When I wake my computer in the morning, my inbox is full of messages and notifications from social networking sites. I work through these quickly, hoping to begin the day with a clean slate. Then come the instant messages: friendly hellos, work requests, miscellaneous and sometimes frivolous comments about the day. With a little discipline, I’m able to ignore these for now; but I have a harder time with the telephone. Most calls require full attention, bringing other work to an abrupt halt. And while I’m on the telephone, the messages and comments and requests are piling up in the other channels. The miracle of instantly connecting with people all over the world from my living room is lost in the sheer volume of conversations this produces.
There’s no doubt this impacts my productivity; but the greatest victim of this mental fragmentation is my writing.
“But isn’t writing communication? And isn’t social networking all about communicating with others?” Yes, undoubtedly; you could probably even argue that writing this article is a form of social networking. But most of what we’d call social networking is missing something essential for meaningful writing: cohesion.
I find that the diverse habits of people across varied channels of communication condition us to become splintered thinkers. We call it multitasking and it can be helpful on occasion. But meaningful, cohesive writing requires time to think.
Some of my greatest writing has come from the times I’ve been the most isolated, the most angst-ridden, the most lonely. Being alone is an important catalyst for good writing. In the quietness of your own thoughts, devoid of social interaction, you have the time and sagacity to pursue an idea to its logical conclusion.
Of course, you can’t live like that forever. Even Thoreau had to come out of the woods eventually. We occasionally need our ideas challenged by others; but I have a suspicion that isn’t this generation’s problem. What we need is more time to reflect, more time to think carefully and critically about relevant topics. That’s the foundation for good writing and ultimately for a more meaningful social network.