What It Felt Like When ‘Cat Person’ Went Viral

“So what was it like to have a story go viral? For a few hours, before I came to my senses and shut down my computer, I got to live the dream and the nightmare of knowing exactly what people thought when they read what I’d written, as well as what they thought about me. A torrent of unvarnished, unpolished opinion was delivered directly to my eyes and my brain. That thousands—and, eventually, millions—of readers had liked the story, identified with it, been affected by it, exhorted others to read it, didn’t make this any easier to take. The story was not autobiographical, but it was, nonetheless, personal—everything I write is personal—and here were all these strangers dissecting it, dismissing it, judging it, fighting about it, joking about it, and moving on.”

Source: What It Felt Like When “Cat Person” Went Viral | The New Yorker

Most authors hope this will happen to one of their articles, short stories, or blog posts because they have been working for years as a virtual unknown writing what reviewers and friends tell them is good stuff even though none of that good stuff sells well on Kindle or anywhere else.

We don’t think about the flip side. Do we really want the world peering through our online windows asking who the hell we are, why the hell we wrote what we wrote, and what exactly was the whole point of it?

When a writer’s novel suddenly becomes a bestseller, the old joke is that s/he is an overnight sensation that was years in the making. That his to say, the public discovered the writer today even though s/he has a resume full of books written over a decade or more that few people noticed.

The dangers of things going viral are, I think, greater with a magazine article or a short story because even if the primary version appears in print, the online version will have a link that makes it easy to access and read quickly in its entirety–as opposed to a 400-page novel. Suddenly, everything about the author and his/her piece is all over the Internet and people are saying this sucks or this is great. Yes, writers dream about becoming known, seeing their work sell, and actually earning a living off their efforts.

I’m not sure going viral as Kristen Roupenian describes in her article is the way I’d want to go. How about you? If you write a short story that does viral, you’ll probably be able to get an agent and a publisher for your book. Yet, are you sure the intrusion of the universe into your writing room is worth it?

Malcolm

What happens to the world if this post goes viral?

You are reading a post called “What happens to the world if this post goes viral” with a disquieting sense of deja vu that it has already gone viral and you are just now finding out about it (having been in prison or having sex or simply busy at work) and/or that the whole thing hasn’t happened yet and is coming to you from the future. Either way, if it goes viral and/or already has gone viral, what in fact will be the result?

Here are the probabilities:

  1. It (this post which, in your reality, you think you are reading right now even though–as you will see–you probably aren’t) will pick up speed and become so ubiquitous nobody will remember where they saw it first or if they just heard about it so often they began to believe they saw it, to the extent that some people will become alarmed and start warning about the world tilting on its axis or frogs falling from the sky or various magic men coming down from their mountains to tell us once and for all the meaning of life.
  2. Sappho on a vase found years ago in an attic.
    Sappho on a vase found years ago in an attic.

    The speed of this post will exceed the speed of light and, as Einstein predicted, will become younger and younger until it ends up appearing on MySpace or an ancient CompuServe forum, ultimately to be discovered mixed into the poetry of Sappho that will be discovered 200 years ago on a papyrus long thought to have been lost or mixed up with the Nostradamus prediction about rogue photons calling out of the sky on a summer evening in 1566 or 1966 (depending on the translation).

  3. It goes without saying that all of you who leave pithy comments will become either famous or infamous (perhaps both) and will start getting movie deals, hearing from old flames, learning that you forgot to pay a parking ticket in Carson City 15 years ago and now (with interest) you owe more money than most people earn in a lifetime even though, quite possibly (fate being what it is) time will move backwards and you’ll be talked about on the streets of London and Paris years before you are born, completely tangling up the records at Ancestry.com.
  4. Once something becomes ubiquitous, people (especially conspiracy theorists) begin debating whether it’s a blessing or a curse with everyone pointing fingers at the top Presidential contenders and demanding that if they are responsible, they apologize or lamely say they misspoke or, if elected, have new laws ready to put on the books to contain the real or imagined dangers that may or may not occur either now or in the past.
  5. As a famous scientist will say in the future or past, depending on which universe you hang you hat in, there is no containing rogue photons that spin off into lives of their own when a viral post collides with the sides of voynichbent space, causing people who we’ve always thought to have lived in the past to have not lived there, or if they did, did things differently so that the future changed in ways that could not be predicted, one of them being that this post ended up never being written at all.
  6. Once this post flows backward in “time” to 1916, Einstein will see things differently or even dream things differently so that the general theory of relativity takes on either new meanings or collapses altogether depending on whether one is there to observe the event or not (like that darned cat that may or may not be dead in the box).
  7. People–and we don’t yet know who they are except that they probably live in Nebraska–will start decoding this post with the same fervor similar people have hopelessly tried to decode the Voynich manuscript, and there will be among them advanced code breakers who will begin to find that when the letters in this post are shaken up and mixed with every other word from Finnegans Wake the result is a new set of theories for the meaning of life, how to achieve immortality, and even who will be standing outside your house every Bloomsday to see if you’re reading Joyce or, heaven help you, Barbara Cartland.

    Cartland
    Cartland
  8. New religions and political parties will be born out of the chaos of dreams and the dreams of dreams that have no beginning and no end, advocating on one side of the coin that this post is total nonsense and that everyone who left a comment on it is a daft buffoon, and on the other side of the coin, that this post is part of the great shift in consciousness predicted by seers and soothsayers and what this means for you–the innocent reader–is that your will be swept up into arguments and/or country songs and/or various legends that will show everyone just how silly and/or profound beliefs can be when everyone is talking about them at once.
  9. You will discover that you’re not the same person that you were when you started reading this post and that, depending on how the magic hidden within it impacts your psyche, you will either join new causes and help save the world or you will hide in a cave until the world blows over (figuratively speaking, perhaps) and in the final analysis you will wonder what kind of synchronicity exists in a world where a post like this appears seemingly out of nowhere (unless you think Sappho wrote it) and comes to your attention on a day when you had no reason to be logging on to WordPress, MySpace or CompuServe (depending on which time period you ended up in).
  10. Bacon
    Bacon

    Assuming that all of this is true, chances are optimal that you are either not reading this post right now or–just as likely–you are a sage living at the time of Frances Bacon who is quite certain that whether Shakespeare wrote the plays or not, some of the lines in this missive were hidden away in misplaced early draft of “All’s Well That Ends Well,” or on the other hand, assuming that none of this was true while the post was being written, once it’s ubiquitous it will become true, proving once and for all that cause and effect isn’t quite what we thought it was, but true or false, it appears that there’s nothing we can do about anything that becomes viral.