Writers’ Struggle with Internet-Addiction

12 09 2012

Shutting out a world of digital distraction

Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith are among a growing group of novelists who struggle with internet-addiction. Carl Wilkinson investigates the powerful effect of the web on the creative mind.

By Carl wilkinson

Tucked away in the acknowledgements at the back of her new novel NW, along with the names of friends, family, editors and publishers who have helped her, Zadie Smith thanks freedom and self-control “for creating the time”.

Every writer needs the freedom to be creative and the self-control to stick with a project until completion, but Smith has something rather more 21st century in mind: Freedom © and SelfControl© are computer applications that can be downloaded and configured to increase productivity by blocking access to the internet.

These two pieces of software originated in quite different places. Freedom was developed by Fred Stutzman, visiting assistant professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science, and counts Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers and Naomi Klein among its users. Stutzman has also released Anti-Social, which blocks the social-media elements of the internet. SelfControl, meanwhile, was created in 2009 by American artist Steve Lambert, one of the people behind The New York Times Special Edition – a hoax copy of the paper published in November 2008.

It seems that Smith, Hornby, Eggers and the rest have taken to heart a comment made in 2010 by Jonathan Franzen, who famously wrote portions of The Corrections wearing a blindfold and earplugs to reduce disruptions: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” Clearly the distractions of YouTube cat videos, unsolicited tweets and the ping of an email arriving in your inbox are not conducive to writing an intricately structured 100,000-word novel.

Eight out of 10 people in Britain now have access to the internet and Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2012, published in July, found that internet users in the UK now spend on average 24.6 hours per month online – more than double the amount of time spent online in January 2004. Meanwhile, internet access in the British workplace increased by 27 per cent between 2004 and 2008, from the equivalent of 5.9 million employees to 7.5 million, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Continue reading @ The Telegraph

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