Can Words Ever be Wasted? It’s a Racing Certainty

You can’t get away from horses in the UK at the moment. They are either turning up in your lasagne or stalking David Cameron’s leadership. Both of these stories have great comic potential in my mind, if for no other reason than they are taken dreadfully seriously and in the big scheme of things, really aren’t important.

If you want jokes about horses and food, can I suggest Twitter. I’m going to write briefly about Adam Afriyie, the stalking horse that wasn’t. Afriyie is a previously unknown MP who seems to have delusions of grandeur. Journalists across the land have been scurrying around trying to find out something about this mystery man with the boundless self-confidence. What they discovered is that he is very rich and largely made his money selling words.

Mr Afriyie is no author, however. He’s not even a journalist, a scriptwriter or a playwright. He runs a company which provides articles to web sites looking to improve their search engine rankings. His is a content sweatshop. His workers are required to churn out documents, which include all important keywords, to be uploaded to web sites and never read. It’s words as commodity. Widget words.

The articles were about 250 words long, for which customers would pay £18. The writers would have strict targets to hit. One manager spoke of creating 100 articles in a 30 hour shift. Can you imagine what he was putting out by the end?

It’s tempting to be terribly pious about this. Language has the potential to be enormously powerful, to inspire love or fear, to topple governments and to heal great divides. Afriyie is casting this to the wind. He’s stripping out the poetry and leaving us with little black lines. But what’s wrong with that? In most other forms of sustenance we have the prosaic and the exotic. Baked beans and chateaubriand. T-shirts and tiaras.

For me, it’s not so much that this company makes money from cheap content, it’s that the words are meaningless. Articles are created as a way to hold keywords in place, which themselves are just signposts for something else. It’s not the banality of  the company’s product, it’s the pointlessness.

Frankly, Mr Afriyie, you are wasting words. You’re building roads from them, stuffing them into cavity walls. Is it possible to imagine a sadder way to waste such a precious gift? Writing articles that no one wants to read, or probably ever will, written by people who don’t know or care what they’re writing about. Soulless. You’d be better off making up jokes about burgers winning the Grand National.

Cow Horse

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