I’m not writing as much as I would like to, and I feel like I’ve betrayed a talent that cries out to be developed; in other words, I feel guilty. I was once in the habit of ‘morning pages’ and afternoon edit sessions, even found time to market a couple of short-stories and a poem or two . Now my time is taken up with photography.
Nothing wrong with that. (The photo featured in this post is Collapsing Dune, a 1st prize winner in the 2012 PEI Photo Club Show – PEI National Parks category, and “Best in Show”.)
A friend tells me that I’m just having a fling, and, she adds, “with every fling comes guilt.” She says that after a while, I’ll tire of ‘the new love’ and things will get back to normal. I’m afraid they won’t, because I’m afraid that the Internet has made me lose my groove. Seriously, it no longer functions as it once did.
When I write (when I used to write), I get into a ‘zone’ or a ‘groove’ of prolonged concentration where time disappears. Some writers call it the cold coffee syndrome. I put my morning pen to the page or my waking fingers to the keyboard, and the next thing I know, four hours have passed. Unconsciously I’ve traded those hours of writing focus for minutes of photographic indulgence—minutes to set up a shot—minutes to enhance the digital image with software. And I want to say that the Internet is to blame.
Nicholas Carr, in an Atlantic Monthly article, Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the internet is doing to our brains, begins his discussion with how the internet is changing they way we read. He cites Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist, “We are not only what we read, we are how we read,” and then he goes on to say:
… the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press made long and complex works of prose commonplace.
As readers, we have become a generation scanners and power-skimmers, our eyes and attention skipping from one hyperlink to the next. We stay connected, but never to one thread of thought taking us deeper and deeper. (I read the comments posted online by ‘readers’ of the Nicholas Carr article, and I am amused by the number of critics who complained that the article was too long and who confessed that they could only stay with it for a few paragraphs. Do yourself a favour and read the article, in its entirety.)
The Internet has changed the way I read, and I fear it is changing the way I write. (Okay, Paul, why don’t you start a blog? Forget about worrying about that that longer story, and write postcards. Blogs are like postcards. Surely you can hold your mind together for the 300 word sprint.) Carr gives the example of Friedrich Nietzsche whose writing changed when he traded in his pen for a typewriter.
Is there no turning back? According to Michelle Aldredge there is. She knows me, knows how I work. She writes:
Our day begins with good intentions. Feeling rested and focused, we set our priorities. We resolve that today will be different from yesterday, because today, we will stay on task. But then we turn on our computers and smart phones, and before we know it, we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
Aldredge, who is also a photographer, is writing about concentration. She poses the question, “How do we create time and space for deep thinking, creation, and real connection within the chaos of digital life?” And then she answers it in The Art of Focus : 5 Ways to Free Yourself from Digital Dependency. I could have come up with her list, if I had stopped checking my email inbox long enough to give the question more than a passing, oops-it’s-gone, thought. I doubt you’ll be surprised with her recommendations, and I think you’ll enjoy reading what you probably already know. What it all comes down to is self discipline and the volition to disconnect.
Carr is correct when he says that there has been little consideration of how the Internet is reprogramming us. It is reprogramming us, and we are not going to stop that. The Net contributes too much to our lives, and only a fool would pull the plug, permanently. Aldredge is calling for balance, for carving out a space for the deeper creative thought—a space I would want to reserve for meditative reflection. Writing is both the process of reflecting, and the outcome of reflection. And without reflection there is no learning, no development beyond the acquisition of more information and the accumulation of data.
What I find frightening is the possibility that the longer I stay connected to my superficial online habits, the longer I postpone the wisdom that might become me. When I go into a place of worship, I remember to turn off the cell phone. So if I want to enter that sacred personal space—that space where the characters of my unfinished novel are clamoring to be heard, then I need to face the dreaded “D” word and give Aldredge’s recommendations serious second thought.