February 20 – A Wired Life

by Susan Wittig Albert

From my journal, February 20, 2008 (published in AN EXTRAORDINARY YEAR OF ORDINARY DAYS)

Yesterday was not an ordinary day.

For the dozen years that we’ve been on the Internet here at our house in the Texas Hill Country, we’ve been on “dial-up.” I could grow old, very old, waiting for the monitor screen to fill.

But that’s changing. Yesterday, we had a satellite dish installed on the house and I am now plugged in to the wide, wide world. Now, the signal whizzes 23,000 miles up to the satellite and back down to my desktop in less time than it takes to type a sentence. Fully wired, always on.

So? Does any of this make me a better writer? Without a doubt. The facts I might be tempted to guess at if it meant a trip to the library (or even a trip to a bookshelf in the other room) are now as handy as a Google search. The writing is more richly detailed, more comprehensive and accurate, more up-to-date.

And having email makes it easy to reply to readers, a task that many writers have found difficult. In her journals, May Sarton complains bitterly about having to write (by hand) replies to “friends of the work.” In his memoir, LIFE WORK, poet Donald Hall says that he solves the problem by spending a couple of hours every evening dictating, then turning the dictation over to a typist. I spend an hour a day–sometimes morning, sometimes evening–cleaning up the email. Yes, it takes time. No, it’s not a burden. I’m just glad that there are people out there in the world, reading what I’ve written and caring enough about it to tell me what they liked–or didn’t. (Which they do.)

But now I wonder: am I am too dependent on the Internet? What would I do if it went away? How would I do the research, read newspapers, pursue information? Would I have to go back to using what we contemptuously call “snail mail”?

Hope it never comes to that. I wouldn’t care to responsible for what might happen.

Susan Wittig Albert is the best-selling author of four mystery series and several works of nonfiction. She founded the Story Circle Network in 1997.

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4 responses to “February 20 – A Wired Life

  1. It is hard to remember what life was like before we had the internet, isn’t it? For me, it’s even hard to remember life before broadband. (I remember that eeeuuuuueeee of dial-up!) I am thankful for the technology that brought us email and the internet for many reasons, not the least of which it allowed me to meet you, Susan. Thank you for this post!

  2. I still have my dial-up just in case, although when my satellite connection glitched last month, so did my phone connection! It was a bit of a vacation, although catching up later is a real chore.

  3. I was so thrilled when we got dial-up internet at home in 1998. And it was a local number. We didn’t even have to pay long distance. I had a friend whose internet provider was named “smoke signals” and worked just about as fast. I got DSL around 2002 shortly after I moved to “town”. Now when the internet is down I feel really lonely.

  4. Fascinating observation Susan. You ask about dependence on the Internet. When you’re walking down the streets of Shanghai lamenting that Google isn’t at your fingertips to tell you about the things you see, you know you’re dependent, even addicted. If I lost the Internet, I’d feel as if half my brain were missing. I deliberately don’t have a web-enabled phone because abstinence is the healthy alternative for web junkies, at least some of the time. I get way more than I need at home.

    Even so, I am grateful for the Web every single day and blown away by the way the Internet has both expanded my world and shrunk it. Even if the whole web were to be melted by sunspot activity next year, the concept is here, and we’ll never forget or be the same.

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