The evolution of writing onto the Internet

It's 0226. At least, it was when I started writing. At 0429 I realized I had more to read before breakfast. I got back to writing at 0504. (I've been using military time more and more. A symptom of the evolution toward 24-hour culture. What will this do to our natural rhythms of sleep and wakefulness? I'm the wrong person to ask. I have narcolepsy. No cataplexy, hallucinations, or sleep paralysis, thank God. Just a blurring of wakefulness, unconsciousness and REM sleep. Doesn't explain the insomnia. In this case, my knowledge of my own sleep patterns leads me to conclude I couldn't sleep because of my anticipation of my full agenda today: Discussing Early Christians Speak over breakfast with the men of STGAC, training for county GOP (unpaid) election work, then meeting fellow volunteers for the campaign to re-elect Amy Stephens for State House District 19. Then again, I would like to think that The Holy Spirit woke me up because I had work to do. Writing is work. To work is to pray. Therefore, by writing, I pray. And the purpose of prayer is to seek unity with the Creator of the Universe – thank you, Fr. Scott. But that's enough theology for now.)

I think Larry Sanger is onto something. I read Part 1 of his blog series, "How Not to Use the Internet." I agree: it’s a problem that the Internet distracts us. And I am also reading Charles Murray's piece in the New Criterion, "Future tense, IX: Out of the wilderness." (Thank you, Arts & Letters Daily for the teaser, "What conditions give rise to great artistic achievements? Wealth, urban centers, belief in God. Wait: What? Secularism is incompatible with creativity...") In fact, Part 2 of Larry's piece (Part 1 of which I finished uninterrupted – 1,737 words according to Word), is sitting right ahead of Murray's piece in my Instapaper folder. (I'm not reading my collection in sequence. And, by the way, Instapaper totally rocks! I'm reading that folder offline in my Kindle app as a .mobi "magazine.") His piece is 5,592 words and I'm 1,794 words into it. Coincidence, I don't think so.

When I read Murray's sentence, "In literature, the organizing structure that created an eruption of great work starting in the late eighteenth century was overwhelmingly dominated by a new principle: the modern novel," I was hooked. Who has time for novels anymore? Well, I do. Sort of. I recently became aware of Thomas Pynchon's existence. It seems he wrote an award-winning postmodern novel. Murray assumes his readers know this. I haven't read the first word of it, though. The book I'm focused most on is simply a pair of stories in one volume: "Not Quite Dead Enough" and "Booby Trap" by Rex Stout. This book is a milestone for me. I've read other long works electronically. In the 90's I had an IBM PC-XT that ran on two AA batteries and fit in the palm of my hand. I read The Imitation of Christ on it. I got through it, but it took much longer because it wasn't very comfortable. I had to use some custom software to rotate the text into portrait mode, and the LCD contrast was not restful on the eyes, unlike a modern Kindle. I still haven't finished Pride and Prejudice. I started it on an iPod Touch. I read a chapter or three in paperback, and I downloaded it to my NOOKcolor™. (That ereader didn't survive a fall from the floorboard of my car to the pavement. R.I.P.) It's still sitting in my NOOK app library on my iPad, beckoning me. I don't know how quickly I'll finish it. But I fully intend to get through Stout's nostalgic, light yet profound pair of stories on my iPad. They're both contained in the first ebook I ever checked out from my library. (Thank you, Pikes Peak Library District, for inspiring me in 1979 with the idea that technology can make the humanities better!) I've already "renewed" it once (re-download after timebomb auto-delete). I have sixteen days left before I have to repeat that awkward yet tolerable (hey, what can one honestly expect for free?!) process. And so, for me, the novel is well underway toward being supplanted by electronic text.

Murray is also elaborating on music as art. That went digital before books, as we all know. My lovely and talented wife giddily shared her new acquisitions as we carpooled home yesterday evening: Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats." (Oops. A tiny bit of her privacy just leaked onto the Internet. Sorry, Sweetheart. Forgive me?) This was also a milestone. She paid $1.29 apiece. She said it was the first time she'd bought tracks since obtaining an iPhone. There was no easy way to confirm they're MP3s during our trip, but I seem to remember that Apple raised their prices at the same time that they began selling the open format. I get my MP3s from Amazon for 23.26% less. It's funny, this digital music thing. Giddily-funny. In the 90's I dreamed of paying $0.10 each for tracks. I expected I'd soon be able to buy them directly from the artists. I still hold out hope that someday musical artists will make a decent living supported by their fans through direct micropayments. Meanwhile, there's CD Baby. (Thank you, Derek Sivers!) You can pay in chunks. I'm a fan of The Cook Trio. Delightful Gypsy jazz. And I will never forget the radical Internet music pioneer Janis Ian. (Well, I did forget her name tonight, but a little googling cured that lapse. What I never forgot was the impact she made on my understanding about how the Internet was changing the music industry. That was before Radiohead was famous.) No Connection with CD Baby. Support independent music. Buy something through CD Baby.

And this brings me (finally – I know, I ramble) to my vision of the evolution of writing onto the Internet. I think it was fair to talk about reading first. And music is just another form of art. Anyway. Writing. I'm about a thousand words into this piece. Why is that important? Because the art form I'm promoting is Internet-enabled writing. This is the evolution of the blog post. I'm limiting myself to between 1,700 and 1,800 words. As I said, I don't believe it's a coincidence that I read 1,734 words by Larry uninterrupted and 1,794 words by Charles Murray before diving into my own work. That's plenty of space to create a thoughtful essay. And I like to think of the blogger as an evolution of the essayist. (Thank you, Ken Myers, for the Mars Hill Audio Journal; thank you, Alan Jacobs, for being a frequent guest on MHAJ and for writing Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, which has been on my to-read list since I heard Ken interview you, and thank you for introducing me to the father of essayists, Montaigne.)

The interview of Professor Jacobs by Ken Myers inspired me to download Charles Lamb's book, Essays of Elia from Google. (It goes without saying that we all owe Google a debt of gratitude for starting to digitize the world's books. But I'll say it anyway: Thank you! You don't have it all figured out yet, but you are taking digitization of human knowledge far beyond where Project Gutenberg has the resources to go.) Prof. Jacobs mentions Lamb's essay, Poor Relations, which I found on page 173. I checked my journal. My entry for February 2, 2011 is: "[I] read the essay on [my wife]'s iPad. Exquisite!" I have not yet read Montaigne himself, but Prof. Jacobs raised my awareness of his importance, and a month later I listened to Sarah Bakewell discuss Montaigne on a Philosophy Bites podcast with Nigel Warburton. The next day I read "Montaigne's Moment" by Anthony Gottlieb in the New York Times (online, of course – thank you, Lady Gray, for fighting to carve a path forward for digital newspaper survival; I loathe your myopic political bias but do not deny your influence).

So I will restrict the length of my essays so that I can preserve a form that is comfortably readable on the Internet. I appreciate how Twitter restricts me to 140 characters. (That restriction is so a tweet will fit in a single text message. I don't know who decided on the length of text messages, but Wikipedians agree it was so they would fit into the existing signaling formats, and that sounds truthy enough for the purposes of this essay. (I have to double up on parentheses here to point out that it's absurd to cite Wikipedia. Human beings create the content. They're mostly anonymous cowards, but they're all human. So you're not citing an authority, you're citing a crowd. Get it right! (And thank you, Steve Colbert for inventing truthiness!))) I like to work within constraints. It's good practice for all aspects life.

I now have to get ready for breakfast. This essay is just a little short. Better than risking being too long. But more than essays in past centuries, it lives! It's not a finished draft because I don't have time to review it thoroughly. Spell checkers catch gross mistakes, but we all know to write the first draft from the heart and the second draft from the head. I don't have time to use my head if I want to get this published in the proper sequence. Up it goes. Then comes publicity: Instantly on Twitter. But later today at Google+, Facebook (default – I'm not sure if it will be public or not) and (perhaps – I'll remove this parenthetic when I'm sure) LinkedIn. And email. Email isn't being replaced by social media. It's not either/or. It's both-and. (Thank you for that image, Michael!)

Larry helps the reader avoid distraction by publishing links at the end of his essays. I'm taking it one step farther. Google and Wikipedia contain all the answers you need if you wish to follow up on anything I've said.

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