Friday, September 11, 2009

Trying to write online and not succeeding...

I want to write very short strange pieces again, and I'm not sure if the internet is helping

It seems to me that trying to write things online isn't as easy as writing things when you don’t have the online distractions, although it can be useful to have various references (although, funnily, access to these references might be unhelpful too, because they so severely constrict the imagination when consulted. I mean, I look something up and I see immediately that my idea of what it is doesn't match my imagination and I can no longer use it as an element in what I'm writing. For instance, I might imagine the pyramids surrounded by desert, and then look them up online to see they are located in a suburb and thereby lose touch with the atmosphere I am trying to describe).

Some observations about working online:

1. The Internet is more like a magazine than book. This goes for the content- contemporaneous, with adverts and short, often trivial opinion pieces- as well as the presentation (colourful, visually disrupted and heavily reliant on images).

2. It is highly sexualized. Sex is fairly distracting at the best of times: the Internet makes it more accessible and invasive. I am not against pornography or sex but I think it isn't necessarily a good thing to have around all the time because sometimes I want to be free to think about other things.

3. It seems poor for concentrated reading. I cannot settle into long pieces easily. An essay of four paragraphs is a long online piece. I think this is partly to do with the glare of the screen which can become tiresome, and also to do with how moving from one screen to another to follow a narrative is tiresome. Books allow a certain pacing: you know more readily where the middle and end of a book is from the thickness of the pages, so you can pace your reading more easily.

Also, you can move a book about: it’s a physical thing, you can lie down, stand up with it, take it to the park, annotate it, lend it and earmark it's pages: things that are unavailable to the computer user (though the Kimble attempts a compromise). I think that physical movement is very necessary for thinking: the obligatorily sedentary nature of the computer encourages passivity.

4. There isn't a lot of advertising on the sites I look at but it does affect my ability to read pages easily.

5. I "flick" a lot, I don't settle. I "flick" with the mouse because I can, not because I need to. Of course this might be a tendency which is specific to my nature, and others don't , but I doubt it somehow.

6. The speed of the Internet is such that when one puts something online, say a comment on a column, or sends an email you know that you could conceivably receive a reply almost immediately, and it invites the tendency to repeatedly check inboxes and postings. This makes me "jumpy".

7. Fact checking is very easy. This is great for research, but perhaps not for fiction. What’s the proportion of creative writing online to factual commentary? How does that compare to the world of books? I’d bet the proportion of fiction writing on paper is greater than that online.

8. Trying to write things online isn't as easy as writing things when you don’t have the distractions, although it can be useful to have various references. It is difficult writing here, on Blogger, partly because you are only given a little space to write in, so you can't see everything you've written. I have started copying and pasting from word to write on Blogger to overcome this.

9. Imaginative reading seems hard for me online- indeed, I almost never do it. I think it is very hard to read imaginatively because the web is largely image led and it is hard for mental images to compete with the images on the computer and to maintain the sustained imaginative effort required to "get into" a novel.

10. While it is excellent for discovering new music through short samples, listening to things online is not for me as good as putting stuff on the stereo and lying on the sofa because there are too many things online to distract me (this is really an aural version of points 1, 3 and 8).

11. Likewise, while the Internet gives and excellent impression of art works, it is not like seeing the real thing. Such an obvious point needs to be made, amazingly, because I see that people make judgments about art from the images they get on their small computer screens, losing so many essential aspects of the artworks.

12. The Internet can be very addictive. I can go online and stay online for hours- I feel very aware that I'm not online when I am not, much as an alchoholic is aware he is not drinking when he isn't.


I see, reading the above, that much of my concern is about my inability to settle and relax on Internet communications. I accept that my fidgetiness is my own responsibility, but I do not think I am alone with these difficulties, and I wonder what solutions we can, collectively, propose to allow us to do things which the seductive Internet makes harder, and which are so worthwhile?

Instinctively, I dislike paternalistic solutions but they may offer the best way to tackle the issue of internet distractions- recognizing the social value of having locations which are specifically designed for single activities – listening to music, reading, writing, talking or looking at artworks or simply sitting.

So, one answer, I think is not to make computers available in certain libraries, and not to have access in cafes, aeroplanes or trains.

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