Bittersweetly, I may not even see the published version of this piece. I may be leaving the Internet. I suppose it’s rather silly to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but the bathwater stinks. I need to go back to something I used to know, which I can barely remember now.
The other day, I was preparing a paper-mailing fundraiser. The inefficiency of hand-copying my address onto each return envelope (and then affixing a stamp to it) was a balm to my soul. The “print  copies” command was unavailable. There wasn’t even a user interface in front of me. Working in slower increments of serial time, I confronted my own smallness. What a relief, the realization that there was no better way to do this—that efficiency and volume were no longer my concerns, because I had chosen a limited medium.
Here we see the insidious nature of our technological advancement. As sharply double-edged as any sword guarding Eden, this one offers immense broadcasting capability and immense efficiency on the one edge—and the ravenous beast of infinity on the other. Each one of us, occupying nothing but a single human head with thoughts composed of nothing but all we’ve ever known and all we can think in a second, is too small a thing to interface with the infinity of all that is. There are simply too many things to read, watch and experience on the Internet; and, for a writer, there are too many rabbit-holes that promise to get you more exposure. Humanity’s greatest invention is fast becoming an insidious addiction.
Format matters. A wall of book-filled shelves does not induce an attention deficit in the way that a browser with twenty open tabs does. Sure, you can put down one book and pick up another, just as you can read an entire in-depth article on the Internet. But will you? Have you ever? I swear there is something about the old media, the old formats, that limits our ingestion capacity in a good way.
Speaking of ingestion, gastrointestinal terms apply quite nicely to our problem. If the previous generation’s paper books and vinyl records were consumed by everyday people justly hungry for good art that was highly limited by format and distribution structures, today’s digital offerings are consumed by gluttons addicted to the psychological sensation of ingestion. The ease of access that comes with digital distribution does nothing but enable this generation of addicts. In these terms, my current psychological detox was my mind’s vomit reflex kicking in. It had to, because putting something in your mind’s mouth is only the beginning of satiating your hunger to know and be known. Hand raised: my name is George, and I’m an addict.
But I can’t wait for true digestion, for true satiation. I’m addicted to speed: the speed of email, of Amazon purchases, of social media marketing. I’m always looking for the next thing that will generate a click and a book purchase. I’m always looking for as much audience as possible, knowing full well that of those ten new readers I net, only one or two may genuinely return for more. I’m trying to build a career as an indie writer, scrape by bloody scrape. But I am beginning to fall out of love with indie. I have a new term for it: narcie. And I’m guilty.
See, an artwork cannot emerge from a talent bubble. Either the artist will die of exhaustion, or the artwork will suck, or both. I am beginning to crave the corrections of an editor, the legwork of a publicist. I wish I knew that they, the people with money and influence, believed in my work and were pushing it. I just can’t make my work and push it. I am beginning to long for some compartmentalization. I want you to do your job, and I want to do mine. I want my own cozy compartment that I can crawl into for a spell and crawl out of again to be present, truly present, with friends and family. I’m beginning to hate my choice to self-publish and wear all the hats, because it has planted in me this awful addiction, this degenerate striving for infinity.
Of course, the aforementioned paper mailing is helping to return some sanity to my head. So is the longhand composition of this essay, and the assignment to make spaghetti sauce in the crockpot and go to the store for dish soap and toothpaste. For a boy who grew up entirely in his own head, for a man who has begun (dangerously) to transfer the same psychological disconnect to adulthood through the Internet’s promise of Power and Influence, these simple, hands-on tasks are medication. The illness is a mental imbalance, borne of genuine ability twisted by latent narcissism. The balance is many-faceted: stagnant book fundraisers, a quiet inbox, no notifications on my Facebook author page, dinner with my wife, hugs from friends at church, real conversation at the grocery store and Sufjan at high volume. The last reminds me that digits can do good, too, as Mr. Stevens lives on my hard drive with my other musical friends. They are real, you know.
Perhaps, then, we need to step back and look at digits. What is digital life doing to real life? How are the products of algorithms and coding affecting our interactions with our fellow flesh-and-blood beings? The Internet hands ordinary humans more power than any previous generation ever had—yet for many of us, that power extends to precious little in the real world. In truth, it is a power to influence one’s own mind, one’s own sanity, for good or ill. Brothers and sisters, let’s use it wisely.