In particular, Franzen cites Jeff Bezos, Amazon and the rise of self-publishing and e-books as a dire threat to the ‘serious writer’ – an august group which, presumably, includes himself but excludes the thousands of people who are now accessing these internet-based tools.
It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot – not e-publishing per se – but the impact that the internet has on the ways that we gather, store and process information, as well as the ways that we spend – and think about – our time.
And so, I was interested to read a more measured piece on The Huffington Post by Kevin O’Kelly titled “eBooks vs. Print: Actually a Nonissue” in which he takes on the matter of our impending internet doom and puts it in perspective.
New means of transmitting information have always changed people’s brains and behavior, and people have always complained about it. Roughly 2400 years ago Plato complained that reading and writing would weaken people’s memories. And he was correct. The explosion of printed material and the near-universal adoption of silent reading during the Renaissance arguably changed how we think as well. Marshall McLuhan, famously argued that the act of silently scanning lines of printed text (as opposed to reading illuminated manuscripts out loud) had decisive consequences for Western thought and society: reading aloud to other people is a communal act; reading alone is an individual one. While McLuhan has his detractors, no historian seriously doubts Elizabeth Eisentein’s assertion in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change that “the thoughts of readers are guided by the way the contents of books are arranged and presented.” And Franzen’s complaints about our “media-saturated moment,” echo the complaints of Renaissance curmudgeons that the printing press made it too easy to reproduce existing books and publish new ones. As 15th-century Venetian magistrate Filipo di Strata put it, “The pen is a virgin, the printing press is a whore.”
I would certainly never argue that the internet hasn’t had a profound impact on our culture and on the ways that we think about things. And I would not argue that it has all been positive – or that we are even aware of all of the ways that the internet is impacting us.
But what I would emphasize is that we have many choices about how we incorporate this powerful tool into our lives. We are not just passive victims of an impending, internet-generated apocalypse.
Yes, the internet has added to our distractions and may increase our difficulty with focusing and staying on-task; but we can choose to use tools and time boundaries to address this. Indeed, there are few challenges presented by the internet that can’t be mitigated by the time choices that we make in our moments. The power really is in our hands.
But what do you think about the internet and its omnipresence in our lives? Has it impacted you in ways that you are worried about?
If so, I’d just remind you that you really can change that. It may require the development of new habits, or the creation of some new time boundaries for yourself, but you can do it. And what better time to start than right now?
Here’s to your time success …