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Remember to Imagine

16.01.2012

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with close acquaintances about some topics I hadn’t really considered before.

1: All reality TV shows are equal.

Regardless of a reality show’s purpose or premise, the participants have given their permission to be filmed in an artificial setting governed by strict rules.

This means that “educational” or documentary-style programs like Go Back To Where You Came From, Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day and Turn Back Time – The High Street are no different to The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser and other television gems of this calibre.

Reality TV has been around for a while. Jane Elliott’s blue eyed/brown eyed exercise aired in the 1960s, then the 1971 Stanford University prison guard experiment became a documentary. These early social/psychological explorations paved the way for shows such as Big Brother and Wife Swap. So all forms of reality TV are now unfortunately and inextricably linked not because they belong to the same genre, but because they share the same premise.

2: Publishing content online could affect my future in immeasurable ways.

This is something I have considered at some length, but not so much for myself. I read an article a few months ago where Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO) predicted that “young adults in the future might need to change their names by deed poll so as to erase the digital evidence of their past and start afresh in the workforce”. I don’t think I’ll ever need to worry about this. Facebook was before my teenage time – I didn’t even own a mobile phone till I was at university – so I missed out on getting involved in most of the antics to which Schmidt was referring. However, having taught in high schools and seen firsthand how today’s kids (mis)manage their online presence, I have little doubt that Eric Schmidt’s projected future will eventuate for some young members of society.

While attending the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2011, I spoke to several industry professionals about building and maintaining an online presence. We discussed the benefits of this practice, as well as the dangers and pitfalls, some of which are more than a little scary.

Despite this, the overall message was clear: writers today need to be accessible. This doesn’t mean every writer needs a website and Twitter account. But they have to have something, even if it’s a short bio on LinkedIn. Author accessibility is becoming increasingly important. Younger readers especially prefer a book to be connected to a real person, and not just a name on the front cover. This is why many writers have chosen to link their real names to content published online.

We all have different reasons for maintaining an online presence. Some blogs are photo diaries created purely for the benefit of friends and family in distant countries. Or they’re collections of absurd notes left by housemates. Or they serve as outlets for those who work in mind-numbing jobs. Some people offer industry advice, or else aim to start a dialogue about a controversial topic. A few are chasing celebrity status. (I’m sure most of us would deny fitting into this last category, but deep down we all seek acknowledgement, even in its smallest form.)

An interesting blog appeared on Freshly Pressed the other day discussing the move away from “duty” and towards “self”. The emphasis placed on “being ourselves” and “being an individual” encourages us to explore ourselves rather than the world around us. We are becoming less inquisitive – we’re still asking questions, but we’re constantly surrounded by technology that gives us immediate answers, and so anticipation is lessened. We will never lose the capacity to be inquisitive – that’s human nature – but unless we continue to utilise this attribute, it will fall by the wayside.

Two hundred years ago, people journeyed. They took months to travel between international borders, sketching foreign landscapes and writing long, cursive letters to loved ones back home. Now, we don’t journey so much as country-hop. Getting to a foreign land takes less than a day (or a mere few hours, depending on where you live). We snap digital pictures and email them instantaneously. We type instead of write. We text instead of call. We research on the internet instead of borrowing books from libraries.

This immediacy has in some respects made us quicker, but not necessarily smarter.

We always need to be doing something. Updating a Facebook status. Blogging. Listening to our iPods. Boredom is no longer an option – in fact, the speed at which we live makes it almost redundant. The constant bombardment on our senses is reconfiguring our synapses, shortening our attention spans and hampering our ability to process complex concepts.

Significantly, because we must always fill our time with distractions, many people are forgetting how to use their imaginations and are therefore losing the capacity to be creative.

We need to unplug every once in a while – turn off all gadgets and appreciate the peace and quiet. Sadly, this practice might one day become the alternative to spending an afternoon in the country.

I still write drafts in longhand. It forces me to slow down and think. I also love the tactile feeling of the pen in my hand, the way the ink glides across the fibres, sometimes bleeding into blue tendrils if the paper’s damp. Years ago, I used to keep a journal but I stopped because I got sick of reliving each day all over again.

I wonder now if that was a mistake.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29.01.2012 11:07 PM

    You make some great points, my friend. But then again, you always do!

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