The Microsoft Word Screen Stares Also Into You
I recently got back to an old side gig, and spent the last week walking dogs. It's a lot easier in my area of DC than it was on the upper west side, threading the manhattan pedesteroid field and dodging yellow taxis, which in their respect for human life are basically a bootleg Skynet.
I enjoy dog walking as a job for some obvious reasons - exercise, spending time outdoors, hanging out with a species fundamentally better than people, unless dogs have unbeknownst to me also created weaponized marburg, objectivism, and the torture of the boats(don't look up the torture of the boats unless you're really braced for it. It 10.0 nails the trend of the most innocuous-sounding punishments being the most nightmarish).
There's another perk to spending an hour tromping about with a pup, which is that it gives me something deeply essential for writers but not trivial to come by these days - time to think. To think, and do nothing other than think.
Coming up with interesting new stories requires two opposite activities: The voracious consumption of existing stories and other information sources for your mind to smelt down to the raw components you need; and undistracted brain time to assemble ideas. The split varies from person to person. Isaac Asimov's first step in his process was to sit and think until webs were getting spun on him and the neighbors came knocking in case he was dead. Warren Ellis's life is a Rube Goldberg monstrosity designed to catapult every cool thought had by anyone on Earth through his eyeballs in 30 minutes or his money back.
I'm still figuring out where my input/ferment equator falls. I lean more heavily on the input side, but those blank moments are where the fire's touched off. The difficulty in achieving the balance lies in the fact that we're still poised in that period of inefficiency that follows every technological shift. We can hook into the constant feed of new thoughts and works but haven't smoothed out our reception.
Our technology as it currently exists, through this inefficiency, can suspend us for hours in that hazy state between work and play, effort and relaxation. Neither accomplishing much nor having much fun. It's so hard to sit looking at a blank document and think of what to type next because the horsepower humming behind the screen beckons you to the far edges of knowledge, hoping that the kernel of a brilliant new paragraph can be chipped from the lodes of Wikipedia or Youtube or TVTropes.
And the thing is, it can. The problem is the jar of shifting out of writing mode and back into it over and over again, which isn't something our massive but archaic brains are good at. The way we work best is with a singly-focused conscious mind and a rich, deep well of unconscious accumulated knowledge ready to be unthinkingly plumbed, in a continuous process, without any starting and stopping.
I think that's where the internet, still a toddler today, is ultimately headed: A connection directly into your mind whose interaction approaches truly unconscious, or at least requires far less deliberate, concentration-breaking thought. One day we will be able to focus on our task and still scour the net for ideas and inspiration because doing so won't feel much different than simply thinking. Looking things up will feel more like going, 'Hm, what was that again?', and remembering.
I wonder if that state, in which all our history, knowledge and art is a literal shared memory, will lessen human strife and division and lead us to becoming more peaceful.
Probably not. Remember the torture of the boats.
Actually don't. It's really, really bad.