1. Perambulating. This is not at all the post I meant to write when I began to think about it this morning. Only half way through the original post I realised that my attention was elsewhere—probably because of a talk about online identities I had to give in the following week (in Berlin in German) on the way the Web has changed the way we do science, a talk that I’ll give again (differently) in London next month and yet again (differently) to an audience in Stockholm. This habit of continously changing lanes of thought, moving in and out of ideas is one way in which my thinking has changed. Or rather, I’ve always done that—in a recent interview for Flash Frontier I admitted that “I’m a lateral thinker and writer and it takes strength to keep the reins and carve out tracks deep enough so that others can follow my crabbed path later.”
The Internet’s not making it easier to keep a tight rein on one’s thoughts or lines…
What helped me to the insight of what I really wanted to write about (which is this what I’m writing about now in case you were wondering about my meandering…) is the way in which I sit here and write while weaving in and out of the Web. My browsing history in the past few hours include sites related to my research on virtual identities (Wikiversity, Google Books), social media sites (Twitter, Blogger), statistics information and general reference (dictionary), covering the broad areas of: learning, sharing and vanity. All of it while trying to write a blog post (sharing, vanity) about something that I’m curious about (learning).
2. Modeling. Now, if this was an MBA course, I’d draw a triangle (see fun and Freud in the figure) with ‘learning’, ‘sharing’ and ‘vanity’ in its corners, and perhaps I’d draw another triangle with the corresponding Freudian spaces ‘id’ (sharing), ‘super-ego’ (learning) and ‘ego’ (vanity) next to it, because I’m so fond of all things Sigmund (in part because the man wrote so damn well). But this is not an MBA course and I must get back to my original question and to writing.
How then is the Internet (or rather, the Web, which is what most people, although it is technically incorrect to do so, identify with the Internet) changing the way I write?
W. Daniel Hillis, in an introduction to the similar EDGE question, calls our time “the dawn of entanglement”. We’re perhaps not more entangled than we ever were (one of the privileges of getting older besides losing your teeth is the insight into how terribly and beautifully connected we all are at all times) but there’s a greater consciousness of this fact in the world.
3. Writing. A couple of days ago, I saw a picture of Fritz Thyssen, a German industrialist who helped bring Hitler to power and later fell from the Führer’s grace, on Jürgen Fauth’s Tumblr site “Tulpendiebe”.
I spent some time researching the facts surrounding Göring on the net. I found stuff out and I got excited, hopping from page to page like a rabbit, pen and mouse in hand (I do take notes in longhand, too).
I had started with one sentence that had bubbled up from my unconscious. After half a day or so I’d arrived at a pretty clear idea for a story linking the 1946 Nuremberg trials, the Beer-Hall-Putsch of 1923 and my desire to take a different look at fascism and its characters (which is one of my long-running secret projects, at least until this post).
I sat down and wrote my short story, going back to some of the web pages I’d saved and finding new ones along the way. This finding of new information and new ideas set in motion a more complicated process because I now had to defend my chosen course while the Web constantly whispered in my ear.
The tale itself is a story of entanglement. It could probably have been written between library visits, but my muse at least is a beautiful, moody cow: when she calls, I need to milk while the juice’s warm. I might never have written this story otherwise, not this one anyway.
4. Translating. A third dimension, discussed in the aforementioned recent interview is the going back and forth between German and English which, in this case, never left the level of individual words: I tend to look up a lot of words even if I know them; I don’t do this consciously while I do it. In hindsight, I think it helps me broaden my base of choices—something that every literary writer likes to do—avoid repetition or cliche.
As an early user (since 1990) I’ve not really been without the Web ever. As a writer, doing serious work since about 10 years, I’ve benefitted enormously from the growing density of information. This richness comes at a price: it is harder at times to find one’s way. First there’s a billion roads inside your head and then there’s another billion Internet highways outside your head. “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” says Toto to Dorothy. On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.
The Web operates like an external memory bank. It has become an ocean whose waves quietly lap at the back of my brain while I think and while I write. It contains all manner of creatures. I’m excited to see which ones will crawl out of this “Urschleim”, this primordial soup and find their way into the pages of my writing.
5. Asking. Now, all this was written in smoothie mode: put it all in, turn on the mixer, pour out the slush. There’s so much more to be said about how the Internet changes the way one writes, but I can’t get my four hands around it yet. I only wanted to get the ball rolling.
Here are a few recent witnesses from my blog roll: Alt Lit (like Noah Cicero on American literature in the absence of “honor” and “duty”); sad true habits of highly effective writers (like the commitment of Roxane Gay and others); people creating all over the place (like my 11-year old daughter Taffimai’s ambition-free web art exhibit); writers wondering why they do what they do (like Jim Davis & friends on Fictionaut); remixes and mash-ups (like Jürgen Fauth’s Tulpendiebe). So much to digest, read, digest, read.
How has the Internet changed the way you write?
Update September 2012: the story about Göring and Thyssen, “Demons”, was published in bluestem magazine