Hazel McHaffie

Jonathan Franzen

Internet addiction

It’s hard to imagine how we’d function nowadays without access to the internet, isn’t it? I wouldn’t even right now be blogging on my website. But recently a number of big names in the writerly world have admitted to taking quite draconian measures to limit exposure to the net. Seems to be the in-thing in fact!

Zadie Smith, for example, in her latest novel, goes so far as to acknowledge a debt to two computer applications that block access to the internet. They helped to ‘create time.’ Hello?

And Jonathan Franzen says: ‘It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.’ Ouch!  This is the chap who’s alleged to have worn a blindfold and earplugs to minimize distraction while he wrote parts of The Corrections. Conjures up brilliant caricatures for any decent cartoonist, huh?

And many other authors – Jojo Moyes, Dave Eggers, Danuta Keane, Stella Duffy to name but a few – all admit to using computer programmes to fight distraction.

OK, I concede that

a) writers need space and peace to concentrate, to think and to hone their prose. Me too.

b) writing can be a pretty lonely experience that drains the personal batteries at times

c) nowadays authors are expected to make contact across the ether with their readers

d) some people find that words flow better using longhand or typewriters.

Fair enough; nothing wrong with that. But what’s going on with Franzen and Smith et all?

Don’t these successful, talented people have any will power? Enough at least to resist the temptation to flick across to the net during writing stints? Aren’t their characters and plots sufficiently enthralling to hold their own interest and concentration? Can’t they just ignore the ping of incoming emails, and twitters, and blogs, and network-messages and whatever, until leisure time? Come on!

OK, OK, OK, I admit it. I’m a bit of a Luddite in these matters. But then, I was born long before digital technology became commonplace. My first experience of computers was with mainframes – machines the size of rooms, that required elaborate instructions to change so much as a comma, and vans to take the disks between departments at the university. We developed a healthy respect for their majesty, might and mysteries.

Moreover I grew up in an isolated rural cottage. We made our own fun and entertainment; we were content with our own company; we treasured our privacy. Something of that whole ethos has remained with me and is reflected in my cautious attitude to more recent intrusions inventions like mobile phones and Facebook. I told you I was a Luddite.

Smith and Franzen (sounds like a slightly Dickensian firm of lawyers, doesn’t it?) are, of course, of a generation that has never known a world without personal computers and easy electronic communication. Digital know-how is hard-wired into their brains. What’s more, they’re household names; they’ll have huge fan-bases. Maybe therein lies the difference. Perhaps everyone wants a piece of them.

But in my case, the net, though a truly useful mine of information, is definitely and emphatically not an addiction. I maintain that, as with dictionaries and encyclopaedias, it is not in control, I am.

So why did I fly across to my emails when I heard that ping just now?





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Who cares in Marrakech?

Uh-oh. It was the most hyped book launch in ages. It was described as ’the novel of the century’ by one critic. It became an instant best-seller.

Yep, I’m talking about Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom. The long-awaited sequel to the acclaimed literary sensation of 2001, The Corrections. You’ve probably heard about it even if you haven’t read it. Like me.

But … oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. There’s Mr Franzen himself, idly flicking through this treasure ahead of a book-reading and signing at London’s Southbank Centre, when he spots … a mistake … and another … and another … Apparently the typesetter sent an earlier uncorrected version of the book from their computer. Phew, don’t I sympathise! How many times have I personally checked and re-checked versions just to be sure I’ve got the latest one.

Anyway, a jolly embarrassed HarperCollins is licking its wounds and doing a massive pulping job, and promising to exchange faulty copies for the corrected version. And we’re talking BIG numbers. One source said there are 80,000 substandard hardbacks in circulation. 80,000!! Somewhere I guess there’s an unemployed typesetter seeking anonymity.

I so much feel for the author though – in spite of the extra publicity. I still remember sneaking a peek inside my own very first novel before a book signing at a conference (where it arrived hot off the press) and finding errors. Errors the publisher had solemnly promised would be automatically rectified in the final draft. Errors not of my making but ones which had crept in during conversion from one format to another during the publishing process. But errors nonetheless that still felt to me like personal failures in a spelling test! It’s a sickening feeling.

So nobody comes out of this well.

News of the Franzen cock-up broke a couple of weeks ago, I know, but I’ve been in Marrakech so couldn’t slip it neatly into my blog when it hit the papers. Not in a country where donkeys and camels cause traffic jams; where palm trees grow like dandelions but are revered like honoured guests; where the call to prayer takes precedence over opening the market stall; where there’s an ancient remedy for every disease of body and mind; where the indigenous Berbers lived to more than a hundred years of age up in the Atlas Mountains until technology arrived and the problems of modern societies corrupted them. Why would anyone even notice a reversed comma or a misplaced capital letter or an infelicitous subjunctive clause, never mind care? I’ll give you a sneaky peek.camelshorses and carts  jostle with modrn carshorses and carts  jostle with modrn carsThe famous souksColourful market stallsFab architectureornate ceiling

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