I did a radical thing this morning. I deactivated my Facebook account.
Facebook has been useful to me professionally for promoting my books and readings, selling books, getting invited to literary festivals and other paid gigs, and for connecting me with the global community of poets and writers.
It has also been useful for getting advice on a good dentist, or the best local breakfast joint, or for swiftly solving bizarre technical problems that arise for any of us using computers and software. I even found out the best way to de-ice my car-door lock.
Besides which, Facebook is F*U*N !!! And stimulating. And a source of laughs. And sharing. And camaraderie. And blowing off steam.
And therein lies its perniciousness for a writer who needs prolonged solitude and isolation from the world in order to think DEEPLY, to conjure the thought that has never been thought, to craft the unique image, to create elaborate worlds that exist only within the mind until output on the page.
Earlier this year I read a fascinating book by Nicholas Carr called THE SHALLOWS: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Carr makes a persuasive (and for me, life-altering) case for the way in which our reliance on the Internet (not the computer itself, but rather its powers of connectivity) has gutted our capacity to read, think, or write DEEPLY, leaving us stranded in the shallows both collectively and individually. The Internet has also gutted our memory by essentially externalizing our memory to cyberspace.
Carr describes at length how the computer and its connective capability have become an extension of our brain, a phenomenon that bestows some obvious advantages in terms of mental reach and processing speed—but at what cost?
From Carr’s book:
“The tight bonds we form with our tools go both ways. Even as our technologies become extension of ourselves, we become extensions of our technologies. When the carpenter takes his hammer into his hands, he can use that hand to only do what a hammer can do…” (p. 209)
“When we’re behind the wheel of our car, we can go a far greater distance than we could cover on foot, but we lose the walker’s intimate connection to the land…” (p. 210)
“The price we pay to assume technology’s power is alienation…” (p. 211)
“When people came to rely on maps rather than their own bearings, they would have experienced a diminishment of the area of the hippocampus devoted to spatial representations. The numbing would have occurred deep in their neurons…” (p. 211)
“The networked computer serves as a particularly powerful neural amplifier. Its numbing effects are equally strong…” (p. 213)
“When a ditch-digger trades his shovel for a backhoe, his arm muscles weaken even as his efficiency increases. A similar trade-off may well take place as we automate the work of the mind.” (p. 217)
This morning, I was reading Robert Bringhurst’s introduction to Being in Being: The Collected Works of a Master Haida Mythteller by Skaay of the Qquuna Qiighawaay. I picked up a copy of this fantastic book after hearing Bringhurst read from it last month at the Galiano Literary Festival.
In Bringhurst’s introduction to Skaay’s epic cycle of myths contained in this book (myths first recorded in writing in 1900 by a young linguist named John Swanton), Bringhurst writes:
“But immobility and age—together with his status as an honored commoner—had given Skaay the privilege of thinking at great length about the stories that still tied him to a disappearing world. While other men were occupied with hunting, fishing, carpentry or the cares of a hereditary office in a time of devastating change, Skaay was thinking through the myths.” (p.18)
And later Bringhurst writes:
“Poets of the kind Skaay was have an attention span measured in decades, not in minutes. After reading him for years, I know that while his poems can be spoken, heard or read in the space of a few hours, years are what it takes to perceive what they contain.” (p. 23)
And so I deactivated Facebook in the hope that I too may be able to regain an attention span measured in decades, not minutes.
Yes, I will probably re-activate my Facebook account when I have a new book to announce. And yes, I can still be reached and read and interacted with here on my blog or on twitter @KimPigSquash.
But that’s okay. It’s about doing what you need to do, when you need to do it.