Writing in the Digital Age: Unplugging is Hard to Do When You’re Hooked on Instant Access

The internet has been around several decades now, and the changes to information access it has wrought are mind boggling: blogs can be shared instantly, and round the world on FaceBook and Twitter; cell phones have morphed into smart phones; Google makes finding answers easier than ever, almost before you’ve formed the question; Yahoo Groups makes creating an international community of like-minded wool carders a breeze. For curiosity hounds like me, who wake up wondering, “Why does…?” and go to sleep thinking, “What if…?” this access and connectedness is catnip on steroids (hmmm, maybe I should rethink that analogy…picture my 23 year old cat getting hold of catnip and literally turning back into a six month old kitten for five straight minutes).

Our potential for connectedness is literally at our fingertips 24/7. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “If only I didn’t need 8 hours sleep…”

But I do.

picture of rainbow

How can you experience a rainbow if you never go outside?

Recently, I discovered I also need time away from the demands of this instant access world. You may have noticed I did not post a column last week. I meant to (and I don’t plan to miss again, I’m going to spend some time scheduling posts in advance for the times when I do want to step away). But…my daughter came to visit, and brought 80 degree weather with her to my cold New England town. It seemed more important to spend time with her in the sun than it did to sit at the computer and blog (I didn’t even do my weekly wedding update blog, bad me). Normally, my Catholic upraising would have the guilt bells jangling every last nerve. But not this time.

That’s a clear sign that I needed this time away from the constant demands of 24/7 connectedness. It concerns me that I wasn’t even aware of my own need to unplug until after I had done it. I thought I was managing the tides of digital information (just barely, but still, managing it instead of it managing me).

There’s a wonderful science fiction short story that sticks with me after decades, where a burglar breaks into a house and finds a homeowner literally plugged into his game system and dying because he hasn’t unplugged to eat or bathe. (Google just failed me when I did a quick search for the title/author, and I was too impatient to keep looking — if anyone knows, please share). Even back in the 70s or 80s when I read this story, I knew it was not just an alarmist concern, but a real possibility (non-techie Dungeons and Dragons players at my college could go several days throwing dice and casting spells, so why not gamers?). Anyone remember the sad story that came out of Japan about the couple who neglected their real, disabled, baby in order to go to an internet cafe and raise a virtual child? A lot of talk centered around not understanding why they would do it, but that seemed obvious to me. We crave success, and an infant with disabilities doesn’t offer many opportunities for success for his parents. Heartaches often beget more heartaches. In the virtual world, there’s usually a do-over, a chance to beat the odds. That’s why great video games are so addictive. We all want to beat the odds.

Right now, the digital publishing revolution is giving writers a chance to beat the odds in new ways. Can’t get past the gatekeeper agents and editors? Self publishing and see if the readers will come. Publisher only accepting every third book you write? Self publish the others and keep your readers happy without cluttering your under-the-bed-space with dead manuscripts. Have a book that no one knows how to market? Write it anyway and figure out the marketing yourself, counting on the long tail of epublishing to help your book find its readers.

I’ve spent the last two years learning, learning, learning. Formatting, marketing, Twitter, FaceBook (and now FaceBook Timeline, curse you Zuckerberg), cover design. Every time I turn around there’s something new to learn (and so many great free resources to help — while formatting books yesterday, I listened to several hours of podcasts from The Accidental Creative and Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book). I use HootSuite to schedule Tweets that interest me, that I think would interest other writers — and I try to remember to share even in the hours when I’m asleep, because half the world is awake.

Sometimes unplugging gives me a vague sense of unease, as if I’ll miss something important. But that’s an illusion. Or, maybe, it’s reality. We’re always missing things, and we weren’t quite so aware of missing them until the radio, the TV, and the internet began to bring the vastness of the world into our homes in near-real time.

The pleasure of connectedness bring along the angst and pain of being merely human, and incapable of holding it all. I think of children who are invited to a birthday party — joy, happiness, the thrill of something special. But then, they are invited to two and can only attend one. Angst — which to attend? And does it matter which one? Because you will miss the other one, which could always have been the one with the bigger bouncy house.

Until someone invents a practical clone option — I’m picturing 10 of me, each going out to tackle one part of the universe, then coming home at night to share memories and give each other back rubs and share a bottle of wine…hmmm would 10 be enough?

Oh well, until then, I’m going to unplug every now and again, deliberately. But, first, I’ll be sure to pre-schedule this blog, and some round the clock Tweets.

Kelly McClymer is an opinionated new member of Book View Cafe, and a cheerleader of writers reaching readers however they can. You can visit her on her desperately-in-need-of-update website; Follow her on Twitter, hang with her onGoogle+, Like her on FaceBook, and share Pinterests with her. Oh, and she’s on Goodreads, too (once a reader, always a reader).




Writing in the Digital Age: Unplugging is Hard to Do When You’re Hooked on Instant Access — 6 Comments

  1. I think that short story was by Spider Robinson in his collection “Time Travelers Strictly Cash.” Don’t remember the individual story title though.

    I remember the story with a kind of visceral horror because I can be obsessive compulsive and that victim could be me.

    I make a point of not having a smart phone so I disconnect. My cell phone is old and stupid. My Nook only reads books, nothing else. My iPod does lots of things but mostly only music for me. If I had one gadget to do everything I’d be close to demanding having it implanted.

  2. The story from Spider Robinson is called “God is an Iron”, but the homeowner is female and she is “plugged in” not to the Internet or à game but to a system that delivers pleasure directly to the brain; even scarier to my thinking.

  3. Adding to Nancy: The story was later used as the beginning of Spider’s novel Deathkiller.

  4. The scene is also an homage to John D MacDonald. I think the original is in The Deep Blue Good-Bye.

  5. Thanks, Nancy (and Dave). I can’t believe I didn’t remember it was a Spider Robinson story. I *can* believe I got the details wrong, because it has been a while since I reread any of Spider’s work. I’ll have to go pull out the books and revisit.

    Phyl & KEK: I have a smart phone. But I’m so dumb with it, that it doesn’t get the best of me (I let it discharge, and am never around when it rings).