Tag Archives: Hamlet’s BlackBerry

Why the Internet is so distracting to writers, and why it is not

Reams have been written about how writers find Internet very distracting and how they are not able to write, especially in the era of social networking. There is actually a name for the fear of being left behind and it is called FOMO – the fear of missing out. But I think it is easier to blame it on the Internet and people are not going to find the right solution unless they properly understand the problem.

Internet can be a distraction, surely, but is it really a distraction that you cannot avoid? Is it really so important for you to constantly check your Facebook and Twitter updates and if you don’t check them, something drastic is going to happen? More than distraction, Internet is one’s way to procrastination, and this sense of procrastination is amplified in the case of writers because writing is a cerebral activity and unless you have got tons of things to say it is one of the most difficult things to do. So what do you do? When you’re not able to write you start surfing the web.

Distractions have always been there. When there was no Internet, there was something else. There was TV. There was the VCR. There were books and magazines. CDs and cassettes. In every era distractions have been there.

In Hamlet’s BlackBerry the author William Powers cites an ancient incident that took place between Socrates and his friend Phaedrus. When Socrates accidentally bumps into Phaedrus, Phaedrus has just listened to the lectures of one of the most reputed orators of that time and Socrates wants to know what was said. Phaedrus has made some notes but the art of writing is just in its early stages and orthodox people like Socrates find it very distracting, so instead of reading he would like Phaedrus to recite the entire lecture to him. But they find the hubbub of the city very distracting. They head to the nearby stream beyond the city walls so that while Socrates is listening to the lecture, there are no distractions. Both of them lament the fact that while being in the city it is very difficult to concentrate and focus because there are simply too many distractions.

They didn’t even know how to write and they were already feeling distracted and consequently, overwhelmed, back in 400 BC.

So why is it so acute in the era of the Internet?

The easiness.

Since almost every writer these days uses a computer or one of the devices that can easily connect to the Internet all you have to do is click on an icon and there you go. In the beginning you just want to peek into the kingdom of distraction and before you know it, you are sucked into it by the vacuum of avoidance. You see, this is not distraction because nothing important ever happens on the Internet unless some catastrophe, major sports event or some political controversy is going on. We know that. Still we let the Internet distract us and stop us from writing. Why? Because you don’t want to write and you can easily blame it on the Internet. Remember the movie Blame It on Rio?

Technology as a whole can be blamed for this perpetual state of distraction rather than just the Internet. Technology makes it quite easy to get distracted. You don’t have to get up to indulge in various distracting activities. You can watch movies. You can play games. You can check status updates. You can chat with people. You can check your email and reply. You can shop. You can read and watch news. You can listen to music. And, you can write.

This, was something that was not available previously. In order to be distracted, you had to move away from your table because you could not possibly keep everything on your table. Whether you’re using a laptop, a computer or a Tablet PC, your every content consumption and communication need is being met with via a single device. This is the fundamental problem. The easiness of doing everything.

But I digressed. It is not the distraction that is a problem for writers, it is a reluctance to write. They have to deal with that. Are you distracted if you’re watching an interesting movie? Do you check your emails and Facebook updates in the middle of watching your favorite movie? You don’t. This is because you are totally engaged. You are very interested. You’re feeling stimulated.

Being distracted by the Internet is a secondary problem. The primary problem is whether you want to write or not. If you really want to write, nothing can distract you. If I’m not wrong, JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book sitting in a cafeteria bubbling with noises and activities. If that is not distraction, what is?