The Chameleon poses a simple question for readers: How did I form my beliefs? Ideologies motivate. They are intangible truths that guide our behavior. Asking about the origins of our thoughts is the first step in becoming a critical thinker. Answering this question can take a lifetime. The characters in The Chameleon are fictional, but I've pulled the timeline, settings, and character motivations from my real-life experiences, my education, and my career in digital media. Ultimately, my hidden agenda is to increase media literacy. But I knew a textbook on the subject wouldn't be nearly as entertaining or engaging.
I've always wanted to write a book. Unfortunately for me, a crucial necessity for writing something relevant is maturity. In 1986, shortly after graduating high school in Austin, TX, I moved to Venice Beach, CA, with two goals: race my bike and write. It wasn't a great plan. I quickly saw that the writing process was far more complicated than I had imagined. I realized I didn't have any profound life experiences to write about. So, after a few years of waiting tables and racing my bike, I joined the military.
Throughout most of the 1990s, I served in the US Army as a medic. I attempted to write, but nothing significant came of my efforts. When I wasn't in the field, I passed the time by reading books. I was fascinated by writers like Michael Crichton, Daniel Goleman, and Joseph Campbell. I found their style of infusing complex or abstract ideas into entertaining storylines inspiring. Later, writers like Yuval Noah Harari, Jean Baudrillard, and Jostein Gaarder had a similar effect on me.
In 2005, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin and received my Bachelor of Science in Advertising. At the time, traditional media giants were entrenched. Advertising and Public Relations were still afterthoughts for most companies. Google was new. Facebook was new. Online services were new. All these new digital options were unproven. Decisions about investing resources in the nascent Internet were still being debated. The media industry was in the midst of a chaotic transformation, as was the model for influencing target audiences.
My first job after college was with Coremetrics (Analytics), a company that was eventually acquired by IBM. I've worked in digital media ever since, constantly adapting with innovative platforms, new technologies, application updates, software releases, revised industry standards, and more. With each new Martech offering, I've tried to focus on business utility features rather than novelty functions; and, perhaps more deeply, I've contemplated about the social implications of all the new ways we have to influence each other.
I belong to a peculiar generation. I am quite familiar with many widely-used digital platforms, but I also remember what life was like before the Internet. I know how traditional media was used to propagate beliefs and ideas in the past, and I'm able to see how new media is being used to accomplish the same types of goals today.
I came up with the original idea for The Chameleon in 2008. At the time, the launch of new social media platforms was relentless. Gone were the days of broadcast (single-direction) communication. New digital communities with niche audiences and interactive features allowed users to share everything from posts to live videos. But, more importantly, the platforms allowed users to share ideas in ways that, previously, only traditional media could. In turn, the social graces for winning friends and influencing people were rewritten.
For me, the rise of the opinionated news format began with the repeal of the FCC Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Before this, most reputable journalistic platforms attempted to report on current events without bias. They often included point counter-point editorial formats. With the elimination of the doctrine, a new business model for media was born, one that curated specific audiences with distinct beliefs—biased media for the biased consumer.
At some point in 2012, I revisited my idea for The Chameleon and created a rough outline for it. But, again, my life was already too busy to set out to write a book. In retrospect, these delays in the creative process have made the story more compelling. I didn't begin writing it until 2015. It started as a passion project. Sometimes I'd work on it. Sometimes I'd let it sit for months at a time. But, the older I got, the more motivated I became to write it. Several life-changing events happened for me in 2018 that made writing the novel more tenable.
In many ways, The Chameleon has been a moving target. Like the Internet, and the marketing strategies used within it, some of the components are continually evolving. In this regard, setting out to craft the story proved difficult. As I conducted philosophical and psychological research for the book, I found that there was one more element in motion that would likely affect the outcome—the evolution of my self. In short, I wasn't just becoming more critical of the origins of my views; I was asking myself to evolve and believe in my own ideas.
Ultimately, The Chameleon is about people. Some things, like emotions and behaviors, are timeless. Our history proves this over and over again. I do not doubt that digital media will continue to evolve, but the people who leverage it will be the same types of people that have always used media. Some will use their power of influence for altruistic endeavors. Others will use it to exploit their audience for personal gain. I can only guess what the Internet will look like tomorrow, but I know how it will be used.
Gilbert Ramirez was a Medic in the U.S. Army throughout most of the 1990s. He has a B.S. in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication. He's worked in online media since 2005. The Chameleon is his debut novel.