Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Breaking Bad on the Internet

Like many writers, I have a love/hate relationship with technology. The problem, which relates to productivity, is that the Internet is a huge time suck that can stymie the creative process and intellectual growth. I know many writers who don't open their emails until after 3 p.m., using the fresh morning hours to write and edit (short story writer Ron Carlson, Ron Carlson Writes a Story).

I've had writing teachers (memorist Adair Lara, Naked, Drunk and Writing) warn about the pitfalls of "research rapture" on the Internet, a malady that involves gathering copious amounts of information that is later scrapped, which is a time waster that gets in the way of storytelling. Pop-up grammar checkers also trigger second guessing of sentence structure in the middle of composition, which in mature writers is usually wrong because of the lack of program sophistication, another time waster (Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves). If we all wrote within the grammatical confines of Microsoft programs, we'd be eating prose puree--smooth and bland, perfect for babies, bad if you like savory sentences and the freedom to create them.
And, there seems to be a myth about social media and how it keeps all of us lovingly connected to each other. There are blog sites out there so foolish or esoteric that one has to wonder about the sense of delivering technology to those who would use it for meaningless, obscure purposes. If the answer is: "Ain't it grand everybody gets a shot at saying something?" My answer would be that not everyone has something worthwhile to say. I've run across blogs with less than three followers. Enabling them to use bandwidth for drivel is a great waste of U.S. ingenuity and an unnecessary drag on GDP. Those would-be communicators could just as easily pick up the old-fashioned telephone, dial and spare burdening more advanced technology -- and us.

In my day job as a reporter and editor, I'm online 8 to 10 hours a day. I get 300 to 400 emails a day, monitor and get continuous alerts from 20 newspapers, receive every day dozens of press releases and specialty newsletters. In our newsroom, we probably run 2 to 5 days ahead of "breaking news" that appears online. It takes that long for most news outlets to capture, process, package and repackage the information. Sorting through this river of information and making sense of it for public consumption is much more difficult and time consuming than it used to be and that leads to superficial reporting and lack of context for readers/viewers to evaluate the information they receive in their daily lives.
So, in terms of people getting news they can use, technology has muddied the waters and dumbed down the populace. What grabs eyes on the Internet is the salacious and sensational. "Dog saves girl lost in the snow for three days; two-headed baby born to autistic mother in Philippines; face of Jesus appears on tortilla; wardrobe malfunction reveals starlet has square nipple, Dr. Oz responds; gojee berries cure mother of eight's uterine cancer; Octomom goes to rehab." Internet addiction is real and it makes its victims (me, included) needy, prurient and frightened. It's a brain eater -- and a fiction killer.

Facebook? I know many writers who are opting out -- intrusions by companies, irrelevant exchanges with acquaintances, what's for breakfast, what your kid made in school today, where you cat took a nap. If it doesn't sell books, blogs and newspapers, why waste the time? Have you read your Twitter stream today? For professional writers, sharing and liking is not an idle pastime, it's a business. Although there are many terrific capabilities provided by technology, sometimes it's easy to wonder what we've actually gained.

A new, stunning Infographic from learnstuff.com illustrates How Social Media is Destroying Productivity

The creative group's researchers and designers make the point that as American students and workers spend more time on the Internet, and on social media sites in particular, their levels of productivity are tanking. The average college student might spend three hours checking various social media sites, but only two hours studying. That discrepancy is reflected in lower GPAs.

Workers aren’t faring much better. Every time someone at work gets an IM, a Facebook message or a tweet, it takes them a whopping 23 minutes to get back on task. Taken all together, that costs the American economy $650 billion per year in lost productivity. The learnstuff.com creative team says the next time you think about checking a social media site, consider how much time and energy it will actually take.

If you've got something to say about breaking bad online, tweet me @ #kcamp300 And, don't be afraid to forward, like, share this post and add to the junk floating around in cyberspace. Eventually someone will clean up the mess.

And, if you're interested in the hard work that goes into the final shaping of a novel, conducted through email exchanges, pick up a copy of my co-authored book on writing: Between the Sheets - An Intimate Exchange on Writing, Editing, and Publishing. Available in paper and ereader formats.