"In the colorful reflection we have what is life."--Johann Goethe So, Shrink Rap, with this week's reflections, you've completed 52 columns for TheStreet.com. Could you give your readers a sense of how it's been for you over the past year writing for the site? Shrink Rap: For the most part, I've enjoyed this last year of writing. I'm slowly learning to refrain from my tendency toward verbosity. This is my first experience writing a weekly online column. I come from a background of writing professional articles, where a fancy sentence structure is viewed as a sign of high-minded thought. Now I try to remember the acronym KISS (that's Keep It Simple, Steven). It has been a challenge to write in the snappy style favored by a Web site targeting fast mouse-clicking traders and investors. The attention span of readers tends to be shorter online. You're always only a mouse-click away from oblivion. I've met some interesting writers and traders on TheStreet.com's sites, and I find it stimulating to interact in the here and now with the community regarding the market. I think I've offered a unique perspective, and I've managed to develop and maintain a loyal but disturbed following of readers (yes, I'm kidding). A little abnormal psychology humor, huh? Please go on. Shrink Rap: I appreciate the latitude I've been given by editors to offer sometimes controversial opinions and to touch on issues that go beyond the bounds of most market commentary and trading sites.
Sometimes I come off sounding like I'm giving the absolute answer, rather than offering just another opinion. It's my "edge of authority." Some readers have felt the edge. In the beginning I'd get reactions like, "Why do you have to act like such a big shot and put the Ph.D. behind your name?" I also received some unwarranted negative mail from other mental health professionals, which I interpreted as based on envy. It's just a truth of writing for publication that the more opinionated you are, the more cyber-zings and arrows you get in your back. Or as Bob Dylan said, "If they don't boo you, you're a nobody." I view the diversity of opinion on the various sites as a strength. It's a good model for encouraging traders and investors to think for themselves. The give and take between writers makes for more interesting reading and gives complicated issues their due. The sites tend to attract a high level of experience and writing ability. That sounds nice, but could you give us a little of what you don't like? Go ahead, dish it! Shrink Rap: Well, back to reader reaction. The downside of the instant response by email and chat boards means some ugly comments from readers -- remarks that are given little thought, just dashed off in an emotional minute. These personal attacks would never be done in person, neither would they ever be published in a respectable newspaper or magazine. But behind the anonymity of the computer, almost anything goes. Too many people have simply never learned how to disagree with ideas without a personal attack on the author. There is something self-affirming about seeing one's words on the cyberpage. But this doesn't mean that all writing is necessarily valuable or worth reading. With the immediacy of email and chat boards, everyone becomes a critic. It's what happens when you marry unmonitored free speech with instantaneous digital convenience. One thing every new columnist learns quickly is that you've got to have pretty thick skin and let the vile stuff go. I'm able to put on my Shrink Rap Anti-Defamation Shield when needed, so it hasn't been a big deal. But some write the most filthy and anti-Semitic stuff you can imagine. They know nothing can be done. They are safe sitting at their computers typing this trash. As you say, it goes with the territory. Many readers don't think about how vulnerable writers are in online publishing. Anything else you care to say along these lines? Shrink Rap: I wasn't prepared for the "popularity contest" mentality that goes on at a fast-moving, competitive Web site. I've never had to deal with thinking about the number of "hits" my articles received or whether my columns would bring back readers week after week. The business aspect has been a new experience for me. The other thing I noticed is that some readers have a rather parochial view of the sharing of one's expertise. If you're trained as a psychologist, they think you're supposed to stay within your narrow bailiwick and refrain from commenting on market dynamics or politics or anything else. You know: "How can a psychologist know anything about technical indicators, or financial advisers or the history of Iran's involvement in terrorism?" That sort of thing. I know I tried to rattle your cage, but let's lighten this up a bit. Shrink Rap: Sure. I love word play and coming up with clever titles. I actually waste time thinking up titles. About 90% of my column's titles were my own or a close rendition. I get inordinate joy from the simple art of expressing something clearly and skillfully. Shrink Rap gives me a chance to play with ideas and words in a creative way. Regarding the market, keep in mind the last two days of August have been bad five years in a row. And according to the Stock Trader's Almanac, September has been a tough month for the major indices. In the last 51 years, the Dow, on average, has lost 0.6% in September, and the S&P has had an average drop of 0.4%. The Nasdaq's average September return has been a loss of 0.2%. So be careful. I'm going to be focused for the next few months on writing The Inheritance Taboo, which will be published by Plume Books (Penguin Putnam). So don't be surprised if you don't see Shrink Rap every week. Feel free to continue sending me your questions, and I'll do my best to answer them. And thanks to those loyal readers who have hung in there, reading my columns for the past year.