As much as I dislike my temp job, I love it for the routine it imposes: I wake up at 6:30am, check the Times and reddit, listen to 30-45 minutes of podcasts on the commute, and then sit down at a desk with a legal pad and without a computer or the Internet.
At first, I hated not having computer access. I was totally beside myself, stricken with an aggressive, angry boredom–“How can anyone expect me to do anything without the Internet?” I fumed throughout my first half-week there.
But the tasks I was assigned were decidedly non-digital. They required a stack of papers and a telephone to complete, and that was it. No Internet. So, in reality, I could totally be expected to do something without the Internet, and I was, in fact, doing it without any problems. Weird.
Over the last 10 years, it’s become ingrained in my mind–and in American society in general–that we need computers and the Internet to do any kind of work that matters. (N.B. the meta-level paradox of writing about the myth of techno-necessity on a blog doesn’t escape me.) But the truth of the matter is that people have been doing work that matters without the Internet for a lot longer than they’ve been doing work that matters with it (i.e., the Internet). And I’ve come to realize that the hatred I was feeling was really me hating not having an infinite source of distraction from my own thoughts and the work that matters to me.
Because disappearing a whole day into your web browser requires very minimal input from you. You could, theoretically, spend 8 hours solely writing emails or forum posts/blog comments–but no one does that. More likely, you’ll write one or two messages on a good day, then spend the other 7-and-a-half hours reading, watching and clicking. And I’m as guilty of this as the next guy or girl.
So it would seem that, at least for me, writing for online is best done offline. Offline–where I can think about what I’m trying to say rather than how many/which snarky blog posts or [insert cuddly animal species] YouTube videos I can link to. Because if I can’t think of it unprompted, I shouldn’t be linking to it.
I heard on a Writing Excuses podcast that William Gibson never owned/used a computer when writing Neuromancer and some of his other early novels. This all reminds me of being in grammar school: When you finished your work, you could take out a book of your own and read. For someone who loved reading, the policy was like being told you could spend every free second you saved up doing your favorite thing ever.
And I think the difference between being a grammar school student and being a 24-year-old sometimes-employed guy with an M.A. is that now, reading is seen as a nonproductive use of time/hobby. But writing is still seen as work work or, even worse, schoolwork–something you should still dread, so beyond enjoyable that there’s no way anyone would do it while “slacking off” and/or not working.
I wrote this at work, on a legal pad, during the seconds of free time I stockpiled throughout the day completing my analog tasks. The routine provides me with a route by which to write.