“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
As someone who writes and reads, craves the crinkly scent of old book shops and quiet walks under autumn leaved trees, someone who was never about “going to the club” or phone apps, and who only just started semi-actively using Twitter, I sometimes feel much too old for my body, and much too old for my tender age.
Although I am a technical member of the “millennial” generation, I often scoff at their decisions, attitudes, and social media obsessions, when I myself am guilty of Facebook addiction, blogging, tumbling, and of course, the occasional Instagram. Oftentimes, I feel like an in-betweener; I am equal parts a 40-year-old cat lady speculating hesitently about the future of the techno boom and a young, up and coming, 20-something, dialed-in to today’s fast paced, media driven society. This mismatch is difficult for me, and maybe I can blame it on my sign, Gemini, which causes me to be a little split in half on the issues. However, it does impact my career and my desires to become a writer, editor, or even a teacher, because lately I‘ve found that my skills and old fashioned dreams are a little behind on the times, and maybe a little unrealistic. I think the mismatch is a struggle not just for me, but also for print media as a whole.
Writing is becoming increasingly important today because media is rampant, there are so many articles, blogs, write-ups, op-eds, advertisements, news stories, fiction stories, trash news blogs, quizzes, and miscellaneous thoughts shared and consumed all across the world wide web every second of every day. As a whole it seems that people are somehow reading more and reading less at the same time. In media (I refer to “the media” and “media” in a general, all encompassing sense here, but I mostly mean online media), it is becoming so much more of a quantity over quality game, it is no longer up to writers to curate a strong, accurate collection of facts for their stories, but a free for all where readers must distinguish the good from the bad, the trash from the treasure.
So where does this leave the literary? The good old-fashioned quality writers who want to break into the media bubble or just want to be read? It seems that breaking into the writing scene today is very different than it used to be. Writers and publications are becoming self made, branded commodities who must keep up with the endless stream of media or be quickly forgotten. In Gillian Flynn’s popular novel Gone Girl, Nick Dunne proclaims very early on in the book (see my next post on media and Gone Girl):
“I used to be a writer. I was a writer who wrote about TV and movies and books. Back when people cared about what I thought. I’d arrived in New York in the late ‘90’s, the last gasp of the glory days, although no one knew it then. New York was packed with writers, real writers, because there were magazines, real magazines, loads of them. This was back when the internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world—-throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won’t kill us in the night. Think about it: a time when newly graduated college kids would come to new your and get paid to write “ (Flynn 4 -5).
He goes on to say that after the Internet boom,
“Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don’t work quick enough to blog or link or tweet, basically old, stubborn blowhards) were through“ (Flynn 4-5).
And this quote captures it, at least the downside of it. I do dream of a day when I could go somewhere to get paid to write. What a novel idea? But as Kristen Hansen Brakemen describes in her article, “Why I Write for Free,” most writers must labor over building a social media presence and write for free for years to build an actual audience and gain popularity, and even then there’s no guaranteed success or at least, no guaranteed monetary success.
Because everyone can have a blog it’s harder to sniff out the true from the trite. People share their stories left and right, it’s like the Internet is an endless buffet of narratives all mixed together, ripe for the picking. These tales are so easily accessible that it’s often easy to take a strong story for granted.
Dani Shapiro wrote the following in “Memoir is not a Status Update,”
“I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for ‘sharing my story,’ as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: ‘What’s on your mind?’ I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite. In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea.”
I think personal stories and memoirs have lost their poignancy due to the nature of our sharing society. We all share everything all the time with simple keystrokes and forget how intimate it is to share the everyday moments of our lives. At the same time, the prevalence and popularity of sincerely human writing is increasing, it seems the Internet is constantly latching onto the next big, heartwarming (or breaking) story and wanting to get inside the skin of it. We both crave closeness and the knowledge of who are fellow men and women are, but are also always looking for the next sweet story to trump the last, and like Shapiro says, truly sincere stories are the ones we have to sit with and soak up, not the ones we can offhandedly spout in response to the tempting and challenging question, “What’s on your mind?”
But sharing, over sharing, and the demand for more, more, more isn’t just a problem for individuals. This shift is affecting magazines and newspapers as well as individuals both positively and negatively.
Today magazines can’t just be magazines if they want to survive, consumers now require a constant stream of activity and the quality fades away because there is too much, too often, all day, words, news, lists. Magazines have to have the online presence that never sleeps to stay afloat and they, like me, are caught in this in between world of loving and hating technology.
I think it’s great that there is space for new material all the time and I like that on the whole it seems people are reading in all sorts of new ways, sometimes not even realizing how many words they consume per day. It is also incredible and astonishing that news from around the world can spread within a couple of minutes through the information highway.
There is something liberating about being able to be a self made writer with the ability to create a blog with the click of a key, and something thrilling about the high demand for opinions, posts, words, and news, but there is also something fundamentally exhausting about the garbage in, garbage out pace of media. And I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way. I can’t help but wonder if we really are going to make the switch from in-person and on-paper to completely and totally online.
I wonder the implications of the constant share, the constant stream of stories on our psyches. Will children of the information age be more empathic, or will they be less than impressed by these “upworthy” snippets and become jaded to the beauty in small things, only impressed by the huge gestures that are dug up from around the world and lauded on Facebook and twitter for the week, then quickly forgotten with the arrival of the next discovery, act of kindness, or disturbing selfie?
For now, I will take my Buzzfeed quizzes, and read my Entertainment Weekly online articles. I will maintain my trust in the New Yorker and take the internet world with more than a grain of salt. As always, I will watch what manifests, and what fades.
Here are a few articles both directly mentioned and tangentially related to my post, maybe they will provide some more food for thought on the issue.
and finally a blog I follow called, Writing Through the Fog, largely inspired this piece and also introduced me to the article by Dani Shapiro.