of the ether to say, “I support you, keep going.”
But I knew I couldn’t. Not here anyway. I planned to publish a column addressing current events across a network of monetizable burner sites, but that hasn’t happen yet. Honestly, I struggled with my old adage:
A traveler doesn’t fight, he leaves.
I didn’t have an answer for the potentiality of there not being anywhere left to run to. I still don’t.
Where have I been?
I’ve been busy these past few months working on documentary film projects and just-for-the-check videography jobs. As far as the former goes, if you saw it on the news there’s a good chance I was there filming — I’ll leave it at that.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
April 24, 2021, 7:55 am
I have been thinking of checking in with you somehow many times recently. Yeh, the things that you speak of have been getting worse and worse for 15 years now. I have always been out spoken, but in at least a researched way with some common sense. I knew enough to be able to argue either side. And those days are certainly gone at this point. I look forward to more posts from you. Thanks. Terry
April 24, 2021, 10:54 am
It’s good to see you back! And sad to see the world as it is today..
April 24, 2021, 11:17 am
I missed your voice of sanity. Welcome back.
April 24, 2021, 9:14 pm
Give a serious thought to joining politics.
April 25, 2021, 9:57 am
“A traveler doesn’t fight, he leaves.”
I’ve checked your site every day for the last two months. It’s part of my daily ritual, but I failed in the last few days because I’m busy and what do you do? You drop a post when I’m not looking. 🙂
It’s true, it’s easier for a traveler to leave. I take what I see and I deal with it because it’s all temporary and I move along. I find it hard to relate to the things I see in the US.
I know what you mean so I mostly kept radio silence while waiting for your return. I knew where you had been and were you were going. We are in interesting times and freedom isn’t that important. We have been thrust into two camps and no matter how much we try to fight it, there is no leaving the camp we have been virtually put in. I don’t really care anymore and it’s just time to leave.
I don’t even deal with people anymore. I’m not allowed to be a spectator. The last year has been interesting and I don’t like it but I do.
Ok, now for the most important question of the day: Have you gotten a Mac M1 yet? Any plans?
April 26, 2021, 12:29 am
Nice to see you back, Wade.
I have a lot to say, but let me start by rolling a grenade into the room.
I loathe smartphones. Ten years ago, before leaving the US, I had finally switched from a landline phone to a cellphone because the monthly bill was cheaper. The cellphone sat on the same stand where the landline phone had once stood. If you wanted to talk to me, you had to leave a message, just like with the old answering machine. I didn’t want people bothering me anytime they felt like it. It could wait until the end of the day when I got home.
Since then, from country to country, I’ve only used a smartphone once here in China. Last summer, gritting my teeth, I had to buy a cheap one to get a green health code to travel to Shanghai for a new passport. Since returning from Shanghai, it’s been on a shelf collecting dust. If, on my flight back to the US, I could drop that Xiaomi smartphone into the Pacific, I’d do it.
Maybe some of you reading this can’t imagine leaving home without that effing smartphone in your hand or pocket. But when I see men walking and holding a smartphone, I can only shake my head. You look like a woman holding a purse. Very cringe.
You look like pussies. C’mon, men, have some self-respect! Ditch the smartphone.
April 26, 2021, 7:40 am
On last week I was thinking “What Wade is doing now?” and here is the new article, LOL. Was missed your posts and glad to hear your voice again.
The pandemic has changed our lives. I took a break to change it the same way. Seven months later, I do not know what will happen tomorrow and I live from check to check, but this is a real freedom for me.
April 29, 2021, 6:51 am
Voice support of the wrong cause and you risk losing your job, access to banking, the ability to communicate online, and other basic essentials needed to exist in the modern world. This isn’t conjecture — I know people who’ve had it happen to them. This is a new age of McCarthyism, but the ideological descendants of the ones who were purged in the 40s and 50s are now the ones gloating as their political opponents are being carted away.
Four or five months ago, a friend of mine said I should check out Stefan Molyneux’s YouTube channel, so I stopped by and found Molyneux to be a very articulate, reasonable critic on a wide range of issues. I’d stop by a few times a week to see what he was talking about, but then one evening his channel was completely gone.
I remembered that he said he also had a BitChute channel, so I went over there and discovered that his channel had been removed from YouTube. No warning, no strikes against him, and no reasons given. I later learned that he had started one of the first YouTube channels. He had over a million subscribers, built up over around fifteen years or so. Didn’t matter. Gone with the click of a mouse.
I can’t even figure out why his channel was shut down. I had been listening to him probably the last month or so that it was up on YouTube and nothing he had said was inflammatory in any way. I don’t get it.
Anyway, now I listen to his podcasts on his Freedomain website:
As you suggest, this new feverish intolerance of heterodoxy is the gravest challenge, in many decades, to the core American values that begin with freedom of speech and association.
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