When there are so many distractions available at the click of a mouse, can you stop your mind from wandering?
Over the last few months, I have been trying to work on a new book, a racy thriller that I hope will turn out to be a page-turner (not to mention, a bestseller!). But the operative word in the last sentence is: ‘trying’. Yes, that’s right. I am trying – very hard indeed – to write a book. But I’m sorry to report, I am not getting very far.
And it’s all the fault of that scourge of our times: the Internet.
No, seriously, if it wasn’t for the distractions available at the click of a mouse, I would be half-way through my opus by now. I have written the first chapter, which is always the trickiest. I have the plot more or less worked out. I have plenty of thoughts on the twists and turns I could throw in to surprise the reader. I have the gleamings of a cracker of a climax in my head. And by now, I know my main characters almost as well as I do some of my best friends.
And yet, the writing is not going very well.
Of course I carry some blame for that, for being an undisciplined so-and-so who can’t keep to her self-imposed deadline of at least 500 words a day. But truth be told, most of the blame rests on my laptop, which is connected to my wifi network, and keeps throwing up interesting little nuggets when I am trying to work.
Suddenly an icon pops up telling me that a friend wants to chat on Gmail. Now, if she were to call me on the phone at that juncture I would probably not even notice (my mobile is nearly always on silent) let alone take her call. But there is no ignoring her on my laptop. The icon blinks on and on and I can’t keep my eyes off it.
Finally the temptation gets too hard to resist. Who knows what choice piece of information she may have to offer? What if she needs to discuss something urgent? The questions whirl around in my head until I concede defeat, close my word document, and press ‘Yes’ on that icon.
Of course, nine times out of ten she is just looking for a good gossip in the middle of the workday. And by the time the two of us have finished instant messaging the news of the week, a good half hour has passed. And so has the mood to work on my novel.
If it isn’t instant messaging on Gmail, it’s Facebook alerts that pop up to provide instant distraction. Yet another friend has a ‘Recent Status Update’ that he would like to share with me. Another has sent a private message with such an intriguing tagline that it is impossible to ignore. And then, there’s that link to a piece in the Guardian. Would it really be so bad to have a quick read before I resume work?
Of course, it would. Because when it comes to surfing the newspapers, there really is no end to it as far as I am concerned. I click on a link about Obama’s state visit to India, get distracted by a strap line that talks about the forthcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton (or Catherine, as we are all apparently now meant to call her). From there it’s one easy click to an article about Princess Diana and how she may well overshadow her daughter-in-law even from the great beyond. And so it goes, until all thoughts of my book have been chased from my head, which is now filled with conspiracy theories about the Princess’ death in a car crash.
And then, there’s my new toy: Twitter. No, I don’t really tweet that much, mostly because I have nothing to say. But I do get a tad curious if I get an alert about someone having tweeted to me. I sign in to check what that’s about, quickly type out my replies, and then get waylaid by what everyone else is twittering on about. It’s not long before I have been inveigled into a conversation or two with my Twitter friends, or, as is more likely, have gotten into an argument that takes up so much of my mind space that there’s no longer any room for novel-writing in it.
I guess this is an unavoidable fall-out of the Age of Information that we live in, surrounded by so many social media networks that we find ourselves quite lost in all that babble. And given this constant flitting between different things, it’s no wonder that our attention spans are shot to hell.
Well, at least I know that mine is. With all this instant messaging, twittering, Googling and what have you, I find it harder and harder to concentrate on any one subject. In fact, given the level of my distraction, it’s a wonder how I manage to get any work done at all.
Which is why I’m making a resolution even before the New Year rolls in. From now on, I am going to restrict my use of the Internet to two hours a day, judiciously spaced out over a 24-hour period. Who knows, with a bit of luck, I may even get down to finishing that book.
(Full disclosure: in the course of writing this column, I logged on to Twitter, answered a couple of emails, and did a quick Internet search for Kate Middleton and Princess Diana.)