Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Living in the Digital World

In the spirit of total candor, let me admit that I am profoundly ambivalent about the new digital world in which we live. On the plus side, I have met many new people via Facebook, Twitter, and my blog.  I now think of myself as belonging to an electronic community that spans the world.

 Also, I keep relearning the unfortunate fact that I'm a "digital immigrant." As a result of my birth date, these technologies are foreign to me. I speak with a heavy accent, so I try new technologies partly to push myself and to gain at least a little bit of fluency in this new digital world.

     On the other hand, I really do believe that something is lost in this new digital world. For instance I get many schools inviting me to do a "Skype author" with their students. I have author and teacher friends (hi Franki!) who love Skype visits. I wish I shared their enthusiasm! I have done a half dozen Skype visits, and may do some more, though for the most part have found them unsatisfying. There are often technical glitches, not to mention that maddening one-second delay.  I can't see the kids' faces too well so it makes it hard for me to read my audience. I feel detached. I've come to believe that nothing can replace having a real author in a school.

     Nowadays publishers expect authors to have a strong online presence. That is a reality, and there is certainly some upside to this, but I do worry that I spend too much time Facebooking, blogging, tweeting, etc when I should be writing. If you're going to create something of lasting value you have to delve deeply into your subject matter. And it won't happen instantaneously. It will take time and intense focus.


  1. Hi Ralph! I think about this all the time! I am amazed at the ability of my friends to tweet their way through a presentation or event. My brain can't do that. In order for me to be fully present, I have to just "BE" and commit myself to the experience at hand. I want to be awed and spellbound and if I am writing or tweeting or taking a zillion pictures, I simply can't do that. But for some of my friends, it's quite the opposite - the writing and tweeting and picture-taking are what allow them to process new information. I just hope the personalities that need to just experience an event and process it later don't get shut out in our digital world!

  2. Hey Dahlia! Yes you're right, it's another way of being (though I admit sometimes I get judgemental and feel like this kind of multi-tasking fragments one's consciousness).


  3. Hello Ralph,

    As both a writer and teacher educator myself, you are one of my writing heroes and I certainly respect your concerns about being fragmented or disconnected in digital writing spaces. Also, I agree that there's plenty of writing that happens on social networks and blogs that, well, doesn't really qualify in my book as thoughtful, creative, and responsive composition.

    That said, I really encourage you to keep up with blogging and other forms of digital writing. I would argue that they do, indeed, help you delve deeply into your ideas, invite you to give and receive feedback, and offer you a variety of different ways to compose including audio and video.

    While the shape of writing may be changing in the 21st century, and you may speak with the "immigrant" accent, you do know an awful lot about writing, and it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine that you could do some wonderfully creative work with digital writing, too.

    I just got my copy of the second edition of What a Writer Needs, and I look forward to hearing your new thinking and how it can help inform the way I teach writing, digital or otherwise.


  4. I am a novice writer who is, by day, an Elementary School Librarian. I just reread Breathing In Breathing Out to inspire my spring break writing. I wanted to reconnect with you, as you are one of the major influences in my "wanna-be" writing life. I, too just purchased the second edition of What a Writer Needs and am anxious to see what's new. My first thought when I saw that you are blogging was exactly what you wrote here - does jumping into the digital pool rob one of writing time elsewhere? I am of your vintage and often find myself on the edge of trepidation as I tip-toe through the digital world. I say, go for it! There are many folks such as myself, who will benefit from hearing your wise commentary on becoming and being a writer. If you keep this blog to that purpose, I should think it will be a good thing for your followers as well as yourself. Who knows? Maybe it will become more than that for you! What I do not like about writing digitally, is the lack of being able to hold it in my hand and feel it's presence. I am at this same crossroads in the debate of books in print and e-books.

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