Overland extract – Cate Kennedy is ‘Driven to distraction’

In Overland 199, Cate Kennedy examines how the constant stimulus of the internet is affecting our writing lives:

I seem to have reached an impasse with the great majority of my friends, relatives, colleagues and associates – a point that sees us veering steadily in two diametrically opposed directions. The source of our dissension is the internet. They feel I’m forfeiting my opportunity for vastly improved connectedness by avoiding Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere; I feel I’m preserving it. They tell me I’m left behind and out of the loop by my choice to shun online social networking; I’m flat out struggling to maintain offline social networking. They believe I’m passing up chances for establishing an online profile; I want nothing to do with an identity curated primarily for self-promotion and stoked with compulsive self-reportage.

They tell me I sound like a cranky old Luddite. The blogosphere, they explain eagerly, is like a vast salon, full of voices and ideas keen for your attention, full of musings on books, films and public events, full of passionately held opinions and lively discussion – exactly what a writer needs. They make it sound like Paris in the 1920s – a creative ferment, testing my capacity to keep up. But the closer I look, the harder I find this to swallow. It’s gradually come to seem, instead, that the last thing a writer needs is the clamouring, 24/7, caffeinated babble-fest that now beckons so seductively from the glowing screen.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the internet. Access to such a rich store of information is a marvel; wandering idly among this inconceivably massive repository, a dizzying pleasure. I confess I still visualise it as an enormous library or filing cabinet that I can go to when I need information about anything from stonemasonry to statistics. But, in its current incarnation, the net demands more of its users. You’re now expected to socialise; to upload your photos and impressions; to keep a diary for the whole world to read; to interact and respond to other users.

Read the rest of Cate’s essay, ‘Driven to distraction’.

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  1. Thank you for this post. When I consider this issue (I am not on Facebook and feel guilty and worried about the effect on my work of this possibly foolish decision) I think about those pictures of the various areas of the brain lighting up under different stimuli.

    However, I just think the “caffeinated”–apt phrase–verbal arena of “social networking” is a whole different area of the brain from the contemplative one. And the latter is the one we need.

  2. One thing I am continually reminded of upon logging on is that the internet does not need me. It is in flux, with or without me. As a result, I don’t feel like the internet demands anything from me – not replying to a friend’s email/tweet/whatever would have a similar effect to me not answering their phone calls.

    On the other hand, I demand from it. I want it to supply me with things that will both stimulate and inspire. I find myself turning to the internet more and more to be instantly entertained. I also find myself frustrated and, curiously, let down when it fails, and it often does. The fact I go back is no doubt an indicator of addiction. The fact I earn a wage from working on the internet – a whole other level of need – means it’s not an addiction I’ll be containing any time soon.

    Cate’s point about spending time on the internet cultivating the opposite of what literature requires is where I agree. I fear what it does to patience, to close, slow reading – including my own. On the production side, as a productivity killer it is hard to beat. If I want to get any serious writing done, I pull the internet plug.

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