Electronic media rehab or where’s my quill pen?

- by Jean Brashear

Writing is a solitary activity, performed for centuries by those able to turn inward, to find that place—for fiction writers, at least—where the noise of the world receded and the inner life was revealed, where characters played on a stage no one else could see yet, where a unique universe formed, slated for other individuals to one day enjoy the trip into that hermetically sealed existence the writer created. Isn’t that what we love, as readers first, the ability to tune out the everyday and journey to somewhere else? Isn’t that what commercial fiction is all about?

In today’s world, however amazing the enormous leaps technology has brought us, the unheard of resources we have at our finger (mouse?) tips…the challenge of the working writer is to tune out the noise. We live in a world of information overload—24/7 news channels desperate for some new angle to keep ratings high, a blogosphere that rivals the population of China for sheer headcount, email, voicemail, electronic leashes (aka cell phones), a never-ending series of connecting links to take you deeper and deeper into the bowels of the internet. Just for starters.

I’m currently reading a book about the literary scene in Paris in the 1920s, about James Joyce and the release of Ulysses, and it just struck me: For all my gratitude that I can write on a computer and not with a quill, that I have hundreds of fabulous fellow writers like my NINC colleagues to commiserate with in an instant, where any number of writers two hundred years ago might never meet another author—could Joyce have ever managed to write Ulysses in a similar environment? Would Proust have found the mental space to compose Remembrance of Things Past? Of course not everyone wants to plow through such a tome, but the larger question is: what would our literary heritage be if our literary forebears had had to contend with the sheer volume of noise we face?

Individual lives have always contained a lot of obstacles—family, however beloved or dysfunctional, finances, etc.—to finding that still, quiet place. We contend with those now, just as our forebears did.

But arguably, we contend with far more. They weren’t faced with the expectation/temptation/necessity (depending upon one’s viewpoint, publisher, susceptibility to pressure from others) to participate in Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. in addition to producing the actual content that incites all this need (perceived or actual) for publicity. Other people—millions of them—weren’t available at the click of a mouse, 24/7/365, and the time-sink that comes along with so much accessibility and so very little privacy. (Come to think of it, if I did write with a quill and never laid eyes on a computer…hmmm…) Our fans demand access, our publishers expect increasing levels of contact and engagement, our families and friends know we’re online more often than is probably healthy…

Is it too much to contend with? Some days I sure think so. Other days I don’t know how I could have survived writing in that garret by candlelight, the only sound the scratching of my quill pen.

But man…that silence…

Electronic media rehab, anyone? Now where’s that turkey feather…

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