James Clarke & Notes

A circular rather than a linear progress

In the pre-internet age…,” he observes, “there came a moment when you turned off the TV or the stereo, or put down the book or magazine… You stopped doing culture and you withdrew — or advanced — into your solitude. You used the phone. You went for a walk. You went to the corner bar for a drink. You made love… You wrote a letter.

Now, more often than not, you go to the computer and online. There you log on to a social networking site, make an entry on your blog, buy something, try to meet a romantic partner… You might send an email, but no one ever just sends an email. Every online activity leads to another online activity…”

Siegel exaggerates for effect maybe, but any one of us who spends a large part of his or her day – for work and leisure – in front of a screen will recognise at least the contours of that behaviour. Your computer invites habitual usage, from email to bookmarked sites, to Twitter followers, to YouTube favourites, and it is a circular rather than a linear progress; if you plotted your history folder I’m guessing you would discover it was not about narrative, but repetition. This circumnavigation of our familiar haunts may suggest exploration, or at least the possibility of it, but there is a compulsive sameness to the quality of the experience. Some of this has to do with the computer’s illusion of constant novelty (constantly disappointed), some of it has to do with its inbuilt solipsism, its anti-social quality, which can give rise to that mean-spirited tone of generally anonymous debate and comment that the New Yorker writer David Denby has recently dismissed as “snark”. — Tim Adams, Will e-books spell the end of great writing? - The Observer.