Grab a chair and a fresh drink, and one for me too, won’t you? I’m going to rant for a bit.
Stephen King’s On Writing is a terrific book, of course. I’ve read it enough times that I no longer read it beginning to end. I pick it up, I open it randomly, I read something, I go on with my day. I didn’t buy it, and I don’t read it, with the intention of learning how to write more betterer. I came to it knowing how to write (good enough) and what I learn for that skill is mostly unconscious, and that’s good enough for me. I just read it for the delight and the boost in my moral.
Anyway, one quote stands out at me today.
To paraphrase, “Now, I don’t want to say anything bad about my generation, (actually, I do: we had a chance to change the world, and we opted for the Home Shopping Network).”
It’s a fascinating quote. He moves on, straight away, back to the topic and that’s the end of his discussion of his generation, but it crosses my mind now and then, because it’s very true. His generation — which is also my parents’ generation — did have a chance to reshape the whole entire world. And they did. Unfortunately, it was mostly in the shape represented by the Home Shopping Network.
I have no right to judge that generation, nor do I intend to. What can I say? I wasn’t alive yet, I don’t know what it was like, what caused whom to make what choices. People don’t make decisions as a whole. Each individual person makes a decision for themselves. Of course, (thanks to Hari Seldon) we know that sometimes, the decisions are just individual currents which make up a river that flows one direction anyway.
But I can talk about my generation.
A generation which came into its own right around 1990. I don’t know if we were Generation X, because I don’t know what the hell that means, but my generation was a big part of the 90’s. My generation knows Metallica’s self-titled album and knows what a Limp Biskit is. My generation wasn’t an MTV generation, but it was a Real World generation and a comic book generation and, perhaps the first, it was the video game generation. Where previous generations will retell good memories of concerts and gigs and parties and movies, my generation can retell stories of multiplayer matches in Quake, of the origins of words like “pwned” (if we dare call it a word) and so forth. My generation does not have Woodstock, but we had Napster, and KaZaA, and Limewire, and so on. My generation did not have wars to protest (there were still wars, there are always wars, but we did not march), but we protested video game ratings and VMA award shows and American Idol voting results.
I can apply Stephen King’s phrase to my own generation. It can be adapted. We had a chance to change the world, and we opted for the internet.
This gets into social and political commentary which, again, I have no right and no qualifications to judge, and I won’t. The point I am muddling my way toward is, as ever, discussing writers and their interaction with technology.
I have never made it a secret what I think of writers and technology. I do not think they mesh. Or rather, I do not think they’re meshing properly.
To further reference Stephen King, he talks about the importance of writing at about the same time every day, in the same place, for the same reason that about the same time every day, you go to the same place to sleep. It gets your body ready to wind down and sleep and, with writing, it gets your body ready to be physically still while the mind unlocks. “I think what we’re talking about is creative sleep,” Stephen King says, and I think he’s right.
I also like comparing the process of writing to the Buddhist monks who might sweep the same patch of ground over and over and over, not because they expect to get it clean and hope for that, but because of the peace and clarity of mind. There is a stillness and a calmness in redundant work, in the repetition of a task which lets the mind allow the body to carry on and unlock.
Computers can work fine here, but not the internet. I think the internet is a bad thing for writers, for a lot of reasons. I think it gives writers an immediacy to everything which is no good. Immediate communication, immediate access to information (good and awful, equally) immediate access to interesting conversation and music and videos and opinions and articles and on and on and on.
I think that’s no good. I am of the opinion that a writer would do well to correspond freely with other writers, but on the slower-pace of letter-writing, and phone calls, and getting together for meetings. I think that research and information should be gained by going to talk to people, by going to look things up in books. You learn more accidentally and on the peripheral of what you actually went there to learn. You look up one word in the dictionary and wind up learning all about the word which came before it.
To use my Zen Buddhist example again: It’s like sweeping that patch of dirt, then stopping to see how others are sweeping patches of dirt, what sort of dirt it is, what you think of the dirt and what people think of what you think of the dirt and what sort of broom you’re using and maybe there’s an automatic broom-pusher and you can just press a button and so on.
It’s busy. It’s white noise. It’s the frazzling of the mind. The mind isn’t unlocking, it has to keep both hands firmly on the steering wheel because it’s on an icy road. Also, the brake lines have been cut.
This post is not going to dissuade anyone from the internet, or send anyone into a letter-writing frenzy. If this post were discussed, it would be discussed on the internet. And *I* am posting it on the internet, so what right do I have to talk?
I think that’s what niggles me. I do believe these things, I have evidence and plenty of thought which allow me to accept them as true. Regardless, I use G-mail. I use this blog. I am moderator on a massive writing forum. I spend all manner of time using the internet to read interesting and wonderful things.
It bothers me. It’s like someone who’s really, really wanting to become vegetarian, but they don’t because they haven’t figured out a way to get the same nutrition that they get out of meat, and they aren’t healthy enough to do without. It niggles and bothers.
I am putting together a system. Depending on how crazy you think I am, you could call it a religion. It’s not, it’s just a better way of working. It involves so much of the letter-writing and hand-writing and luddite-ism that I’m talking about here.
And even if others adopted it, they would never be able to entirely accept it, because computers are a pandora’s box that are not easily forgotten, nor dismissed. That all of the things which are declared good about the internet all existed before computers does not matter. They exist anew, and everything else is practically Biblical in age.
My generation had a chance to change the world all over again. We opted for Amazon.com and MySpace, and YouTube, and talk. To quote my ever-present hero, John Lee Hooker, “You yak!”