My Love-Hate Relationship with the Net

“We live in an age of many stimulations.
If you are focused, you are harder to reach.
If you are distracted, you are available.
You are distracted, you are available.” 

As someone who writes about kinky sex, there’s a lot to love about the internet. Moralizing gatekeepers once dictated what was proper to publish and where “dirty”  topics  could be displayed, but they no longer make the reader’s decisions for them. Furthermore, the barriers to entry for self-publication, have nearly evaporated. Right now, anyone with an internet connection can or tap out a scene and, potentially, deliver it to a massive audience in a matter of minutes.

However, as a writer – I’ve come to loathe some aspects of the net.

One reason is those who own and develop the largest and most-popular internet ecosystems are conditioning users to click more and think less. 

Recently, I read an interview that put a period on the end of a proposition I’d been formulating for some time regarding the mindful production and consumption of digital content. The interview is with a hacker who coded and built a self-driving car in his garage. As amazing as this achievement is, it was his reason for doing the project with a small team that got my attention. As an expert in Artificial Intelligence, this guy could be working for any tech company in the world but chooses not to. Why? Because he got creeped out working for Facebook:

“It scares me what Facebook is doing with AI,” Hotz says. “They’re using machine-learning techniques to coax people into spending more time on Facebook.”

I think the most remarkable thing about this statement is many readers won’t find it remarkable. Many wont care simply because they don’t see the implications. As one who’s watched tenured psychology professors collaborate with corporations to coax customers into buying meaningless shit without thinking – and then witnessed  the results of those collaborative efforts pay off exponentially – I find the statement alarming.

A minor digression to arrive at my point.

Producing digital content poses similar dangers  to consuming it. Like you, I’m only human. Therefore my dopamine levels rise when I see an audience spike in my stats or a link to a short piece I’ve written has been shared across several sites. I’m a writer who enjoys engaging and delighting an audience. The danger arises when one becomes tempted to continually write short pieces for the ‘happy spike’ instead of really digging in and hammering away at a longer piece and refusing to publish it until the work is polished and razor sharp.

Don’t get me wrong, I  value the ability to turn out a short piece with an economy of language, and it’s a skill I continue to work on. (And fuck me if the tendency to not release writing until it’s ‘perfect’ isn’t a separate disease.)  However, writing for that quick fix and delivering a quick-n-cheap La petite mort for a few readers can easily become just one more distraction in a world that’s distracting by design.

If was a dilettante author of erotica, I might not care as much, but that’s not the case. As a writer who works in multiple mediums and genres, I have a vested interest in the intellectual health and well-being of my both my audience and myself. And, not for nothing, I find the broader implications of  tech companies using behavioral conditioning on internet consumers to be as disturbing – and possibly as criminal – as the marketing practices of tobacco companies.

Not that I have some original solution to impart. The answer is quite obvious and the opposite of exciting. As I’m sure you know, the solution is to ‘unplug’ more, devote myself to writing with the router turned off, and reading for longer periods of time. It’s a matter of being mindful and taking the appropriate measures to cultivate sustainable writing habits while maintaining the gray matter which sustains them.

The Savages put out a song which sums up this modern condition quite nicely with a track named “Shut Up.” If you enjoy post-punk music, check it out.

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