Category Archives: technology

This just in from Luddite Land

So let me just add, further to my post about the Puddy Principle, that my antipathy to the internet, as distinct from all the other forms of distraction that plague writers, is founded on more than a recognition that by its natural depths—links leading on to links—it has a special power to pull us further and further from our work.

There is in addition an insidiousness about the internet that is easy, at this point, to forget about, because we have all so thoroughly integrated it into our lives. The insidiousness I’m referring to has to do with the simple fact—positive, negative, or neutral—that much (most?) of what you see online is backed by capitalist interests: whether it’s the website of the New York Times or someone’s blog about vegan cooking or a site using pictures of attractive women to sell funny t-shirts, someone stands to make money every time you click on the site. A site is more or less successful, more or less valuable to potential advertisers, depending on how often people look at it.

bearwithme

I told you there was a bear with me.

Who cares, right? You should, if you’re a writer, professional, quasi-, aspiring, or otherwise. Because your product—bear with me here—is not the work that you create, it is your focus & attention.

Ultimately, of course, you transform that focus & attention into short stories or novels or memoirs. But your natural resource, the thing which you possess which is worth money to you, is your ability to focus and get something done. You can tell me that the thing which you possess which is worth money to you is your ideas, but ask anybody on the street—ask a four-year-old—ask your mailman or the lifeguard at the pool—everybody has an idea.

The thing you possess which is worth money to you is your ability to turn your idea into a finished product, and that requires focus & attention.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, what Internet companies are selling—keep bearing with me—are not the products you see advertised. What Facebook, for example, is selling, is your focus & attention. They are saying to other companies, “this person is going to spend forty-five minutes today on our site, and we would love to sell you that forty-five minutes.”

So let me put two and two together (and thank you for bearing with me)—you, writer or would-be writer, have a precious natural resource: your focus & attention. Your goal is to monetize that resource, by using focus & attention to turn ideas into stories, which you can then turn into money.

The internet’s goal is to take that natural resource from you and monetize it for themselves. 

In conclusion: don’t let them do that.

 

the puddy principle

Asked by student writers for one piece of advice, I always say “turn off the Internet while you’re writing.”  To explain why, I invoke what I call the Puddy Principal.

Patrick_Warburton_by_Gage_Skidmore

Patrick Warburton, aka David Puddy

Those of us who were active television watchers in the Seinfeld era will recall Elaine’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, a saturnine dimwit named David Puddy.

In one of my favorite scenes, Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, of course) has broken up with Puddy for the zillionth time, and is now sitting in her apartment trying not to call him. The scene is basically a short play that’s Elaine thinking in voice-over. She’s thinking about how glad she is to have broken up with Puddy; and then she thinks “oh, no, I think I left my glove at Puddy’s…I better call him”. And as she reaches for the phone, she goes—with a slight-but-obvious disappointment—“oh, there’s my glove.” Then: “That is so funny, I almost called Puddy about my glove, but then I found it!” Quick beat, then: “You know who loves funny stories?” [reaching for the phone] “David Puddy.”

EastGraySquirrel

A squirrel.

We’re all like that, now, with the Internet: try as we might to stay away, we take any excuse to return to go back. I’ll start in rough-drafting a scene, and I write a squirrel scampering across a lawn and I’ll think I better make sure squirrels are native to the part of New England where this scene takes place, and click on Safari. It’s insane, of course, the idea that I can’t proceed with my piece of fiction until I’m sure that I’ve got the fauna properly geolocated—it’s just that I’d rather be doing something easy (reading about squirrels on Wikipedia) than something difficult and emotionally draining (pressing on with my writing).

The real problem is that once you’ve given in and called Puddy—i.e. gone onto the web—you don’t just look up the squirrels and then log off. Of course not! You click on the full list of Woodland Creatures Native to Vermont, then you email your brother a fun factoid about beavers, and then you click on a banner ad about Funny T-shirts (because who doesn’t like a  funny T-shirt) and then suddenly it’s an hour and a half later, and you’re checking your Facebook status and your novel is where you left it, softly weeping, wishing you would come back and finish the part about the squirrel.

Bottom line: writing is extremely difficult, and because writers are human beings, we would prefer to do something easy to something difficult. The Internet is, for all its benefits, the greatest distraction machine ever built by mankind. And this great and terrible machine is not just in the room with you, it is the thing you write on.

So take Step One, admit you have a problem, because everybody does, and invest the in a netblocking program.

For the record, I use (and feel sort of in love with) a program called Freedom. It costs ten bucks.