George Saunders on the Internet

In the past, I’ve mentioned Jaron Lanier and his condemnations of Internet culture. I just stumbled on this article by George Saunders (who is apparently some kind of intellectual) which carries the topic forward. He bemoans the way the Internet “reprograms” your brain in such a way that you always have a little voice telling you there’s something else (on the Internet) you should be doing.

I do know that I started noticing a change in my own reading habits – I’d get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialled 911. So I had to start watching that more carefully. But it’s interesting because (1) this tendency does seem to alter brain function and (2) through some demonic cause-and-effect, our technology is exactly situated to exploit the crappier angles of our nature: gossip, self-promotion, snarky curiosity. It’s almost as if totalitarianism thought better of the jackboots and decided to go another way: smoother, more flattering – and impossible to resist.

Twitter is a deliberate abstention. Somehow I hate the idea of there always being, in the back of my mind, this little voice saying: “Oh, I should tweet about this.” Which knowing me, I know there would be. I’m sure some people can do it in a fun and healthy way, but I don’t think I could. Plus, it’s kind of funny – I’ve spent my whole life learning to write very slowly, for maximum expressiveness, and for money. So the idea of writing really quickly, for free, offends me. Also, one of the simplify-life things I’m doing is to try to just write fiction, period. There was a time there a few years back where I was writing humour, and screenplays, and travel journalism so on – just trying to keep the juices flowing and kick open some new doors. These, in turn, led to a period of sort of higher public exposure – TV appearances here in the US and some quasi-pundit-like moments. To be honest, this made me feel kind of queasy. I’m not that good on my feet and I found that I really craved the feeling of deep focus and integrity that comes with writing fiction day after day, in a sort of monastic way. So that’s what I’m trying to do now, as much as I can manage. And Twitter doesn’t figure into that.

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