Slightly OT: How the web changes writing
An interesting essay on the internet and its effects on the deep structures of writing style and imagination. Money quote, which follows a brief summary of the opening of a novel:
The internet is inhospitable to that kind of quietness. If your browser were to happen on such a page, your eyes would likely go blank with impatience. Who is this guy? Why aren’t there any links? And, more damningly, Is anyone else reading this? A text on the internet rarely takes for granted your decision to read it or to continue reading it. There is often, instead, a jazzy, hectoring tone. At home my boyfriend and I use a certain physical gesture as shorthand to describe it. To make it, extend your index fingers and your thumbs so that your hands resemble toy pistols. Then waggle them before you, like a dude in a cheesy Western, while you wink, dip your knees, and lopsidedly drawl, “Heyyy.” The internet is always saying, “Heyyy.” It is always welcoming you to the party; it is always patting you on the back to congratulate you for showing up. It says, You know me, in a collusive tone of voice, and Wanna hear something funny? and Didja see who else is here? This tone is not absent from print; in fact, no page of New York magazine is without it. Certain decorative effects in language may be compatible with it, but it seems to be toxic to imagination.
There certainly is a lot of YELLING and noisiness and hectoring online, and though I’m not so sure the internet is the sole or primary cause (aren’t Oprah and Jerry Springer and Rush Limbaugh and the museum-of-me talk culture part of the issue here, too?), the writer’s making an important point about a certain loss of thoughtful reflection and contemplation that has attended digitized, online discourse.
In my own case, I’ve noticed that four years of mostly steady blogging have shortened the focal distance of my mind and more or less permanently sped up the rhythms and patterns I think in. When I blog, the result is not always brevity but a certain tendency toward the punch-line, the zinger, and pseudo-cleverness … Heyyyy!.
My non-bloggerly writing has been effected as well: I have trouble imagining the shape and trajectory of essays or other forms of writing that exceed 500 or 1000 words, and I get much more restless, much faster at the writing desk than I once did. This summer I’ve started working on a long-term project that will no doubt take years to complete, and it has taken me most of the past two months just to re-acclimate myself to the habits of mind and body that it takes to think and write for the book-length horizon rather than the POST NOW immediacy of blogging.
I don’t know that this is all bad. For one thing, blogging keeps me alert and much more immersed in a wider range of interconnected issues than I ever was before. And that interconnectedness cross-fertilizes almost every other area of my life beyond blogging. Besides, complaining about the effects of the internet, which is here and here to stay, is rather like saying, “if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.” But there probably is some value is keeping one eye on this stuff.Email this Post