As a writer, you’ll hear me regularly complain about the numerous distractions that keep me from my projects. Only the other day I was saying to a friend how ‘Charles Dickens never had to contend with Netflix and social media.’ Of course he only had books, and endless hours of alone time. In those days, social interaction meant local balls and gatherings, forced family meetings and long letters which took weeks to arrive. A chance encounter, a moments noted observation, was pondered over, ruminated on, and often recreated or re-imagined into a work of fiction for all to enjoy. I am sometimes envious of those pre- 20th century writers. Despite the fact that they probably felt trapped and desperate for a changing world. How things have changed.
Being a writer, it can be challenging enough to get yourself to work continuously on a project, without the distractions that the modern world now faces. I admit wholeheartedly to absolutely loving Netflix. After a long day, I like nothing better than watching one of their many series’ or films to unwind. I find inspiration in the varied stories on offer. I also get serious envy. So many good writers, so many good stories and good actors bringing those stories to life. As well as being distracting, it’s also, at times, debilitating.
Also, don’t you miss the days when your favourite tv programme was on once a week? When you tuned in for that one hour to watch something, knowing that it was the highlight of your week, that it would be the topic of conversation at school, or college or work for the next week? That you would think of not much else until you could tune in the very same time the following week, to see what happens next? I miss that. There’s something very throw away about the fact that you can watch a whole series of something in one sitting, the Netflix ‘binge’ as it’s known. I’ve done it. But I have never felt good after it. Plus, from a writer’s point of view, something that has taken weeks, maybe years to write, to craft, to perfect for an audience, is consumed and thrown away as quickly as a packet of crisps. The crumbs are still in the bag, when the next one is opened and consumed in much the same way. The first forgotten.
Of course, the new generation, the under 25’s, won’t even know this feeling. They won’t remember the days of 4 or 5 television channels, of dial-up internet (Who’s on the phone? I’m trying to log on!) or before Facebook, twitter and instagram were even a thing. They’ve grown up in this world. The all-consuming, 24/7 world of social media and streaming. You can even get Netflix on your smart phone or store shows and films in advance for long journeys. Whatever happened to looking around you, to good conversation and just being still. This has to be the reason why mental health is on the rise. We’re constantly looking to be stimulated. There’s just no pause anymore. Everything feels like it’s going just a little bit too fast.
At Hay Festival this year, in an interview with David Walliams, he was asked how the distraction of social media affected him. His reply was interesting.
‘You’ll go on to the internet to do some research and find yourself watching videos of a cat on you tube.’
The audience laughed, but wow did I get it. Sometimes there’s just no switching off. Not without physically flicking a switch, unplugging a router, driving to a secluded place with no signal. It was reassuring to know that David Walliams, the best-selling children’s author, (and the only worthy Author to be close to replacing Roald Dahl in modern literature) also found the lure of the modern online world overwhelming at times.
On the plus side, Netflix has opened many doors for new writers, authors and shows. It’s taken on previous television shows such as Black Mirror and successfully made the crossover. It’s also introduced audiences to world-wide programmes. I’ve come across quite a few subtitled foreign language films which I would never have seen if it hadn’t been for the streaming site. I personally would love to write something for Netflix. Despite my many protestations, its a great platform for new work and accessible for all. But I am sure it keeps it’s place in my life. A few hours of a an evening, or a weekend afternoon. I never log on, with the intention to do ‘research’. In my opinion, you’re just asking for trouble.
So, no matter how we feel about the current world we live in, we can’t choose to go back. Not without disconnecting ourselves from a world of technology that can be very useful. I was talking to someone recently who barely uses social media, and it’s certainly thrown an insight into life without it. As well as made me think about how I use it, and how often. As a writer, I feel that it’s important and extremely effective to use Facebook and twitter to promote my work. It’s also a lot easier, than the days when you had to hand out business cards and phone people up, or email them with information about events you were involved in. It can take the pressure off, for those less sociable, or who get anxious about liasing with people. You can also create a virtual CV through your online persona. You can present the person you want to be, or you want to be seen as. This works for me. I can choose to share the work I want to share, the experiences that I want to promote, I can also access an online community of like-minded people. Something which I’m sure writers of the 19th century were often unable to do easily. But as my fellow writers know, writing can often be a very lonely world. This access to the online world, can often combat the loneliness and put us in touch with others like ourselves, other material similar to what we’re working on, to uplift and inspire, yes to distract, but also to feed a much-needed creative brain. The modern online world is a platform for everyone, giving smaller voices a chance in an often monopolised Society. All we can do is embrace it, make it positive and beneficial for our own personal goals.