Working without a net


Silk’s Post #97 – I’ve been sailing around in a boat for the past three weeks, away from most of the resources I’ve come to depend on as a writer. My workspace. My library. My files. But most of all, my easy and cheap access to the internet.

Sailing in US waters, I had to buy an expensive “data pass” from Telus, my mobile ISP. Sixty-five bucks for a month of roaming, which tops out at 300 MB. Working WiFi at anchor or even at marinas is extremely rare (don’t believe the brochures), so cellular data had to do all the heavy lifting. It took me less than two weeks to exceed my 300 MB limit, and all I used it for was emails, a short daily Facebook post, one 5writers post (which I wrote offline) and minimal time researching, surfing or anything else. Ouch. So back to Telus for another $65 data pass.

My blinding flash of the obvious is that I now depend on the internet in ways I haven’t thought a lot about before. As a writer, I’m addicted to it as a research tool. It has stimulated my sense of curiosity by rewarding me not only with instant answers, but also with the allure of deeper, more nuanced layers if I want to drill down into a subject. But more than that, I also depend on it for ideas, inspiration, interconnections, and perspectives that range from the micro focus to the “30,000 foot” panoramic view.

In short, it is my writing ecosystem. My safety net. Something no writer in the world up until very recent times has had the advantage of.

Out here, floating “on the hook” in an island cove, I’m cut off from my usual resources, feeling as isolated as the early settlers must have felt when they arrived here – far from their hometowns, where the streets were paved. I’ve gone back, technologically speaking, to the 19th century. Like the writers then, all I have to work with is what’s in my own head. I’m at sea, literally and figuratively – working without a net.

When I write a 5writers post, I typically start with an idea. It could be a problem I’m struggling with in my writing, or a question I’ve been wondering about, or something I’ve read or learned, or an insight or experience that applies (okay, sometimes only tangentially) to writing. But to build the post – whether I’m making a case or telling a story – the next thing I invariably do is wander around online and in my library for examples, quotes, meat to put on the bones.

For my book, the internet is even more critical. Although we all know by now that it takes a lot more than online research to achieve authenticy in our characters, settings and plots, it is still an incredibly powerful shortcut that gets us ready to make the most of deeper research like interviews, library visits, further reading and location scouting.

Ah, but what are the disadvantages? Surely there must be something we writers pay for all this convenience, this relentless connectivity?

Does it make us lazy?

Is it the enemy of contemplation, hurrying us along to jump at quick solutions and cheap, obvious ideas?

Does it restrain our own imaginations and creativity, turning us (consciously or unconsciously) into mimics, followers, jumpers on the bandwagon?

Does it give the illusion of infinite possibilities and freedom, while in reality tethering us and making us dependent (like any other addiction)?

I have no answers, but I think it’s worth taking some time to think about the questions.

Bottom line: I am not giving up the internet. I’m not even interested in trying to ration myself. But I see how the tool can become the master.

Test yourself sometime by going somewhere without internet access (I mean for longer than a couple of hours)! Will you breathe a sigh of relief? Or will you go into withdrawal? Or maybe the first, followed in fairly short order by the second?

Isn’t it amazing how fast we’ve become part of the networked world?

Case in point: I wrote this Monday morning and have been trying to post it ever since via cell (nope, no coverage) or WiFi (nuh uh, kept getting bumped off the slow poke band). Sigh. Ah! Finally luck on Tuesday night!

3 thoughts on “Working without a net

  1. Ah Silk, I know that feeling all too well – being stuck in a non-internet zone is like purgatory or worse. When I visit my low-tech family or friends in Vienna, I feel as if the ground around me is frozen. Like a scene from a science fiction movie where I wander aimlessly because all life has ceased to exist. A barren landscape…. For better or worse, I have become reliant on the internet, and yes, especially for my writing. I admit this could be a not-so-mild form of addiction. There are times though where I do get that feeling you describe as sigh of relief to be without, like on a short trip, but the emphasis is on ‘short’. Will our writing be better as a result? Let’s find out.

  2. Pingback: Travelling is great for story ideas | 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

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