Digital Deficit Disorder

There is something rather delightful in reading about the deleterious effects of the Internet whilst one is on the Internet. The eventual metastasis of its recursive self-reference is a pleasure not to be missed. Take Carl Wilkinson’s recent article in The Telegraph on the subject of the literary establishment’s perennial antagonist: the Internet. Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, and a whole host of other Apostles of the Novel have apparently succumbed to and subsequently triumphed over the Digital Threat. Their triumph is hard fought, yet sorely won: in order to defeat their enemy, Internet blocking software such as SelfControl and Freedom had to be employed. Poison is so often its own remedy: to stop the digital onslaught of distraction, software that literally prevented them from accessing their favorite websites was required.

 Mr. Wilkinson’s luddite ministrations against the Online Mind Destroyer are nicely chased by a visit to Robert McCrum’s column at The Guardian. Conceived as a response of sorts to Mr. Wilkinson’s article, Mr. McCrum’s urges authors to pursue and create new forms under the auspices of the developing digital universe: a lovely, magnanimous, and preposterously easy thing to say.  Satisfying? No. On to the next:

A post on The Millions gives a more up to date approach to the issue: how does “this new mode of living” impact our approaches to fiction? The post excerpts some truly silly moments of deliberate digital avoidance. It ends with a celebration of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, as a model of appropriate engagement. But even this, a formal concession to digital communications, strikes one as just that— a concession. Digital nativity (and effective evocations of it) require a mastery of the Internet’s true power, its ability to quickly and effectively connect Everyone to Everything.

This is slowly becoming a physical reality. Text will literally be grafted on to everything we do, and a novel won’t simply be an art object. It will be a shareable creation, with physical ramifications far beyond the simple sit-and-read to which we are accustomed.  A novel’s connectivity is the new locus of composition. 

More soon—

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