This was the thought foremost on my mind as I read a write up in The Guardian, by Sylvain Tesson, about his new book Consolations of the Forest – a largely philosophical account of his six-months living as a hermit in a cabin in Siberia.
While he took the obligatory survival equipment with him on his retreat, he also carried a library of almost 80 books. As he mentioned in the same piece, for the first time in his life he was able to read a whole book beginning to end without stopping. “Always being contactable is the beginning of your loss of freedom,” he added.
How true! If I could spend even seven days, in my own home unplugged from my devices, perhaps I could recapture some of that stillness inside which is so needed to create—to read or write.
The theme was picked up at The Literary Consultancy (TLC’s) Writing in a Digital Age conference; when Alison Baverstock, course leader for MA Publishing at Kingston University, asked if we were all too busy writing, to read?
It’s a sign of the me economy we live in, one in which many of us —myself included—feel compelled to spend time recording our every thought, word, deed, spewing out our inner stream of consciousness in short 140 character bursts, into the ether. (1/4th of American children have a digital footprint before they are born*) thanks in part to their overzealous—Facebook friendly parents.
But, when so much of one’s waking hour is spent simply amplifying our own voice in quick rapid fire output of words, is there anything else left to offer to long form prose? And, is there any mind space left to just read?
As, Chris Meade, Director, if:book, a charitable company exploring digital possibilities for literature remarked at the conference, “our lives are not disjointed like a stream of tweets, it needs some form of long form narrative” and I would add, both in the written and the read.
Michael Kowalski, Founder of Contentment a creative technology start up which specialises in solving problems to do with digital content production and publishing, hit the nail on the head when he said, “if you don’t have a writer’s chromosome you are more likely to be a reader.”
So what do you do if you were born with the defective writer’s DNA? What is the secret to just writing? (Or just reading?)
You could always resort to apps such as self-control, which once installed on your laptop can help you avoid distracting websites.
Else, eschew the laptop and embrace the joy of writing with pen on paper?
Or simply exercise that simple thing called choice? Resist the temptation of allowing the digital world to disrupt the real world? Shouldn’t just the words be enough?
* Report by the Internet security firm AVG