Thursday, April 29, 2010


The Intern had a hilars guest post the other day about how writers used to have more depth and suffering and had to spend hours hunched over a typewriter, which somehow all meant that they more accurately and timelessly captured the sufferings and longings of the human spirit. Paraphrasing here, obviously.

I admit, I'm a victim of the times. My handy dandy netbook is with me at all times (not that I wouldn't have carried around a full size typewriter back in the day, especially if it came with a trendy messenger bag), I've got several computers at home, and I've pretty much eschewed using my hand to "write" things all together. It cramps when I try to write a grocery list. And now I've stepped into the ultimate (nothing will ever be more ultimate!) frontier: I bought a smart phone. Well, the P-i-C nicked it for me (or should have, at least, who pays for things nowadays?)

I had a Blackberry before, but that was more like an idiot savant phone. It could do some things brilliantly - texting was a dream - but acted like a total dunce for most other things. As in, "what? You want to look at a webpage? What's a webpage? We no wanna look at webpage, blah. More cookies!" And then it would get mad when I had to explain that webpage cookies didn't come with chocolate chips.

But my new phone, oh, my new phone is a glory. It's got a touchscreen, a slide out QWERTY keyboard, Windows Mobile (don't look at me like that, I use Windows all day, I understand it), and lots of other cool shiny yum yums. Best of all? Word. Mobile. Bitches. I've already got two WIPs on the phone and I'm thinking of starting an Ideas folder so I can slap those babies down no matter where I am. It's glorious, kiddies, simply glorious.

Does this make me a more craptastic writer? Would I have given up if I'd had to write these words out by hand, or throw away an entire page if I typed a letter wrong? Would I have pulled a Nicholson in The Shining and killed my entire family by now (pretty sure he went crazy after running out of white out)? It's hard to say what makes a writer great, or how the ease of writing affects that greatness. Like maybe if Salinger had a laptop he wouldn't have been so, to borrow a phrase, batshit crazy (my crazyometer says no). Or maybe he wouldn't have written such a classic novel that has spanned generations and still speaks to today's youth.

To step on a soapbox for a moment, technology has greatly enhanced the baseline knowledge of the world and brought opportunities to cultures and communities that never would have existed without it. It's also helped us cause a buttload more destruction to a lot of people in a much more concentrated timeline. World War I was so particularly devastating because of advancing technology in weaponry. So, a little bit of column good, a little bit of column bad.

But what has it done to writers? In a way, it's made even the worst of us better by creating a community (hi!) where writers of all levels can come together and share their knowledge. I've said it before and I'll say it again, my writing has vastly improved just by perusing blogs that offer good, solid advice on common novice mistakes. It's also brought us closer to the elusive elite of agents and editors, and given us insight into their decision-making process and their preferences. And it's given us a deeper understanding of all cultures by bringing them right into our homes even when we can't go out there to see them for ourselves.

So maybe we're not drinking ourselves into a suicidal stupor while penning the next great American novel, but the world has changed. The sufferings of our predecessors are not our sufferings. Writers have adapted to the world around them, crawled out of their shells a little into the overly bright light of day, and we're all better for it. Or we can at least join a Facebook group about it.


CitiZEN said...

I agree! Technology is great, and I'd be right there with you, except that I'm cheap. I still have my Dell "laptop" that weighs 400 pounds (which is so heavy I actually can't let it sit on my lap too long before my legs go numb). My mom taught me that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if it ain't broke, don't trade it in. So for now, I'll suffer through writing with my current, ancient dinosaur. I don't think it'll make me a better writer, just a few pennies ahead.

Elana Johnson said...

Ah, I love how you ask what technology has done to writers. I've actually written an entire book by hand before. In a notebook. No lie. I do a lot of writing by hand.

I think the biggest thing technology has done to writers is create more people who think they can write.

JEM said...

CitiZEN: Oh, don't worry, that's one of the compys I have at home.
Elana: very good point. Also: with your word count output, I can't believe you wrote a book by hand. You're insane. Ly awesome.

Lydia Kang said...

I enjoy how technology has linked together a community of writers all over the world. I hate how it distracts me from the task at hand--writing!

ashbo said...

I just finished writing a lecture about computers and technology in psychology. I enjoy the relevance of your blog post, despite me not really being a writer. :)

CitiZEN said...

Elana and Lydia: I agree. You gave am an idea of a new martial arts style: Hand-to-Hand Writing. Challenge me, if you dare....

Tahereh said...

haha! another genius post. yes. technology has indeed united us. it has also ruined us, because i can't remember how to hold a pen in my hand anymore.



<3 you

have a fab weekend, bestie!!

beth said...

I LOVE everything that tech has been able to do for writing. And while tech does mean that it's easier for people to write (even those with no talent and drive), it also makes those with talent and drive have a chance to writer *better*. How much harder would it be to do edits, for example, or critiques, if we didn't have tech?

Lisa and Laura said...

What a solid post! I feel smarter having read it because I've never really considered this topic before--yeah, I've thought about the impact of our writing community on my writing, but I've never actually delved in the way you have. Brilliant! And I totally agree with your analysis. Suicide is SO last season.