The e-mail leered at me.
“C’mon – are you man enough?” it seemed to ask.
It arrived in my inbox, together with twelve inducements to sign up for websites liberally sprinkled with the words boobs, bouncing, hot, teen and nymph. Also there were the usual suggestions that if I wanted to be a real man and satisfy her throughout the night, I should take up a special offer on some medication that would keep my hot teen nymph’s boobs bouncing. I made a mental note to send my correspondents a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and returned to the email that was causing me some discomfort.
“Hi tony,” it began innocuously enough. (Yes, a small “t”, implying a level of familiarity that meant I should read on)
“We’ve set up a blog for you on thought leader to blog about stuff — its edited — see below and let me know what you think and if you are keen on trialling with us…”
It came from Matthew Buckland, Publisher of the M&G Online, which meant it had dodged through my various spam traps and demanded that I give it some attention.
It had brought on performance anxiety of a whole other kind.
Thought leader? Me? Why?
I have thoughts, certainly. Some of them are even fully formed and worthy of speaking aloud. But, as Roger Waters once said, there’s a certain bravery in being out of range. My thoughts can nestle quietly in my mind and I can choose to spit them out when I like. Usually when I’m fairly certain that those hearing them are stupider than me and therefore unlikely to ridicule me. Putting them on the internet is a different ball game. Putting them on a website called “Thought Leader” creates a whole new game complete with quota systems; administrative structures, questions in parliament and rabid fans.
What if my thoughts don’t lead but meekly follow? What if someone reads them and thinks “He should have kept those thoughts to himself, leading or not”?
And then there’s the problem of longevity. Nothing on the web disappears. Do a Google search on me today (go on, you know you want to. I have.) and you’ll find, buried on page two of the results, a reference to me signing an online petition in 2001 agreeing with the statement “Homosexual Discrimination is unacceptable”. Fair enough, fortunately I still hold that view and am quite happy for anyone and everyone to know it. But I held some other views in 2001 that I may not want to emerge now. I could just as easily have signed a petition that said “Married life without children is great”; “Working for the SABC is rewarding and fulfilling”; “This George W chap doesn’t seem too bad”; or, even worse “Wouldn’t it be great if Take That got back together?”. I thought all those things six years ago, but not any more. The problem is that the internet doesn’t forget. And so whatever thoughts I jot down randomly now on a Sunday afternoon in 2007 will be accessible to my future employers, my kids and their friends, and anyone else who is bored enough to type my name into Google (get the spelling right, ok? Else you’ll find some Professor in Economics at Brown University. That’s not me). So I have to be careful.
Yes, Matt, I’ll join your blog. I’ll also write for it from time to time, hopefully more diligently than I did the “Tony’s 2c Worth” column for the Mail & Guardian. But if anything comes back to haunt me, or if anyone gives me a hard time because my thoughts aren’t leading enough, I’m outta here. And I’m sending your name to the spam-kings as someone in the market for penny stocks and performance enhancing drugs.