Between 1990 and 1995, I wrote an hour-long monologue. Of course, I didn't spend the entire five years writing. It just took five years to gather the material. The first words came to me in a laundromat and were scribbled on the back of a brochure. I had no idea that I was writing a monologue or, for that matter, anything other than an idea.
The process continued in that manner. I wrote in journals and on scraps of paper whenever something struck me. Then I'd sit down and type up the scraps. If the words felt like they belonged, I'd look through the evolving script — though I didn't know for a few years that it was a script — to see where it fit in. The chronology of the writing had nothing to do with chronology of the script.
As pieces emerged, I emailed them off to my college roommate, Tom. I was in Minneapolis and he was in Boston. As he wrote back in response to my thoughts, our emails worked their way into the script. When it was finally finished, I was amazed that it made sense. Not because I didn't trust my writing skills, but because I never intended to write a script. Once things started to fit together, I applied craft to make it work, but the creation itself lacked intent.
This was the perfect way for me to create. I had honed my writing style while I was in college. By that time, a Mac had replaced my typewriter. I developed my writing style by letting words gush onto the screen and then cutting and pasting. It was as much about rhythm as it was content. "If I shift that over there, and move this here, and change that word, and cut that phrase, well it just feels right."
I am a digital writer. Yes, I keep a journal, and I start short poems on paper. But I write by shifting fragments around, and that style, my style, shows the impact of the tools I used to develop it.
I won't bore you arguing whether technology has improved or harmed the way we communicate. I'm sick to death of that conversation. The simple truth is that — for better and for worse — technology has shaped our communications for a long time, whether it was the Gutenberg press, the telephone, or the iPhone. If the CD had been developed in the mid-sixties, we wouldn't have Abby Road side two. It was composed and created to fit on one side of an album. OK Computer, on the other hand, would fall apart if you had to stop and flip the album. Read Ginsberg's "HOWL," and you can taste the typewriter. It's a taste that leaves me wondering how I would write if that were my tool of choice. These days, I rarely pick up my 35 mm SLR, because I can now snap hundreds of digital photographs at no cost, shooting until I get things right. But I dearly miss the intentionality involved in setting up a shot and then going into the darkroom to decide how to print it. I miss the feel of the enlarger and the paper in my hands.
I'm tired of hearing people moan that kids are losing the art of communication. Sure, "how r u?" isn't poetry, but you know what it means. And it's a good way to make something fit on a tiny phone screen — especially when you're typing with your thumbs. We text and Twitter and communicate in fragments now. I miss paragraphs, but love the fact that we communicate with more frequency. I love that email keeps me in touch with more people than I ever imagined, but I miss the well-thought-out, carefully penned letter. I love that my personal blog lets my dad know things about my life that I'd never think to tell him, and that a mix of Vox, IM, Skype, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter keeps my friend Patty in my day-to-day life, even though she left Minnesota for the Bay Area several years ago. I love the fact that Vox allowed me to meet people through her, and that I got to know them in such a real way that meeting them in person seemed more like a reunion than an introduction. I love that online connections allow Patty's daughter Annabelle and Deb's son Aaron to know me as more than someone who visits their parents every couple of years. Indeed, they communicate with their parents' friends more than I ever did with any of my parents' friends.
I love my iPod, because it carries my podcasts along with my music. On a short bus ride to work or a walk down the street, I can catch up on tech news or website usability best practices. But I sometimes wonder if the person sitting across the aisle or walking past me might be someone who could have made a major impact in my life if we weren't both wired.
And please, don't tell me kids are spending so much time online that they don't have real friends. I not only believe that's untrue; there's research to prove it. Online relationships extend into the real world. Twenty years ago, teenagers spent hours on the phone, but they still met in person. Now they spend hours online, but they still meet in person. My college roommate and I don't have the epic phone calls we had for years after college. I miss them. But we also communicate more frequently than we used to. MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, LiveJournal, WordPress, and the other millions of new technologies that have been so pathetically lumped together as Web 2.0 don't isolate us; they connect us. And if it sometimes lacks the intimacy of a coffee shop, well, it certainly increases the frequency of contact. And I do love the fact that two time zones don't prevent me from seeing what Laurel had for lunch yesterday or what her cats were up to this morning.
And let’s finish with social blogs, perhaps the most important writing platform today. People share their thoughts, ideas, and inner lives in ways they have rarely been able to in the past. This is a form of writing that is unconcerned with grammar or spelling, one that is simply about sharing what's inside of you with people who are willing to "listen." Most of us don't corner acquaintances in coffee shops to tell them what's going on in our hearts. We know nobody wants to be forced to listen. We save these things for close friends and family, and then, only when we have the time to sit down alone. It seems like that time keeps getting harder and harder to find. But blogs are a chance to say it and let people choose to read it. And people do read, and through this exchange we learn that our inner lives have a lot in common — more than we would have otherwise thought. We also learn that there is value in sharing even the mundane parts of our lives, which means there must be value in our lives.
I emailed Em yesterday, because I knew, through her blog, that her mother had gone through surgery recently. I was worried about her mother. What was odd about this was that I've never met her mother. For that matter, I've never met Em. But both my parents and one of my stepparents have had treatment for potentially serious health issues over the years. I'm lucky. Not only are both my parents alive and healthy, but I have two wonderful stepparents as well, also healthy. I'm not ready to lose any of them (and never will be), so I know what kind of worrying you do when one of them is sick.
I'm not going to take a populist stand here about how Web 2.0 has brought mass media to the common man; how DV has opened the door for filmmakers, how digital audio has brought the studio into every musician's basement. Big corporations still control big distribution channels, hold big promotional budgets, and are even using to use the tools of new media. (Remember who owns MySpace.) We have not entered a digital Utopia any more than we've entered a digital nightmare.
I'm simply saying that the media makes the message. It changes how we create art. It changes how we keep in touch. It changes how we meet people. It changes how we express ourselves. It changes how we play. It changes how we shop. It changes how we market. There will never be another Abby Road side 2. You'll never know what OK Computer would have sounded like if it had been composed for two 20-minute sides. Then again, you never know what Abby Road would have been if John had said to Paul, "Screw the bloody individual songs. We have 90 unbroken minutes to play with here."