Saturday, March 17, 2012
To Tech or Not To Tech? There’s a Different Answer for Everyone
Friends sometimes ask me, ‘Why aren’t you on Facebook??? How do you keep up?’ I realize we are coming from different perspectives and that it may be hard to explain.
I want less internet, not more. I see the online world as an invaluable tool but also as a kind of necessary evil. It seems to me that it can be addicting, yet that it is somehow inherently unrewarding. Maybe I’m looking for some sort of response there that I never get. Could the response I’m missing be the three-dimentional experience, either from human beings or from the natural world? (Or, if you’re a particle physics fan who’s interested in String Theory, that would be more dimensions than three!)
Another way of saying it: ‘I want to smell the actual-not-the-virtual flowers and to pull the three-dimensional weeds.’
I want to sit and stare. At the trees, the sky, the birds and butterflies (and at this time of year, the shower of pollen!) Not at a computer screen or a handheld device. It’s taken me so long to start to learn to ‘be here now.’ I hate to voluntarily give it up any more than is absolutely necessary. My ‘lights’ will flicker and dim soon enough.
As a news junkie, I prefer to get my info from the BBC World Service on radio, the television evening news, and PBS Newshour. As it is, I think often enough of, for example, of what’s going on in Syria, that I have a friend who lives in Damascus — and that I have no way to know if he and his family are OK. I don’t really want my newsfeed to be more frequent than that it already is.
It may seem disingenuous to say this, given that this blog is on the internet. The worldwide web has it’s uses, without a doubt. An extremely positive one is spreading the word about certain crises in the world that need our attention and care. I just somehow feel that sharing and caring about what time of day a celebrity ate a piece of pizza is definitely TMI.
I even think that it’s probably harmful to the human brain to experience the world increasingly through ‘screens’. I recently learned of a study which found that electronic devices are addicting to the brains of children. But am I a retro freak who’s behind the times and way out of touch?
Along comes an interview with writer Paul Theroux to save my reputation (the word ‘reputation’ is hyperbolic in relation to myself, but please indulge me)!
The Atlantic Monthly: What does the advent of the e-reader mean for reading — for the health of narrative storytelling as a form, for the market for fiction, for the future of books? E-readers certainly make it easier to tote lots of novels and other texts while traveling. But don’t we lose something — in sustained concentration, or in a sense of permanence, or in the notion of a book as an art object — in the migration away from the codex?
Paul Theroux: Movable type seemed magical to the monks who were illuminating manuscripts and copying texts. Certainly e-books seem magical to me. I started my writing life in the 1940’s as an elementary student at the Washington School in Medford, Massachusetts, using a steel-nibbed pen and an inkwell, so I have lived through every technology. I don’t think people will read more fiction than they have in the past (as I say, it’s a minority interest), but something certainly is lost — the physicality of a book, how one makes a book one’s own by reading it (scribbling in it, dog-earing pages, spilling coffee on it) and living with it as an object, sometimes a talisman. Writing is one of the plastic arts, which is why I still write in longhand for a first draft. I can’t predict how reading habits will change. But I will say that the greatest loss is the paper archive — no more a great stack of manuscripts, letters, and notebooks from a writer’s life, but only a tiny pile of disks, little plastic cookies where once were calligraphic marvels.
TA: Does the migration to e-readers increase access to good stories or diminish it?
PT: Greatly increases access. I could not be more approving. But free libraries are full of books that no one reads.
TA: What has the Twitter-ization of our attention spans, and the hyperlinking of our storytelling, and the Google-ization of all our knowledge meant for imaginative literature as an art form and a vehicle for transmitting ideas?
PT: In a hyperactive world, the writing of fiction — and perhaps the reading of it — must seem slow, dull, even pedestrian and oldfangled. I think there is only one way to write fiction — alone, in a room, without interruption or any distraction. Have I just described the average younger person’s room? I don’t think so. But the average younger person is multitasking. The rare, unusual, solitary younger person is writing a poem or story.
Crawling into bed and picking up my hard-bound copy of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl is the most peaceful and satisfying part of my day. I feel like he’s my ‘friend,’ even though neither of us has a Facebook page, or, if he does, I’m pretty certain he’s not the one who put it up!