by Janis Patterson
I think everyone will agree the internet truly revised our world. The question is, is it a good change or a bad one?
Yes, it has given us the gift of instant communication, but it has taken away the graciousness of laid, embossed stationery and a note in actual handwriting. It has also taken away the ‘cooling down time’ necessary to actually write a letter and allows us to hit the Send button more quickly than is often good for us.
The ‘net has opened up the world to us, but also shows us things we don’t wish to see. It is also not reliable – opinions and even downright lies are presented as facts, with little ability to check and balance. Too many people believe that what they see on the ‘net is automatically accurate.
The ‘net has given writers an unprecedented opportunity to market their work. No longer do they have to struggle their way through the strong grip and stronger prejudices of publishing’s gatekeepers. Writers are now in control. The downside of this is that there are writers (and I use the term loosely) who regard almost any kind of drivel they are able to put down as publishable, resulting in a horrible flood of unprecedented dreck that reflects badly on all writers.
Worse, the ease of publishing on the ‘net has translated into an ease of theft. Every day there is a new pirate, either giving our work away for free or – adding insult to injury – charging for our work without recompense to the writer. Grrrr….
I’m not popular enough (yet!) to be pirated, so at the moment my worst ‘net bugaboo is email. I love email and marvel at the ease with which I can chat and exchange ideas with people around the world. How easy now for writers to interact and counter what is essentially a lonely profession. You young whippersnappers have no idea of just how lonely writing was before the community of the ‘net. I had sold two novels before I ever talked or even exchanged letters with another writer.
On the other hand, email is a great time suck, especially when one must wade through a plethora of spam. One account is great at sifting it out – though I must check the spam filter regularly, as for some reason legitimate communications are occasionally routed there – but my other account doesn’t even know what spam is. I must admit I’m tired of endless advertisements for stuff that will enlarge body parts I don’t have, of apparently entire populations of nubile young women from foreign shores who are willing to do anything with those same unpossessed body parts, of cheap watches and bags guaranteed to look just like their expensive models, of medications for sale cheaper than anywhere else, of princes and bank managers begging me to share their fortunes… you know, you probably get the same rubbish in your email box.
It doesn’t take much time to flip through and delete the annoyances, but some have to be scrutinized. Once I almost automatically deleted a request to submit a proposal from a very legitimate publisher simply because from the subject line made it look like spam. The thought that I might have missed other legitimate offers made me cringe, which is why I now take time to check things more carefully.
So what does this have to do with writing? I’m griping because it takes precious time away from writing. My computer time is limited; I get sucked into research (more often than not simply surfing with a fancy name) for much too long; I get tons of emails; spam must be checked – or at least the subject lines glanced at; contacts much be kept active and much-needed information exchanged. It’s all necessary, but it all takes time away from writing.
Perhaps life was easier in the days when the postman came once a day and long distance telephone calls were too expensive to make save in the most important instances. Then there was just you and the typewriter and your story… Something lost, something gained. I would not take anything for my writing friends from around the world, nor for the ease of research or the exchange of information, but I do get nostalgic for the days when I didn’t have to deal with offers and promises about intimate body parts or shared fortunes from third world countries or having to take time to re-learn my email program after it has been ‘improved.’
The ‘net has given us all unbelievable freedom, but has failed to learn – as writers have always had to know - that freedom is not license, nor is change always progress.