Mike Masnick at TechDirt bags on writer Doris Lessing for some recent comments about the pernicious effect of the Internet and blogging:
We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.
What has happened to us is an amazing invention – computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”
Mike offers plenty of valid points in reply. But I do feel like there’s something to what Lessing is getting at here, and it’s closely related to why I took a hiatus from blogging back in the fall and am trying to limit somewhat the amount of blogging I do. Mike is concerned with the effects of blogs and the Net on the population as a whole, and while he’s surely right to say that the rise of a textual medium is helping to make kids more literate and comfortable with writing in one sense, the baseline here is relevant: We’re comparing e-mail and the Web to TV and the telephone, not to novels and letters.
Even if the effect on the average person is positive—someone who twenty years ago might not have done much reading or writing at all—I think Lessing is on much firmer ground speaking as a writer. This probably sounds a little odd coming from me, but a lot of the habits blogging implants really are pretty destructive. I’ve obviously decided it’s worth it to keep doing it, on net, but I try to remind myself of all the unhealthy tendencies blogging encourages. Most obviously, it is just absolute poison for a writer to get too accustomed to reading and writing in chunks that average 300-500 words. As you get hooked on the instant gratification of firing off “pieces” that each take a half hour, your inclination and facility at crafting sustained arguments really does get degraded. This is compounded by the bloggy focus on timeliness: It always feels as though the most vital thing you could possibly be writing about is whatever all the other bloggers are discussing right this second.
As you may have noticed, I nevertheless have decided it’s worthwhile on net to keep blogging. But I do so only in the hope that by reminding myself of the very real drawbacks of the form, and by taking periodic breaks, I can mitigate the form’s worst effects on my thinking and writing.