THIS INCREASINGLY DIGITAL LIFE OF OURS
SERVANT OR MASTER?
Just because an innovation happens doesn’t mean that you have to embrace it—though social pressures are such that it often seems that way. I guess that built into all of us (even those of us who are regarded as out-of-the-box thinkers, like myself) is a rather disconcerting desire to conform .
It’s easier to conform. You become accepted. You are one of the guys. You may even become popular. You go along to get along.
I try and resist it, but I certainly accept that it is a force to be reckoned with. It is also a force which those who work so had to manipulate us make full use of.
Socialization is good. Social control is necessary. We are a Nation of Laws (but who makes them?). The rules are there for a reason. Of course you must have a Facebook page. How else can you keep up with your family and friends? Texting on a phone is IN—talking is OUT. But you tell more from a voice—tone, inflection, accent, emotion. Quite so—far too revealing. Besides, texting leaves a permanent record. Easier for Big Data to handle.
Manipulate us? Am I paranoid?
In this context I don’t think it matters whether I’m paranoid or not. It seems to me that this is self-evident that this is a heavily manipulated and conditioned society. Who does the manipulation? Commercial interests, government, the media, and our very culture.
If we were not so manipulated, conditioned, distracted, deluded, and entertained, we would be questioning our current culture and way of life a great deal more than we do—and we would certainly be outraged at the dysfunctionality of our current system of government, excessive corporate power, the fact that we seem to be permanently at war for no good reason, the extortion racket that is our healthcare service, the fact that a fifth of our children grow up in poverty, and a host of other issues that there really isn’t the space to discuss here—but which add up to an excessively stressful life for most of us. We would also know a great deal more about the ways of life in other countries so that we had a basis of comparison—and could learn and improve.
Back to the issue at hand.
Before I started using the internet—which I am staggered to find was all of 20 years ago—I worked about a third as hard and divided my time between reading, walking, and writing –with months in the field researching as well. Researching typically involved travel—so for GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, I spent nearly three months in Switzerland, for RULES OF THE HUNT I went to Japan (after a year of meticulous preparation by my brilliant—and extremely attractive assistant, Jill Kennedy), for THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT I spent time with the 82nd Airborne Division—and so on. I tend to be solitary while writing (in that I write alone) but extremely social when in the field. In essence, though a sense of place is important, my stories are character driven and my characters are inspired by real people in most cases.
By the way, I rarely take one person and fictionalize him or her. Instead, though one person may have inspired the character, the end result is normally based upon a blend of human experiences and fictionalized into the bargain.
Overall, I didn’t much concern myself with marketing (more fool me). Like most authors in those days, I focused almost entirely on the creative aspect and left the commercial aspects to my agent and publishers.
My agent and publishers did a pretty lousy job—as they did with most writers in those days (and not much has changed) but at least I had the time to focus solely on the creative aspects—and focus is absolutely integral to writing.
Two decades ago—when I still lived in Ireland—I started using the internet over a slow dial-up connection; and since then my life has become increasingly digital to the point where my work pattern has changed completely.
Am I pleased or disturbed by the results?
Both—though on balance I feel my life has been significantly enriched. But, I still haven’t worked out how to organize my time correctly, I have some issues with the pressures which a digital life imposes., and I miss just chilling out while my subconscious solves my creative issues.
My subconscious does most of the work. I just type it in and claim the credit. I read somewhere that one’s subconscious has no morals. That could explain a lot.
It seems strange to say that I don’t yet know how to organize my day (at the age of 70 after nearly three decades as a committed author) but it is no more than the truth. I certainly do have a routine, but am far from sure it is the right routine as yet.
This isn’t to say that I’m not more productive—I am vastly more productive, knowledgeable and facile—and have a zest for my work and life in general which I didn’t have all those years ago. Nonetheless, I still haven’t figured out how to do all of what needs to be done. There is too much to learn and too much to do—and my computer skills, albeit much improved, are not what they might be.
Some observations on the changes.
- I now routinely work 12 hours a day and frequently more. I used to work 7 or 8, but take time off for long walks. I still walk, but not for hours the way I used to. I intend to do something about that for both health and creative reasons. I have found that walking is the ultimate aid to thinking—and thinking is what makes for good writing (and a rich life in general).
- I am reading as much as ever and possibly more—but fewer books. I regret that greatly. Will I go back to books? I truly hope so.
- I don’t have a TV at present and don’t much miss it. I’m now either working or socializing by phone in the evening—and regard that as progress. If am doing household chores I listen to the radio—which I love. I regard NPR as an absolute gift.
- I’m now pretty much on top of my areas of interest—or know where to go for the information. That constitutes what I call my “base of knowledge.” I will then do extra research to flesh out detail as necessary. In truth, I now already know a great deal of what I think I will need to know for the books that I plan to write during the balance of my life. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing—or a vaguely depressing one. It is not that I don’t think I’ll have new ideas—more that I’m full of ideas, know how long books takes to write, and doubt I’ll live for ever. But you never know!
- I’m now writing both faster and better. Blogging has helped me greatly in that regard—and not only is it terrific exercise for the brain, but it is therapeutic. But so is all writing. Can I justify the time it takes? No—not in a measurable financial sense. Is it worth it? Yes—it has been truly transformative.
- Where writing is concerned, I can now get into the zone near instantly, but find I have to break away from creative writing more than I like because there are other matters to do with my digital life to attend to. I’m not overly keen on that. I prefer to get into a writing mindset and stay in it for a considerable period—weeks ideally. Those days seem to be over.
- E-mail is my number one digital problem. I have cut back drastically on my information sources—but I’m still not up to date with my correspondence . Will I ever be? I think I probably will, but it will take another year or two—and some more software—to evolve a system to cope fully. Meanwhile, though I try to attend to urgent matters near immediately, it can take me months to reply to courtesy e-mails.
- I have a cell, but not a smartphone. I try and limit calls during my work day because they break focus—though I’m happy to talk for hours with friends in the evening. I can’t stand texting though plan to try it. Why so? Women like it—and I like women.
- Social Media. Blogging and Linkedin (which I like) apart, I continue to have mixed feelings about Social Media. It seems to soak up an amazing amount of time which I would prefer to spend reading or writing. Nonetheless, it is clear I’ll have to become ever more active in it in order to aid my marketing. I regard this business of an author needing a substantial social media profile in order to sell books as quite a burden—but still better than the indifference of most traditional publishers. The downside is that most writers are neither equipped by temperament or formal training to self promote. As it happens, I am formally trained in marketing. Not sure about my temperament, but I’m certainly not innately a self-promoter. When growing up, the expression, “Not done, old chap,” summed it up. Now it has to be done no matter how shy and introverted you are.
- I’m a great fan of the internet as such for a whole host of reasons including the convenience of being able to check one’s fact on the fly. Yes, there are disadvantages—and some sectors like online dating are a minefield—but, overall, I think it is a totally phenomenal resource. Could I write without it? Of course—but, in practice, I am dependent on it. I don’t like that dependency—but I both accept it and admit it..
I have been prompted to write about all this by a rather surprising statement by well known blogger, Andrew Sullivan—founder of www.dish.andrewsullivan.com
I want to let you know I’ve decided to stop blogging in the near future.
Why? Two reasons. The first is one I hope anyone can understand: although it has been the most rewarding experience in my writing career, I’ve now been blogging daily for fifteen years straight (well kinda straight). That’s long enough to do any single job. In some ways, it’s as simple as that. There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen.
The second is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.
I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.
This is sad news. He is a great talent and will be missed from the blogging world.
VOR words, c.1,700.